Magazine menu

Mon, May

Cultivating Organizational Talent to Lead Future Innovations


Most nonprofit organizations understand that their employees are their most valuable asset. The people who work within an organization’s walls shape the brand and success of the organization. However, the 2013 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey from Nonprofit HR Solutions noted that the sector-wide average turnover rate was 17% and expected to increase¹. 

With the changing workforce of the 21st century, there is increased need for new strategies to engage and retain employees. Trends show that Millennials are increasingly entering the workforce and mixing with their Generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts, and each of these generations comes with unique sets of skills². Entry- and mid- level professionals want to learn new skills and develop into leadership roles, while those in leadership roles want to share their experiences. Many, if not all, share the same goal of attaining success in their respective careers. 

An organization that can provide employees with outlets to learn and refine skills and offer opportunities to work collaboratively can benefit from harnessing the drive to develop innovations and explore new frontiers. Strategies such as these will keep entry- and mid- level employees engaged in the organization while further developing skills necessary to become loyal leaders who carry a refined approach to the organization’s ideology. To cultivate the talent that will conceive and create future innovations in their respective fields, nonprofits must always ensure that employees are supported and valued, and are continually provided with opportunities to learn, grow and lead.

Recognizing the importance of growing and retaining talent, many large private sector businesses have begun implementing more formal professional development and education into their onboarding practices. For example, Google has launched GoogleEDU, a valuable resource for employees seeking continuing education in a range of topics, including management skills, a marketing academy, data visualization, persuasive writing and leadership skills⁴. Google also provides a mentorship program for its employees, which pairs product managers with career and management coaches to guide them through the various stages of professional development. Apple offers its employees continuing education and professional development opportunities through its Apple University program⁵. Likened to an internal MBA program, the program offers leadership, management, marketing and organizational behavioral education courses. Apple uses this platform to “steep employees in the company’s culture, history and values.”

It is not surprising that these activities have a tremendous impact on staff retention in these corporate environments. However, staff retention continues to be a challenge that plagues the growth of nonprofit organizations. Fifty-one percent of the organizations in an employee trends survey reported finding it hard to retain entry level staff.¹ Yet, only 10% of these organizations had formal strategies to combat this challenge 1.  

Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) offers its 2500 employees, representing over 200 programs and 12 affiliates, processes and systems to ensure a strong culture of workforce development. PHMC’s office of Organizational Development and Learning (ODL) focuses on developing PHMC’s diverse, talented workforce as a key strategy toward realizing the full potential of the organization. Two of ODL’s major initiatives include partnerships with universities that offer PHMC and affiliated employees special opportunities to pursue master’s-level academic degrees, and PHMC Academy, an online learning portal built on the principles of PHMC’s CORE curriculum, which represents the most fundamental values and expectations shared by all staff. The Academy focuses on professional development and leadership in tandem with more technical online trainings, live programs and initiatives geared toward internal networking and collaboration.

PHMC Explore is an employee engagement and leadership development platform that operates out of the ODL department. The Explore platform is itself an innovation that has been developed over the past three years by entry- and mid-level employees from Health Promotion Council (HPC), a PHMC affiliate. The core members of PHMC Explore have backgrounds in several different public health areas and have worked together to refine the group’s purpose, connectivity, curriculum and operations. Most recently, with support from PHMC’s foundation, the Public Health Fund, Explore has been able to establish a centralized series of monthly meetings available to PHMC’s entire workforce, and has also introduced a conference scholarship.

PHMC Explore operates on three key components: learning from leaders, peer-to-peer collaboration, and innovation and idea incubation. These three components are designed to harness raw creativity while developing professional skills. What sets Explore apart is that it allows employees from across the PHMC enterprise, often working on the front lines in the communities they serve, to collaborate and develop innovative ideas that advance the organization’s mission. This unique opportunity taps into the drive of entry- and mid- level employees to grow and learn from one another and from the leaders who share their wisdom and experience.

PHMC Explore’s monthly meetings allow organizational leaders and guest speakers to share their experiences from within the public health field, as well as the challenges and opportunities faced by their specific programs or business units. Peer-to-peer learning offers time for participants to trade ideas and engage in exercises designed to challenge them to think critically and hone the skills required among public health leaders. This feeds directly into the initiative’s idea incubation component, in which participants learn to break down an idea into an actionable proposal and plan. From this process, an “idea vault” is produced from which leadership can draw  at any time for new grant or contract opportunities. 

PHMC Explore has developed a conference scholarship award that will allow eligible members to apply to attend national public health conferences. The opportunity to attend a national conference is often limited among employees whose projects lack the funds required to send them; however, the opportunity for exposure to presentations and discussions about public health trends and practices is invaluable to emerging leaders. Moreover, one of PHMC’s guiding principles relates to building individual and organizational relationships, and capitalizing on a complex network of partners and peers. In this way, Explore enables staff to practice personal networking skills as ambassadors of PHMC’s mission, on a national scale, with encouragement to forge new partnerships and broaden existing ones.

PHMC Explore will seek to yield key outcomes in its first year which include convening monthly sessions with least 25 actively-engaged members from 10 or more different PHMC programs and business units, with another 50-75 peripherally-engaged members. PHMC Explore participants will also attend two national public health conferences, selecting eligible participants to represent the group and PHMC as an organization. Finally, at the end of 2016 the first annual PHMC Explore Forum will bring together public health professionals, community organizations and leaders, and elected officials to showcase members’ innovations and/or advance conversation on pressing public health issues. 

The development of the PHMC Explore platform has had a positive impact on the organization, from the early days as an internal affiliate program at HPC to a now enterprise-wide initiative open to all PHMC programs and affiliates. These activities establish its presence as an employee engagement and leadership development platform that fosters not only innovation and leadership development, but also promotes collaboration across the enterprise. It encourages colleagues to team up and network in an atmosphere outside of their daily routine, thus deepening the passion for one’s career and spurring innovative thought processes. In addition, entry- and mid-level professionals have the opportunity to develop strong relationships with senior staff members who, in turn, can tap PHMC Explore members for special projects as needed, enhancing on-the-job learning for those members.

As an employee engagement and leadership development platform, PHMC Explore demonstrates PHMC’s commitment to developing its diverse and talented workforce. This platform engages employees and works to develop them into the next generation of public health leaders. As an in-house innovation incubator, PHMC Explore fosters enterprise-wide collaboration to address the specific needs of the communities that PHMC serves. This platform also aims to retain the nascent innovators and develop them into skilled ambassadors of PHMC’s mission. As organizations seek to lead future innovations, they must investment in their most valuable assets by cultivating the talent within their own workforces and continue to create opportunities to learn, grow and lead. 


  1. Apple University Taught Staff How to Carry on Jobs' Work." Accessed April 08, 2016.
  2. "Google Makes Employees Go to GoogleEDU." NBC Bay Area. Accessed April 08, 2016.
  3. "Multiple Generations @ Work." Future Workplace LLC, 2012.
  4. "Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey." 2013-Employment-Trends.
  5. "Why Millennials Want To Work For Themselves." Fast Company. 2014.