A wooden bridge winds through dunes covered in sand and grass. In the horizon is a beach and the sunset.
Talent Development Leader

Reaching for the Horizon

Monday, October 16, 2023

Tenured employees assist newer employees with leadership skills in this win-win program at Jacobs.

Solution: Create a development program to retain employees and offer development opportunities to those not yet in leadership positions.

Business impact highlight: Seventy-six percent of participants increased their job responsibilities since completing the program.

With 60,000 employees in more than 40 countries and $15 billion in annual revenue, Jacobs competes against multinational engineering and professional services firms across the world for projects and people alike. That competition means that Jacobs—which provides technical, professional, and construction services as well as scientific and specialty consulting—must attract and retain the best talent.

Enter the Next Horizon program, which addresses two different matters.

The first is retaining employees with zero to three years of tenure because that group has the largest turnover within the company (largely due to lack of development or advancement opportunities, employees report). Retention is an ongoing challenge, especially given the multitude of options available to staff across the market with competitors and clients.

In addition, although Jacobs has programs that address the concern regarding employees within their first three years, those initiatives all focus on graduates and apprentices, which significantly limits the participation pool.

The second goal is to widen training offerings for employees who are not currently people leaders. Jacobs has always used leader-specific training, but feedback from leaders and individual contributors revealed a gap for those without direct reports who wanted to grow their leadership capabilities.

Jacobs acknowledged that not all individual contributors desire to be people leaders, so it sought to enhance the development of not only future people leaders but also those who are the company’s future subject matter experts.

Aiming high

Established in collaboration between the L&D team and senior business leaders, Next Horizon is for individual contributors with six to 12 years of experience who are looking to take on more responsibility whether in operational, technical, sales, project management, or functional areas.

HR staff or individuals’ managers nominate candidates based on experience, individual contributions, and prospective potential. Next Horizon focuses on developing such skills as managing ambiguity, building a strategic mindset, ensuring accountability, building an effective team, and demonstrating self-awareness. The competencies developed in the program facilitate employee success in both current and future roles. Engagement in the program creates a strong network that produces a sense of long-term belonging and success.

The initiative lasts 17 weeks, taking place approximately four hours per week and comprising six live, instructor-led virtual sessions focusing on the competencies.

Participants work in small pods of four to six people (intentionally diverse groups with individuals from different parts of the business and the region) for the duration of the program. Each session has four to six pods.

An internal coach leads a pod through a series of group reflections and discussions after each live session, to include how participants have applied their learning on the job.

Company leaders assign each pod a business challenge at the beginning of the program, which enables participants to apply lessons learned to solve a real-life challenge.

At the end of the program, pods present their recommendations, and the company leaders serve as sponsors for the accepted solutions. Project topics have included additional retention tactics for employees in their first three years of tenure; how to create an internal rotational program; ensuring the success of early-career employees; maximizing the use of the sales and delivery teams; and improving diversity within teams.

In addition to using facilitators and coaches from within the L&D team, the program also involves individuals outside the L&D function serving in those roles as a way to develop their skill set. The L&D team provides coach and facilitator training where participants practice and receive feedback on their style and support each role with a facilitator guide and coach guide—paper training manuals—respectively.

Participants experience the whole program via a visual work platform, which captures each module’s key takeaways as well as details such as participants, coaches, facilitators, and sponsors. Program leaders further encourage connection and additional content sharing via Microsoft Teams.

Going the distance

The Australia-New Zealand region originated the initiative between 2019 and 2021; 304 individuals completed the program. Over time, demand for leadership training outside of that region grew, causing a global launch of the program in 2022. That year alone, 258 individuals completed the program, with an additional 43 employees acting as group coaches.

Next Horizon has continued to grow, and a new problem has emerged as a result: So many employees are participating that there are not enough volunteer leaders or coaches, which will eventually stymie the program’s growth. Therefore, the L&D team is currently revamping the program to operate on a greater scale.

Participant feedback from the global launch highlighted the value for participants in making connections across different lines of business. Sixty percent of 2022 participants had a significant increase of knowledge and skills, and 96 percent of participants would recommend the program to a colleague.

Since completing New Horizons, 26 percent of active employees have become managers and half of active employees have been promoted to a higher job level—meaning 76 percent of participants increased their job responsibilities after program completion.

Read more from Talent Development Leader.

About the Author

Tina Talbert is vice president of global talent growth at Jacobs where she is responsible for L&D, talent management, executive succession planning, as well as coaching and psychometrics. Talbert is a Certified Professional Coach with a professional career of more than 30 years.

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Great L&D team making a difference at Jacobs and beyond.
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