Within the mutual fund provider world risks abound and business complexity continues to ratchet up, challenging existing operating models. Innovative human resources strategies thus become increasingly important in a competitive industry to attract and retain the most talented individuals.

Establishing a learning environment within the organization, achieving gender diversity, and creating a framework that offers career development opportunities and promotes collaboration and teamwork will raise the level of engagement through increased levels of motivation and work satisfaction. There is a strong correlation between high levels of engagement, job satisfaction and business excellence.

Establishing initiatives and programs that support the company's most important asset should be considered essential to any organization. Highlighted below are three human resources elements to consider in attracting and retaining top talent:

(1) Establishing intern programs provides a close-up look beyond the traditional quantitative measurements with focus on other important characteristics such as work ethic, executive presence, leadership, creativity, innovation and teamwork skills. The sole objective of the program is to attract highly qualified students and provide them with a rewarding and fun learning experience in order to draw them to your organization. It begins with Campus recruiting and developing a relationship with certain schools to gain access to qualified students by attending workshops, career fairs, and other student events where your management teams can interact with and get to know the students. Creating the "buzz" to become a "destination of choice" for top talent requires some work but has a big payoff.

Intern programs that focus on learning and development and offer real work assignments exposing students to operational practices and business activities provide the interns with a well-rounded educational work experience. Students will also learn from assigned mentors and employees as they can provide direct guidance and instruction. Conducting educational sessions on related business topics, hearing from business leaders, and field visits to key business partners also should be considered to broaden the experience. Getting the interns to "feel comfortable being uncomfortable" is another important component integral to their learning and development. Preparing Interns for management meetings and special projects where they have speaking roles will teach them the value of networking and improve their executive presence and communication skills. While assignments such as these can be a daunting task it builds confidence and helps demonstrate their organizational and leadership skills. Coaching and feedback along with a written performance evaluation provide the necessary transparency for improving skills and practices necessary for their continued development. Hiring employees through well designed intern programs is a cost effective source of talent in a competitive market competing for resources.

(2) Job rotation programs allow employees an opportunity to work within another department in order to learn new skills and gain insight in other areas within the business. The "being comfortable being uncomfortable" message plays out in job rotation, as well, as employees stretch themselves and learn about something they have no prior experience in. I believe this promotes learning, fosters networking and teamwork, and provides a motivational and exciting experience that helps develop skills and strengthens the ability to pave a career within the organization. Recently we had someone fresh off a rotation assignment speak at our town hall about the experience. It was inspiring to hear how much knowledge was gained and how rich the overall experience was. Organizations that invest and structure programs to facilitate learning and development have a much stronger chance of retaining top talent and decrease the risk of losing a costly investment in the development and training of their employees.

(3) Promoting gender diversity allows organizations to leverage the demographic shifts that are impacting financial service companies today. Women comprise about half of the U.S. workforce and their participation in the labor market is growing. Female professionals are thus a vital asset pool from which to draw from and will help improve the performance of existing female professionals, as they have more role models to help coach and guide them. Creating a framework that will allow women professions to thrive is another differentiator in the "war for talent" and also serves as an effective retention lever for high performing female employees who will be motivated by a more diverse climate within the organization. Recently John Hancock and Manulife sponsored a Women's Leadership Conference in Boston to help develop career satisfaction and allow women obtain the tools, insights, and strategies necessary for career progression. The feedback was outstanding. Focus areas such as self promotion, personal branding, support networks, mentoring, proactively seeking feedback, being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions, and acting as influencers within the organization were key elements of the training. Research has also shown that the effectiveness of teams increase when women and men are represented collectively.

The "war for talent" is upon us and companies with human resources strategies that are innovative and who place strategic importance on attracting and retaining the best talent will undoubtedly be most successful in the achievement of their business objectives.

Charles A. Rizzo is CFO of John Hancock Group of Funds and chairman John Hancock Group of Funds Risk Committee.

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