How to Create a Culture of Development

Kristina Nakanishi

San Francisco, 30th August 2011 —(— Fast-paced, entrepreneurial operations (like the one Iím part of) face many challenges, but Ė as you may have read Ė growth isnít one of them. Retention can be.

The tech and media sectors are growing at a fast clip, and industry-wide some employees donít stay put more than three or four years. Add the increasingly aggressive recruiting and poaching weíre seeing, and retention becomes even more of a challenge.

So how do we keep key employees feeling valued and fulfilled in their roles, while positioning our business to thrive? How can we be sure to understand and address what drives each employee so we can usher them successfully to the next level of professional development?

Building a culture of development is fundamental to making this happen. Iím not saying you should implement a one-off training program. Iím talking about embedding a long-term culture of development at the core of your business.

Hereís how:

1. Start with team leaders. Bring managers into the development conversation from the very beginning, so they understand your objectives. If you donít have their buy-in ó if theyíre not ready to prioritize development for their employees ó you may as well quit now. On the other hand, if they recognize the opportunity for their teams and the support youíre able to provide, theyíll be your most vocal advocates.

2. Skip the needs assessment. The formal needs assessment, that is. Itís usually a waste of time ó most people donít know what they donít know and havenít had any exposure to the types of training available to them. At the same time, itís even more critical to make sure your HR team has its collective ear to the ground. Know who your employees are, what kind of skills and experience they bring and what their goals are, and youíll find the gaps you need to fill. Finally, raise awareness with each individual employee and manager to help them understand how they can change and grow. Help them draft a plan to make change achievable.

3. Collect intelligence. Donít just write a check. Consider corporate goals and revenue drivers before spending. Meet with management about long-term objectives. Ask your managers about their teamsí needs. Talk to peers in your space about the vendors they use for training programs, and look for vendors who operate in your specific industry and can customize a training module tailored to what you do.

4. Keep it concrete. Donít try to cover everything at once: Identify one or two skills that need attention, and focus your efforts there. Make the content of your programs tangible ó incorporating real-life scenarios, if possible ó and accessible to employees.

5. Evaluate, two ways. Conduct a post-mortem of each program. Look at the content, trainers and structure, and ask employees and their managers what they took away from it. And donít stop at the conventional course-evaluation form; also ask the trainers for feedback on your staff.

6. Try something old. Remember that the only way to change behavior is through practice, practice, practice. So donít do something new every year ó reinforce and follow-up on the behaviors youíre trying to change. When you can, bring the same trainers and programs back from year to year. Encourage managers to offer refreshers when possible.

Believing and investing in development can be among the biggest challenges for a growing company, but one that certainly has its rewards. After all, weíre only as strong as our weakest link.

About Kristina Nakanishi
Kristina Nakanishi is VP of Human Resources for Vibrant Media, the leader in contextual display advertising, which was founded in 2000. As Vibrant has experienced tremendous growth over the past five years, Kristinaís team has helped increase employee headcount 260%. Kristina splits her time between her hometown of San Francisco, CA, and New York City, where Vibrant is headquartered.

About Vibrant
Vibrant ( is a world leader in contextual technology aligning billions of words across the Internet with relevant video, information, tools, and advertising. With over 6,000 premium publishers, reaching more than 250 million unique users per month (comScore, 2011), Vibrant gives top brand marketers the opportunity to deliver highly targeted advertisements within premium Web content and offers publishers premium editorial tools to re-circulate users throughout their websites. Vibrant works with top brand advertisers such as Microsoft, Unilever, Chrysler and AT&T. The company was founded in 2000 and has offices in London, New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris, Hamburg, Munich and Dusseldorf. Vibrant's rapid growth has been recognized by the Inc. 500 and Deloitte Fast 50 lists. For more information, or or or

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