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Innovation at Work: How a Talent Director Makes a Difference at iMentor

For many fast-paced nonprofit organizations working to deliver high-impact programs and services, staff development and hiring can become an afterthought. Not so at iMentor, a national organization that leverages the power of mentoring to help youth in low-income communities graduate high school ready to succeed in college.

In early 2009, faced with the additional challenges and responsibilities of an aggressive five-year growth plan, iMentor's executive leadership decided it was critical to create a new position and hire a Managing Director of Talent.

"We felt very strongly that our people are our program," said Caroline Kim Oh, president of iMentor, who along with iMentor CEO Mike O'Brien led the team to hire the talent director. "We knew that bringing someone who could focus on this at a leadership level was going to be one of the most important factors in our success."

Oh explained that iMentor was looking for someone who could complement and grow beyond the role of a traditional human resources officer and help the organization shape strategy, manage teams, and build employer brand awareness.

"We needed someone who could inspire and get people excited," Oh added. "We wanted a collaborator and a dynamic leader to help build and innovative talent function and serve as an internal consultant to our managers, as well as someone people felt comfortable coming to talk to."

Through a partnership with Commongood Careers, iMentor found that person in Kim Hendler, who was hired in June 2009. While her responsibilities include hiring, developing, evaluating, and retaining iMentor's team, and managing her own team of three talent managers, Hendler says she has no typical workday: "In addition to developing talent strategy for the organization or updating policies, my day might include conducting interviews, running meetings with managers and senior leadership, doing one on one coaching, or helping someone get feedback from a supervisor."

During Hendler's tenure, iMentor has grown from twenty to eighty staff and is on track to reach a goal of a hundred employees by 2013. Recently, Hendler secured grant funding to train and develop high performing and high potential staff interested in building leadership and management skills; the new program is called iLead.

"While we've had some great successes in hiring talented managers both internally and externally, we need to work harder to prepare employees for a management role," Hendler said. "We also want to ensure our best talent report to managers who are prepared to foster and retain them. And we'd like to shorten the time it takes for us to hire for management roles."

For organizations considering hiring a director of talent, Hendler stresses the need to have focus, quality, and consistency in staff development. "If you know that you are going to be growing quickly, you need to ask yourself: Who is focused on developing an internal culture of developing your staff, your most important asset? iMentor was at tipping point of growth and we wanted to be ready."