General Electric (GE) has been involved in learning and development for more than 60 years and has the oldest corporate university in the U.S., in Crotonville, N.Y. Development is deeply rooted in the organization’s corporate culture and transparent to all 290,000 employees, but GE has a special focus on Generation Y.
Through its Commercial Leadership Program (CLP), GE allows 33 emerging talented millennials to rise to the forefront each year and undergo an 18-month program that focuses on developing medical device sales specialists for the short-term and leaders in the long-term. In three distinct phases, the program provides candidates with valuable learning, experience and exposure to colleagues and mentors to accelerate their careers.
“Our campus recruitment team, which is a combination of corporate team members and GE alumni, spend a great deal of time each year making sure we’re engaging with the best talent,” said Jay Moore, vice president of commercial learning at GE. “Between corporate initiatives and alumni passion for their schools, we continue to garner new ideas from each CLP class to reach our best talent through social media and on-campus activities.”
CLP is targeted to recent bachelor’s degree graduates in any major who have demonstrated leadership, communication and analytical skills during college. Candidates have a demonstrated interest in a sales career, are coachable, focused on personal development, results oriented and have quantifiable past achievements. GE expects a lot from candidates, given the selectivity of the program, but millennials expect just as much in return.
“I expect my employer to provide strong mentors within my business who will take stock in my career and be willing to give me advice throughout,” said Monika Narayen, a 23-year-old product sales specialist at GE, who’s in phase three of the program. “When it comes to working with individuals that are older and more experienced in the workforce, there definitely needs to be mutual respect.”
CLP members are assigned to a mentor, an experienced sales specialist, almost immediately. They spend the first phase shadowing their mentors in the field. The purpose of this phase is to understand the health care environment GE customers operate in, the challenges and the sales process for the company’s products and services. Phase two is spent at headquarters in Milwaukee, where the CLP class has a variety of assignments including marketing projects, cold-calling rotations, product portfolios and sales training. All of these activities are interspersed with regular roundtables with the CEO of GE Healthcare Americas.
Two months prior to phase three departure, the CLP manager in the CLP member’s territory will contact the CLP mentor to initiate the thought process for the 10 to 15 accounts the CLP will begin covering. Phase three is spent in the field with a more independent approach. It begins in August and lasts six months; in December, each CLP member begins interviewing for a permanent position after consulting with his or her mentor and CLP manager for overall feedback.
Throughout all of this, each CLP member sets up weekly rhythm calls with his or her mentor to discuss best practices and presents his or her pitches during weekly team calls. The mentor has a biweekly call with the CLP member to discuss roles and expectations and to provide monthly feedback. In the field, CLP members receive performance measures related to their effectiveness in each phase from mentors and assignment leaders, give GE a net promoter score related to on-boarding and program experience, and complete a mentor and project leader survey to give GE feedback on the quality of projects, mentors and assignment leaders.
“My personal thoughts on career development have been impacted by the advice given to us by senior GE executives,” Narayen said. “My plan is to focus on the current job or assignment I’m given and with success in that position, anticipate other opportunities will open up for me.”
The program has a 5 to 10 percent attrition rate, and although it’s not a guarantee most CLP members will be given permanent positions after 18 months, it’s rare for the relationship between GE and the millennials to not be mutually beneficial.
“GE is an organization with many curious people and very engaged classrooms, where demand is higher than our capacity to supply,” Moore said. “The success of the CLP program is due to training, personal coaching, leadership engagement, highly visible projects, giving back to the community and being part of an established network at GE.”