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On Talent Management with Amy Bronson

Interview with Amy Bronson Executive Director of Advancement Resources and Strategic Talent Management, Boston University

In the middle of our conversation with Amy Bronson about finding and keeping talented staff she casually mentions that they had just hit the one billion dollar mark in the on-going Campaign for BU.  It wasn’t a boast, or even a point other than as context for how at the celebration everyone, not just the key fundraisers, received equal recognition for the achievement.  We were talking about retention and Amy had been explaining that retention does not just happen and at BU there is more attention being paid to the “work” of retaining talented people…

Another person might have lingered on that subject just a moment longer: the hard work, the impressive number of campaign donors (117,000 and counting), the magnitude of the achievement.  But not Amy.  She is much too focused on the work at hand, which takes us back to the beginning of the conversation.

Keys to Talent Management

Talent management is a term that refers to a strategic and deliberate effort to source, attract, select, train, develop, retain, promote, and move employees up through an organization.

There has been a shift, Amy states, in the last five to seven years among non-profits toward a focus on talent management.  More institutions are embracing the idea that to hire, manage and retain talented employees requires commitment and resources.  High performance advancement organizations like BU’s are taking a page from the for-profit world (a comparison Amy uses frequently in the discussion), shifting to “strategic talent management” (STM).  On the CASE website announcement for the organization’s recent conference on STM (where Amy co-led a session on retention) this evolution is described as wherein,

“The traditional human resources model has shifted to strategic talent management, where "posting and praying" has given way to "opportunistic hiring" and "sourcing."

The Right Fit

The first step in the process is to hire the right person for the job and the organization.  When asked how to be sure a candidate is a good fit, Amy advises that one must first understand the “culture” of one’s organization, then look closely at those people who are thriving within that culture to understand the why and how of their success.  This helps inform the interviewing process.

Once the candidate has been hired the next step in the process is a thorough onboarding program.  In the forward to “Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success,” Mary A. Gowan, Ph.D. states, “Onboarding helps new hires adjust to the social and performance aspects of their jobs so they can quickly become productive, contributing members of the organization.”  The report defines the onboarding process as guided by “the four C’s:”

  • Compliance is the lowest level and includes teaching employees basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations.
  • Clarification refers to ensuring that employees understand their new jobs and all related expectations.
  • Culture is a broad category that includes providing employees with a sense of organizational norms—both formal and informal.
  • Connection refers to the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks that new employees must establish.

Once the right candidate is hired and onboarded, retention strategy follows and Amy acknowledges that retention requires work, too.  Retention starts with management so solid leadership training is essential.  At BU, where managers are “groomed” they are also held accountable for retention.  Salary is important, of course, but not all institutions can pay top salaries.  So, managers who pay attention and really listen to their team members, explore what is required to keep people engaged and rewarded, and know what competitors are offering that could lure staff away are all part of a good retention strategy.  Good management along with a clear leadership path, a collective sense of purpose, an understanding of work life issues and professional development opportunities all contribute to retaining talent.

For those endeavoring to develop a strong talent management program, Amy advises looking to the institutions where a solid program already exists for guidance.  “There are many more people in the talent management arena now,” Amy offers, “and we are highly collaborative.”  While the idea of talent management for non-profits is still new it has become “legitimized and sophisticated.”  Benchmarking* is an excellent tool to help build a case for formalizing your talent management program.  Rather than invent the wheel, CASE offers a benchmarking toolkit to member institutions.  With data in hand, it’s time to make the case for ROI.  “Getting the right people in the right seats is about improving your bottom line,” Amy argues.

A superior talent management program is a magnet for the best professionals out there.  The path to a game-changing talent strategy won’t be straight or smooth, but in the end prioritizing performance underpinned with a robust game plan for individualized professional development is your competitive edge and a win-win strategy for everyone.

*Benchmarking is the collection and review of common data among peer institutions for the purpose of understanding the range of performance and practice among those institutions. Advancement practitioners can use the perspectives they gain from benchmarking to improve their own programs and to provide context for their work within their own institutions.

Note:  If you want to read more about BU’s impressive campaign achievements, go to

In her position at Boston University, Amy is engaged in building and sustaining an outstanding team of advancement professionals who are undertaking an enormous challenge: the first comprehensive campaign in the history of the University. Amy oversees the talent management program for a staff of 200 including seventeen schools and colleges at the University. Encompassing talent acquisition, organizational and learning development, human resource management, finance and administration, Amy partners with colleagues across the University to ensure the advancement team is ready to meet the campaign challenge.

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