Cracking corporate

Leaders have a vital role to play in nurturing young talent – especially where unequal societies mean that not everyone has the same start in life.

In the realm of business leadership, a vigilant focus on the requirements for onboarding new talent is imperative. Not only can leaders significantly influence the capacity of new recruits to contribute effectively to the organization, but the support that they give to new hires significantly shapes their medium- and long-term career trajectories. That makes leaders’ engagement and support especially important in markets afflicted by heightened inequality, since it can compensate for radically different starting points in life.

Young people can adopt multiple strategies for getting into and getting on in the corporate world, as we explore in our book, Cracking Corporate. Based on our research, including discussions with six diverse business leaders and a survey of 50 professionals, we believe that young people joining corporate organizations today – especially those who have limited prior exposure – would benefit from homing in on at least six focus areas.

1 Embracing purpose: navigating uncertainty with confidence

Young professionals entering corporate organizations often grapple with the notion of purpose and feel compelled to have their future path fully delineated. It is essential for leaders to encourage these individuals to explore the concept of purpose, without them succumbing to undue pressure. Our research reveals that clarity of purpose often eludes individuals in the early stages of their careers. Instead, our interviewees discovered that the path toward their desired goals gradually became clearer when they focused consistently on the tasks at hand. The journey toward purpose, they emphasized, does not follow a fixed trajectory; it evolves over time. Patience, presence and adaptability are invaluable attributes in the discovery of purpose, offering a foundation for building a successful and fulfilling career.

2 Strategic goal setting: illuminating educational choices

Succeeding in a corporate career requires deliberate navigation. Structuring one’s life and making intentional educational and career choices is invaluable. Our survey revealed a significant gap, where over 95% emphasized the criticality of such decisions, yet only 10% believed that young individuals possessed adequate information for making those decisions. Business leaders must facilitate access to information and elucidate the profound impact of early choices on life outcomes. Our exploration also revealed a compelling trend: initial breadth in tertiary education is favored by many, allowing individuals to explore various disciplines before honing in on a specific path for deep competency later in their journey.

3 Crafting expertise and network enhancement

Building a professional network can be daunting for young professionals, yet a robust network has unparalleled value for career success. The adage “your network is your net worth” resonates more powerfully than ever, as a supportive and influential circle can help guide and propel young people along their journey. We propose a strategic action plan to demystify the process, cultivate contacts, and help build a network that can be leveraged effectively in the pursuit of expertise and career advancement.

4 Navigating workplace challenges: strategies for dealing with difficult people

Encounters with difficult individuals in the workplace are inevitable for young professionals. Leaders play a crucial role in guiding young people through these situations. Drawing insights from executive coach Michele Woodward, workplace bullying expert Gary Namie, and psychologist Robert J Sutton, we advise a three-step approach: understand the driving factors behind behavior, take practical short-term measures, and, if necessary, highlight the business cost. Leaders must emphasize the distinction between interpersonal difficulties and targeted discrimination, however: the latter demands a proactive stance, with such concerns brought directly to HR.

5 Ethical engagement: a principled perspective

Ethical conduct serves as the compass that guides decision-making and actions, defining the character of an individual in the professional arena. It means upholding principles of integrity, honesty, transparency and fairness, even in the face of challenges. Understanding and embracing ethical standards not only fosters trust among colleagues, clients and stakeholders, but also contributes to the long-term success and sustainability of both individuals and organizations.

The importance of ethical principles – and the consequences of unethical behavior – have been highlighted time and again by corporate scandals around the world, such as the Steinhoff scandal in South Africa and the Petrobras scandal in Brazil. These real-world examples serve as cautionary tales, illustrating the profound impact of ethical lapses on individuals, organizations and society at large. Young professionals need to develop both knowledge and awareness to navigate the complex terrain of corporate ethics. By prioritizing ethical considerations, young professionals not only demonstrate their commitment to responsible business practices, but also lay the groundwork for a principled and respected career trajectory.

6 Balancing career and life: embracing the journey

In the pursuit of a successful corporate career, it is crucial for young professionals to recognize that their professional endeavors are just one facet of a fulfilling and meaningful life. We advocate for the importance of embracing the journey: true satisfaction lies not only in achieving destination-oriented goals, but also in relishing the ongoing process of personal and professional growth. Young professionals (indeed, professionals of all ages) should savor each step of their career path. That demands a holistic approach to life, where personal and professional aspects harmoniously coexist. A well-lived life is not determined solely by career milestones, but by the richness and diversity of experiences accumulated along the way.

Investing in talent

The insights gleaned from our research serve as a compelling reminder to business leaders of the paramount importance of investing in the young talents entering their organizations. This holds particular significance in contexts where new joiners embark on their professional journeys from diverse starting points. Our findings underscore the potential for transformative impact through strategic and thoughtful interventions.

By heeding this call to action, leaders have the opportunity to not only nurture the individual growth and development of young professionals, but also to fortify the foundations of their organizations and contribute to the broader market landscape. The implementation of well-thought-out interventions can yield meaningful outcomes, creating a symbiotic relationship where the success of the individual and the organization intertwines with the prosperity of the market at large.

Matt Butler-Adam is regional managing director at Duke CE in the UK and Europe. Yusuf Ameer is an associate director at Deloitte Australia. They are authors of Cracking Corporate: Building a career that you can be proud of (LID Publishing).