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Why Talent Management In The Channel 'All Comes Back To Culture'

A panel of solution providers at XChange 2020 told attendees that focusing on issues such as culture, on-boarding and retention will pay major dividends.

From left, Vennard Wright, Dawn Sizer and George Pashardis

When it comes to recruiting, training and retaining staff in the channel, the key is for leaders to cultivate the right culture—and, in particular, a culture that makes people feel they are being supported by their employers.

That was the message during a panel on talent management at XChange 2020, which is hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company and taking place this week in San Antonio.

[Related: America’s 15 Best IT Jobs In 2020: Glassdoor]

"If you take care of your people, they take care of your mission," said Dawn Sizer, CEO of Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based 3rd Element Consulting—quoting an earlier talk at the conference from former U.S. Army Captain Shannon Huffman Polson.

The talent management panel took place Sunday and also included Vennard Wright, CIO of Herndon, Va.-based Iron Bow Technologies, and George Pashardis, vice president of health care for Herndon, Va.-based ePlus Technology, as the moderator.

Iron Bow and ePlus are large solution providers with revenue in the billions, while 3rd Element Consulting is a small MSP with a staff of 10, which brought a diversity of recommendations for attendees of the panel.

But what unified the discussion was a focus on culture.

"We're fanatical about making sure that Iron Bow is a great place to work," Wright said. "Culture is a big part of what we do we retain people."

Both Iron Bow and 3rd Element offer frequent outings and plenty of events for socializing even within work hours, the executives said.

The emphasis on culture is also there right from the start at 3rd Element, Sizer said.

"The first interview that we do is all about culture. Our entire team sits down for every single interview," she said. "We see if we like them or not, to see if they're a fit for us and us for them. That way we can rule each other out if it's not a good fit."

From there, it's crucial to get off on the right foot with employees, the panel members said.

"Something that everybody needs to think about is what your on-boarding practices are and how much time to put into on-boarding—especially your technical staff," Sizer said, noting that the on-boarding process at her company lasts a full 90 days.

Chad Bosworth, CEO of Lodi, Calif.-based Integrated Telecom Solutions, said the insight on culture and on-boarding could prove useful for his company, which has eight employees.

"We're a much smaller company, so I think Dawn’s input aligns a little better with ours. It was interesting to hear the lengthy on-boarding process they have,” Bosworth said.

"We do company outings and team-building exercises, but I think after hearing what they were saying, we'll probably start doing that a little more than we're doing already," he said.

Remote work was a major topic of discussion for the panel, especially at the larger companies that were represented. At Iron Bow, remote work is "a big part of our model" and is a selling point that the company uses in recruiting, Wright said.

Pashardis said that ePlus also has a significant remote work element but prefers to have employees in-house for the first 90 days, particularly salespeople, "because that's the only way they can learn."

Ultimately, the best approach to managing talent "all comes back to culture," Sizer said. "If you do not create a culture of learning in your business, none of this can happen."

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