By – Joel Crandall, VP of Programs at MnTech

In my post last week, I explored the lessons I learned over more than a decade of watching companies attract and engage young and diverse talent. Those lessons focused on the organizational changes that can be made, from examining how they post and hire for jobs, to committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.

This week, in part two of this series, I’d like to dig in to a managerial perspective. What can you do, as a people manager and leader, to improve how you hire, develop, and retain the populations you want?

Here are five more best practices for senior leaders that I have learned over my career in the technology field when it comes to engaging young, diverse talent.

1. Send clear signals with your words and actions.

Let’s face it—developing quality talent from within is difficult work. For decades, many large companies have chosen to divest from training and simply pay more for experienced talent. This was never a winning, long-term strategy. It’s even a worse plan in low unemployment. As some organizations begin and others continue to build stronger talent development systems, they need caring leaders to help lead the way. Whether you are a CDO or have one year of experience, you can use your words and actions to create room for emerging talent.

Recommendation: I’ve seen senior leaders at the best companies send two clear signals to their team about engaging young, diverse talent:

“We are invested in this emerging talent development, and our commitment isn’t going to change because it is hard.”

Leaders do this by using platforms (conferences, town halls, all team emails, etc) to verbalize that this investment strategy is their idea, and that the effort is worth it. This commitment allows other leaders in their organization to align and build infrastructures of support.

“Everyone—emerging leaders, you, and me– learns by starting where they are, making mistakes and getting second chances.”

Quality leaders do this by telling their own origin stories with an emphasis on confusion they’ve experienced and mistakes they’ve made. Sharing these experiences demystifies the growth process in a way that helps other leaders on their teams do the same for interns and young talent


2. What leaders do in moderation, followers do in excess.

I was a camp counselor in college and remember a training that shared the truism above. If counselors jump off a rock three feet high, campers looked for the chance to jump off a rock 10 feet high. If counselors showed intensity during a learning moment, campers were likely to go all in.

Recommendation: This principle cuts both ways as culture is created within a team or organization. Consider what you are demonstrating to your employees and the effect it will have on them.

  • Demonstrate curiosity by avoiding generalizations or tropes in communicating about young people. Your team is looking for shortcuts or assumptions – help them ask hard questions and learn instead.
  • Demonstrate vulnerability by sharing openly and appropriately about yourself and your challenges. Your early career colleagues are curious about what is and is not okay to talk about as you mutually work to develop a relationship.
  • Demonstrate consistency through prioritizing the same results.
  • Demonstrate in moderation – or do it in excess – and expect multiplicative results from your team.


3. Regular check-ins are required.

One of the biggest risks for young, diverse talent entering new professional roles is expectation ambiguity. Because they are young, they don’t have the decision-making context that allows some of their peers to ‘read between the lines’ or ‘read minds’ about what needs to be prioritized or reported. If manager/employee pairings include differences in race or life experiences, it is easy for ambiguity to lead to assumptions about why things are not getting done the way you expect.

Recommendation: The best way to defeat ambiguity and assumptions is through regular check-ins.

  • Make them regular – Weekly, at the same time, and in the same format is best. Early in the week allows you to reflect and forecast in a timely manner.
  • Make your employee responsible for the content – Help them to develop a format that delivers the information you need to feel confident in their performance. This makes success clear.
  • Make them direct – Does your employee leave with a clear sense of what you expect to see by the next time you check-in?


4.  Understand that managers matter most.

Companies often place young employees, apprentices, and interns with first-time supervisors, or with those who don’t have management as part of their job description. These employees may end up being great, but to be fair, they often aren’t given training or tools to ensure intern excellence.

How can companies make manager quality an asset rather than a risk?


  • Make emerging employee success a critical part of the employee’s evaluated responsibilities.
  • Require training for managers with a focus on approaches to making younger employees successful.
  • Formalize emerging employee or intern management as a step in moving from an individual contributor to a people manager and invest accordingly.


5. Recognize and reward meaningful stages of development in an employees growth journey.

During my time at Genesys Works Twin Cities, we held a Draft Day celebration where young people beginning their first corporate technology internship were treated like new draft picks (think NFL Draft for high school seniors). Companies with high-quality branded (and often co-branded) swag stood out from their peers. Make your gear bold, make it useful, and make it meaningful.

Recommendation: Use meaningful swag that recognizes where the employee is in their growth trajectory. The Draft Day swag worked because it fit where these employees were and the event it was given to them.

  • Genesys Works used to give new high school interns business cards. The pride of starting a high school job with your own card to hand to your family or other professionals was valuable.
  • One company had a larger campus and greater distances from parking and buses to their buildings. They gave very nice, branded umbrellas to help in case of bad weather.
  • I’ve used custom shoes for a higher dollar gift recognizing great leadership. It is not as expensive as you would think to allow individuals to design and wear shoes that show their unique style and ultimately drive a cool brand moment for you and your company.

Gifts (of which swag is a part) may not be your jam. Find someone on your team that can help your team or organization shine!


Understandably, the focus of tech talent is on getting new individuals into the tech workforce in order to fill roles. But an important consideration is also the early career talent that is just beginning their careers in the tech field. By examining your role as a leader for young, diverse talent, you can help these individuals grow, succeed, and thrive in the Minnesota tech industry.

Note: These strategies are based on LinkedIn posts I made over the last year on engaging young, diverse talent under the hashtag #T11SEYDT. Check them out in their original context, look at replies or feedback, or connect with me on LinkedIn to continue the discussion.