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How a Dynamics Partner Grooms Its Next-Gen Consultants

It's clear from the increasing number of LinkedIn job posts that partners are hiring again. During a panel discussion at Microsoft's recent Convergence conference, five Dynamics partner leaders agreed that adding qualified consultants to their teams was their top business goal. The fundamental challenge is not the hiring, but the preparation to turn new recruits into field-ready consultants.

Five years ago, I.B.I.S. Inc., a multi-gold Dynamics partner based in Atlanta, saw the problem coming and responded with a training program that turns college grads into valuable contributors. Now, the company is reaping the benefits with a vibrant, growing consulting team.

Creator and executive sponsor of the training program, I.B.I.S. Chief Operating Officer Dwight Specht saw the folly in the "steal from the competitor" hiring strategy. "We were causing an inflationary wage cycle and were not, as an industry, preparing new people," Specht said.

Through its college recruiting program, I.B.I.S. now taps grads from three major universities in Georgia to go through training and join the team. Five years into the program, training veterans now comprise 40 percent of the I.B.I.S. consulting team. Some have earned senior consultant status with four or five years of ERP and CRM implementation experience under their belt. One recruit has even authored a book.

The Training Program
I.B.I.S.'s one-year training program starts with 90 days of classroom training focused on building core consulting skills and product certification. During the following nine months, recruits work on site under the close supervision of senior consultants.

"As they gains skills on site, they are handed progressively more complex tasks," Specht explained. "When they first leave the program, they might just be functioning as a scribe in a meeting. By the end of the program, they may be handling an entire business process, like bank reconciliation."

The responsibility for classroom training is spread over 12 to 14 people in the I.B.I.S. organization, including the consulting team, directors and executives. The team approach not only shares the time commitment burden, but also allows senior staff to get to know the new recruits.  

"Because there are so many people involved from the existing staff, we have no problems with acceptance once the kids come out of the program. They know everyone by that time," Specht said. "And the junior staff has learned about real-world experiences from a broad range of perspectives."

Lessons Learned
For those partners considering an internally managed training program, the I.B.I.S. model provides valuable lessons.  

Through experience, Specht has developed a recruiting profile of the students that are a likely fit -- starting with majors in accounting, engineering and management information systems. "We are pretty specific. We look for passion around technology and service," Specht said. "A 3 to 3.5 GPA and leadership outside of school in a Greek or not-for-profit organization. We would also like them to have family and personal ties to the geographic areas where we work."

While the I.B.I.S. program is a group effort, Specht recommends that one person at a senior level be responsible for designing and driving the program. There is a significant time requirement with recruiting and coordination, but to support the long-term goals of the company, personnel development has to be a priority.

"The commitment has to come from the senior level on down," Specht said. "The consulting team has to have a vested interest in the outcome. There is no financial incentive, but our team takes great pride in being able to teach and develop all this fresh new talent."

Expectations on retention have to be realistic. An average of five years on the job was the original goal for the I.B.I.S. training program. While they are just passing the five-year milestone, very few original recruits have moved on. Crediting a supportive environment as key to success, Specht said, "Our entire culture is based on helping your teammates, which is also one of the reasons that our overall turnover is so low."

As to the ROI of the program, Specht said, "Based on our original economic analysis we targeted a break-even of getting half of the class to be half billable the first year. We have actually never had a challenge getting the group to be profitable in the first year."

Investment in the Future
In all technology projects, customers expect experienced consultants to deliver their service. They don't respond well to new recruits dumped on their project and left to their own devices. Those partners who invest in training and nurturing talent are building a stronger future for themselves and our industry.

How are you finding and training technical talent? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.  

Posted by Barb Levisay on May 02, 2013 at 11:58 AM