Managing Talent In A Networked Age, Part 2

Editor’s note: Jeff Markowitz joined Greylock as a partner in 2011 and focuses on managing executive talent relationships both in and outside of the portfolio.

In Part 1, my colleague Reid Hoffman said that recognizing that top talent may someday want to leave can lead to more honest conversations at work that can even help with long-term retention. In this article I will discuss how to foster the relationships between your employees and other people in the industry.

When top performers at our more mature Greylock portfolio companies (LinkedIn, for example) spend three years or more building their areas and are ready to move on, we do not see this as a crisis (i.e. “My superstar employee is on the move!”). Instead, we view this restlessness as an opportunity. We ask that employee, “What are you interested in, and how can we help you expand your network?” We then connect this individual with relevant employees from other startups within our portfolio so that she or he can gain exposure and insights from other startup entrepreneurs. We might even help the employee secure an advisory role in another company.

Of course, sometimes it does make sense for an employee or exec at one of our companies to move on. Other times, by learning about other companies and networking with peers, the exec realizes that their current situation is best and that perhaps they just need to refine their current tour of duty. Either way, with an open, honest dialogue by all parties involved, everyone can work for maximum alignment between what matters to the company and what’s best for the employee’s career.

There’s another benefit to both employee and company when we give highly talented people at our portfolio companies exposure to other great people in the industry: both sides learn and adapt faster. There’s no better way to discover best practices and important trends than to have execs talk to expert peers at other companies.  Companies benefit from their employees’ diverse, global networks–a vast pool of readily accessible “network intelligence”—when trying to solve key business problems. And employees benefit in their long-term career by having stronger connections throughout the industry.

Greylock regularly hosts in-person executive peer groups for small cohorts of executives. These informal working groups give executives an opportunity to share, brainstorm and gain unexpected insights from their peers who have parallel roles at different companies.

I also leverage the kind of “network intelligence” that Reid describes in his book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age to advise entrepreneurs on how to hire. By introducing entrepreneurs to employees who are in the same role as the position they are hoping to fill, I get founders to zero in on the attributes they seek in the executive they need.

Networking helps entrepreneurs calibrate the set of experiences they want, the type of background they want, and the kind of chemistry they’re looking for. By meeting with similar executives, entrepreneurs can get a sense of what a “great” candidate looks like and use this intelligence as a guide to conduct their own search.

The Alliance notes that lifetime employment is over but a lifetime relationship can and should endure. At Greylock, we invest in creating lifetime networks that are great for founders and their employees. By investing a lifetime relationship, we can help these executives as they build throughout their entire careers.

A mutually beneficial alliance offers employees powerful, transformative challenges that are in alignment with their personal values and goals — experiences that expand their human horizons as well.

We’ve found that the secret to recruiting and retaining the best talent for our companies is to structure careers as exciting, satisfying tours of duty — and to give talented employees opportunities for intelligent networking that can transform both their careers and the company at large.