Why LinkedIn IT Works To Reach Its Employees' Goals

July 21, 2016

As the head of LinkedIn IT’s team, my absolute first priority is talent. And that means more than just hiring great people; it means keeping those people inspired and engaged.

What’s the key to doing that? By literally taking a page out of our founder Reid Hoffman’s book, The Alliance, and helping all of our IT employees reach their career goals – knowing that’ll help us achieve our goals as well.

In other words, rather than just focusing on what our IT employees can do for us, we focus on what we can do for them. So, if one of our IT workers wants to lead a team of people, perhaps get into engineering or even become a basketball referee (as one of my former employees wanted), we’ll do everything we can to make that happen.

And, in return, they stay engaged, inspired and focused. It’s a win-win that helps us retain the great people we work so hard to hire in the first place.

How this happens: Career development plans

This isn’t just a philosophy we talk about. We have a formal practice in-place that helps us make this happen, which centers around a simple philosophy: the power of writing it down.

While they aren’t obligated, all of our IT employees here at LinkedIn are strongly encouraged to draft “career development plans.” And the point here isn’t just to say, “I want to get promoted” or “I want to make more money.”

Instead, we push our employees to write what are truly passionate about – perhaps transition from help desk technician to a network engineer, lead their own team, etc – and then work with them to make that happen.

As part of these plans, we ask our employees to identify two skills they need to get better at to push their career further. For example, maybe they need to learn a certain programming language or a specific soft skill to reach their career goal, and then we’ll provide training that’ll bring that skill to life. We call this the “Top 2” program, which was the brainchild of one of my managers, Lars Enderlein.

Again, this is completely optional. But, what I’ve found even in my own personal career journey is that writing down exactly where you are and where you want to go drastically increases the chances of you getting there. So I highly recommend all of our IT employees to take part.

Some specific examples of how this works, such as a shadow program

One common theme we see with our IT employees is that they want to get more into network engineering. We know that their day-to-day jobs alone won’t provide them with all the skills they need to make that transition, so we’ll give them opportunities for hands-on experience outside of their core duties.

Often, that means setting up a shadow programs for our IT employees to learn from our LinkedIn engineering team. We’ll offer them training opportunities in engineering as well to take on their own time.

Every once in awhile, I’ll have someone put something in their career development plan I cannot accommodate here at LinkedIn. For example, one former IT worker wanted to become a basketball referee.

Now, we have a wide array of teams here at LinkedIn that do a lot of different things, but nothing that quite matches basketball referee. So, rather than prevent him from accomplishing his goal, I encouraged him to pursue it.

Ultimately, he wound up leaving the company and becoming a college basketball referee. And I considered that a big win.

Why LinkedIn IT has adopted this philosophy

Some of my colleagues might question why we’d put resources toward helping our employees reach their career goals. They’d argue the company should come first and the culture should be solely focused on how the worker can help it.

I respectfully disagree. The reality of work today is that most people you hire are going to spend four or five years with you and then likely jump to another job. How you treat those people in the time you spend with your company is going to drastically affect their performance, as well as your ability to hire more great people.

Knowing that, we want to do everything we can here at LinkedIn IT to make the time our workers spend here as productive as possible. And that means not just focusing on how they can help us, but also how we can help them.

Bottom line, I believe the more we can do for our employees, the more they’ll do for us. And, if we can help them achieve their career goals, there’s a good chance they’ll help us achieve ours as well.