Professionals across the globe look to LinkedIn to connect them with professionals in their field, career opportunities, key skills needed in today’s workforce, and LinkedIn Learning courses to contribute to their personal and professional development. Afterall, “LinkedIn’s true north,” says Tiffany Poeppelman, global head of LinkedIn’s Business Leadership Program, “is to create true economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”
Honoring their mission to provide economic and development opportunities to cultivate the future workforce, LinkedIn launched its Business Leadership Program (BLP) in 2013 – a program for early-career talent providing young, high-potential professionals the opportunity to gain experience in short-term rotations in various business functions, ranging from customer support to sales productivity departments – resulting in strong business acumen and critical leadership skills upon the completion of the program. Today, BLP has expanded from LinkedIn’s San Francisco headquarters to include a European division in Ireland and a cohort based in LinkedIn’s Chicago office. LinkedIn has also announced it will expand BLP’s offerings to include new career pathways in sales analytics, sales enablement and media sales to ensure upcoming Gen Z talent gain the skills needed to navigate and succeed in the future of work.
In today’s fast-paced business environment, many companies are seeking the best mechanisms and strategies for developing talent at scale and retaining high-potential talent once they’ve found them. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for skilled – and versatile – employees who can quickly adapt to shifts in customer and business needs.
“If you look at our mission and our vision as a company, BLP continues to be a great mechanism to help create that opportunity – specifically for early-career talent – to give them the right level of experiences and create a strong foundation for their career to help amplify and start them off on a strong foot,” says Poeppelman. Since the launch of the program, BLP has grown from serving an associate cohort of 20 to roughly 100 across multiple locations, offering more young professionals the opportunity to develop the skills they need to lead organizations forward in the future.
Finding, Developing and Supporting Diverse Talent
The coronavirus pandemic has posed many questions regarding best practices for recruiting, developing and supporting diverse talent over the course of their career journeys. LinkedIn’s BLP allows the organization to discover, leverage and “[expand] talent much further across the business based on their interests and growing business needs,” says Poeppelman. As well as answer the question, “As companies’ talent needs shift, how do we continue to prepare early-career talent to do those roles?” Let’s examine how LinkedIn’s BLP finds, develops and supports its associates to contribute to a more equitable and skilled workforce of the future.
“Ultimately, our aspirational vision is to create the next generation of sales and business leaders,” says Poeppelman. However, not only does LinkedIn strive to develop the next generation of leaders but it “strives to do so with an eye toward diversity, inclusivity, and belonging to cultivate an equitable and innovative workplace for all.” To do so, LinkedIn and its recruiting team has looked beyond traditional recruiting methods to cultivate diverse early-career talent from a variety of backgrounds.
“We’re very cognizant about the way we attract and the way we bring the talent in,” shares Poeppelman. While, in 2013, the inaugural cohort came from only eight of the same highly ranked universities in the U.S., the 2019 cohorts represent students from over 50 universities and colleges, and that number is growing each year. In a blog post for LinkedIn, writer and editor Bruce Anderson says LinkedIn’s campus recruiting team looks at “historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions… But they also scour other data sources to find schools with diverse populations” and drive diversity and inclusivity in its talent pipeline. To that end, LinkedIn seeks to establish partnerships with companies like Management Leadership for Tomorrow – an organization that works to connect minority students with career advancement resources and opportunities. To recruit from underrepresented communities, LinkedIn also extends recruiting beyond college campuses by hosting their own events and inviting students from a broad range of schools and universities.
Associates in LinkedIn’s BLP program move through career rotations emphasizing the key customer-centric and leadership competencies integral to LinkedIn’s mission and culture. Poeppelman shares the BLP, “[continues] to amplify its focus on sales, and foundational skills – specifically – in building sales professionals as a critical skill to learn early in someone’s career.”
Although the rotations have evolved since the BLP’s inception, associates typically move through rotations in customer-facing support roles, internal sales productivity teams, and, finally, sales roles. On top of the rotations, the BLP team leverages LinkedIn Learning courses and other virtual sessions to cultivate foundational skills. Customer-centric roles offer associates the foundation they’ll need “to listen and understand our customers,” says Poeppelman. At LinkedIn, customers are “at the center of everything we do,” shares Poeppelman, “so having [BLP associates] first and foremost learn about the voice of customer” as well as “their concerns and pain points” is integral to gaining the communication and sales skills that will enable associates to succeed.
“The essence of what our associates have always learned is how to actively listen, tell a story, how to really be compelling and authentic when it comes to delivering a message whether it be to a candidate or a customer. It’s the same skill,” says Poeppelman. Not only do the rotations offer associates the opportunity to hone critical communication, sales and leadership skills, Poeppelman shares, “The constant rotation offers a resilience – an understanding that sometimes you have to start from the beginning and figure out how to figure it out.” By “learning to be adaptable, [and] learning how to adapt to feedback,” BLP associates gain practice and guidance in core leadership tenants early on in their career and establish a resilient growth mindset to carry them through their professional journey. “You’ve got to teach people to move through ambiguity sometimes,” says Poeppelman, especially in fast-paced business markets such as the tech industry.
Although the BLP seeks to cultivate resilience in its participants, the associates are certainly not on their LinkedIn journey alone. The BLP also offers a highly structured network of support to its associates, providing mentorship and coaching every step of the way.
Offering early-career talent a strong network of support is integral to fostering their development and driving the application of new skills on the job, especially as associates move through rotations and acquire new skills from their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to and in the wake of COVID-19, Poeppelman shares that BLP “enhanced our support model to be scalable” and applied it to virtual interns with regularly dedicated mentors and coaches across the organization, so “each intern was assigned to somebody that they can work with directly, outside of their core team” and provided the guidance and mentorship they need. Poeppelman goes on to say BLP has always relied heavily on this structure “to give [associates] that 360-degree support, and we will leverage the lessons from this summer for our incoming cohorts.”
Additionally, BLP leverages internal diversity mentorship programs – such as the ImpactIn program, which seeks to cultivate and support minority talent on a global scale – to ensure associates have access to mentors who will sponsor their advancement and aid in their development. Through the rapid and “constant movement of rotations and learning new skills” over the course of BLP, LinkedIn builds ample opportunities for “giving associates feedback” to support and assess their progress over the course of the program.
Return on Development
Each year, reports Poeppelman, “The [BLP] program continues to deliver incredible results, where participants outperform in their sales roles compared to those who didn’t go through the program by nine to 12 percentage points. We continue to see the direct impact the program experience has on our talent’s performance.” As the program continues to grow and scale toward changing business needs, “we will continue to create a more flexible program, develop the leadership tenants, and foster interpersonal skills to ensure participants are prepared with the agility they need to be successful in today’s workforce.” Poeppelman shared, “the program has been constantly evolving and will continue to evolve over the years to ensure we meet business needs and support our talent to be successful throughout their whole career.”