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This Startup’s Secret Sauce Helps Companies Retain Employees and Improve Diversity

CareerPoint gives young professionals affordable, value-based career advancement coaching; says it is one of the most important benefits companies can offer.

The COVID pandemic and demographic trends have created a challenge for employers unlike any they’ve seen in nearly 40 years: A tremendous scramble to hold onto their valued employees and to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

Employment website Indeed says the share of job postings labeled “hiring urgently” has jumped more than 50% since the start of 2021, and companies offering signing bonuses have now more than doubled from 2020.

The phenomenon has a name: The Great Resignation. A major reason is a thirst for post-COVID flexibility.

The pandemic gave employees the opportunity to experience remote work and enjoy a better work-life balance. Now that companies are slowly getting back to the office, employees still want that flexibility. The problem is that employees who choose to work from home are 50% less likely to be promoted.

This suggests that the only way to advance in a career is for employees to be present physically in offices, rather than evaluated for the quality and value of work they produce.

Now companies are struggling to find ways to retain talent, adjust to a growing demand for remote work options and flexibility, and redefine what they offer as a benefit.

No one has provided a scalable way to address this huge challenge — until now.

The Epiphany That Built a Startup

Entrepreneur, Steve McIntosh, has made it his life’s work to help young people, particularly those from underrepresented communities, and launched CareerPoint to fulfill a global gaping need that can help companies and employees alike.

The aim is to coach young professionals on how to name and realize their value and go on to enjoy success, flexibility and fulfillment, in work and in life.

McIntosh had a breakthrough theory of human resources and career advancement that started when he struggled to figure out why one of his own employees abruptly resigned after feeling passed over for a promotion. The employee had given no indication that he wanted a promotion.

“This young gentleman had never expressed any desire to advance in the three years he’d been with my company,” McIntosh said. “He had never come to me with ideas or even problems. He left every day at 5 p.m., and never volunteered to help his colleagues. He hadn’t checked any of the boxes.”

Reflecting on the experience, McIntosh realized that the employee had no idea that he was supposed to check particular boxes. What had been perceived as a lack of ambition turned out to be a lack of understanding around how career advancement works and how to ask for it.

“I realized that I’d missed a big opportunity,” McIntosh said. “I had this laundry list of specific things someone had to do if they wanted to advance, and I hadn’t given them the laundry list. He hadn’t asked, and I hadn’t told him. He lacked neither technical skill, nor work ethic, nor ambition. He just didn’t understand how to play the game.”

In fact, most young people have no idea how career advancement works. McIntosh said that’s no surprise. After all, he said no one told him the rules of the game when he began his own career with global accounting firm KPMG back in 1998.

It was an “ah-ha” moment for McIntosh.

“Career advancement has to be a win-win,” said Steve McIntosh, CareerPoint’s founder who speaks with the accent of his native Scottish West Coast.

“After all, career advancement is everything to young professionals. It means respect, it means having the money to live the life you want to live, but most of all it means freedom,” he said.

Why would companies pay for their employees to be coached for advancement? Because if your employees aren’t thriving and succeeding, neither are you as a manager or as a company,” said McIntosh, who earlier in his career had searched for a theoretical framework in human resources, as he’d learned in accounting.

He found none.

So, he created his own, detailed his theory in his book, “The Employee Value Curve: The Unifying Theory of HR.”

Getting Started

After publishing his book, McIntosh initially set up what he called a “passion project” — a series of online workshops — to provide young people the secret sauce of how to advance their careers and create the life they want.

It’s a rare effort to dial up value starting with young and inexperienced workers. Most career coaching is targeted to the vice-president level and higher. While he acknowledges the benefit of executive and leadership coaching, he saw a gap for coaching specifically aimed at what he calls “the bottom of the pyramid.” “If coaching moves the dial for executives, why can’t it move the dial for everyone else?” he asks.

His professors in his MBA program at the University of Oxford encouraged McIntosh to turn his philosophy into reality, and his class teammates at the University of Oxford agreed. Classmates Shawn McQueen-Ruggeiro and Sipha Ndawonde joined as CareerPoint’s co-founders.

The project evolved into CareerPoint, and McIntosh found himself in the enviable position of asking investors to pull back on their initial funding. Its first private funding round of $500,000 was three times oversubscribed within two weeks of launch. A majority of those initial supporters took part in the second round of funding in March, which attracted a total of 70 investors.

To date CareerPoint has trained 65 coaches and coached hundreds of young people at companies like Apple, Amazon, Adobe, and that’s just the A’s. By the end of the year, the company expects to have 150 coaches trained and to have coached thousands of young professionals. The company has applied to have its coach training program accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and expects it to be approved in coming weeks.

The company’s two-part mission is lofty — to help one million young professionals advance their careers and to level the playing field for historically disadvantaged groups.

How? Free coaching sessions.

“We’ve already coached upwards of 200 people from underrepresented groups for free,” McIntosh said.

The company is working with non-profit groups such as 100 Women in Finance, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and others to offer scholarships to ambitious professional women, for example. It has also launched an open scholarship application system for anyone looking for career advancement coaching.

How it Works

CareerPoint emphasizes something McIntosh believes is key but often overlooked by other HR initiatives — the concept of value. How employees create value for their employers; and why the value employees create is the true driver of career advancement.

“Every member of the team has to be adding the maximum value possible,” McIntosh said. “We’re not coaching for engagement or performance or mental health — although all of those things are important — they’re just not our jam. CareerPoint coaching is about helping employees create more value and advance. That’s why it’s a win-win.”

McIntosh said that the issue of accessibility can derail many young professionals from getting career advancement. Historically, this kind of coaching has only been available to executives and comes with a hefty price tag. For him, CareerPoint had to be affordable to encourage more professionals to seek out career advancement coaching.

The standard program runs for four sessions over a four-week period — for around $500 for a single client up to $1,500 per employee for a longer corporate program. An app with a $100 annual subscription fee is also being developed to make the service even more accessible. It’s a modest investment compared to the cost of losing a good employee, which Gallup estimates to be between 50 and 200% of salary.

Employees first take a 75-item scale questionnaire aimed at understanding their behavior, their work environment and their instinctive understanding of how they add value. They receive a dashboard with a score for each “value driver”.

“We’re not doing it to give them a prize or to punish,” McIntosh said. “It’s a starting point for a conversation.”

The coaching focuses on eight “value drivers”, such as an employee’s contribution to innovation, morale, work ethic and relationships.

The process knocks down what McIntosh called the “don’t ask–don’t tell” paradigm of employees failing to be plain spoken about their career ambition.

Does it work? Customers seem to think so. The average rating for their four-session coaching program is 4.7/5, and McIntosh is quick to add, “that’s version one of our platform. We’re getting feedback, improving rapidly and adding more resources all the time.”

One client was so enamored with the impact of the coaching on its employees that it wanted to require every new employee to take it.

Validating the Model

To investigate the efficacy and gain other insights into perceptions and attitudes towards career advancement challenges, the company has partnered with the founders’ alma mater, The University of Oxford, on a ground-breaking research study. Companies of all sizes in all industry sectors have been invited to participate and many have already jumped aboard.

While McIntosh and his founding team are not shy about their unicorn-level ambition, what really motivated them to start the company is the potential to combine business success with social impact on a global scale.

“The last year has been an incredible amount of work for the entire CareerPoint team,” he said. “None of us would have worked this hard for the money. It’s the mission that gets us out of bed in the morning and the mission that keeps us at our computers till late into the night.”

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Sandra Guy

Sandra Guy

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Sandra Guy is an award-winning journalist, editor and freelance writer and blogger who specializes in retail, health and technology coverage