Leaders Are People, Not Resources

Mark Nussbaum

COO, Signature Consultants

Mark has been with Signature Consultants for nearly 20 years. He is passionately focused on people: the team, consultants and customers. Prior to joining Signature, he served as Executive Vice President of Rendina Companies and was a senior partner at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, a leading law firm.

At Signature Consultants, one of our key areas of focus has been on leadership development:  how do we take our people and work strategically to develop them so that they can succeed today, but also with an eye to tomorrow?

Borrowing from the model that baseball provides, called player development, our approach involves not bringing in a free agent from outside the team, but closely working with our internal talent to provide leadership development and management training that prepares them for a successful career at Signature, not just a job.  Thinking of talent development as a long-term proposition that steadily adds to abilities and skills allows us to invest in developing our team from college to, someday, running the enterprise.

Importantly, this talent development approach is an incremental and considered process.  Our implementation of the process required multiple years and involved creating a shift in mentality, a new system and plenty of hands-on training.


We wanted to ensure that the process was not disruptive to customer service and the day-to-day business, so we made a conscious choice not to simply turn the program on and expect compliance.  Instead, we began with a small internal team of recruiters, moved a former recruiter into a dedicated training role and engaged HR by bringing in a team member passionate about development.

Initially, we started with 4-6 individuals in our minor-league development program and maintained a 1:1 ratio of trainers to trainees.  We used this opportunity to learn what worked and what didn’t, making improvements and changes to the approach.


The process of shifting our focus to enterprise-wide leadership development was long and had ups and downs as it matured.  With a long-term focus, however, it was easier to absorb those fluctuations and recognize that the training process never ends.  Throughout the process, we added more advanced elements to accommodate the growing needs of our talent:  online offerings, short coursework at the desk, job shadowing, a formalized feedback process, mentoring, mentee evaluation and a mentor forum.

This systematic approach allowed for a virtuous feedback loop to evolve in which junior talent learned new skills, provided insights into process improvement and became mentors themselves.  By constantly introducing new opportunities and programs, our employees always had growth opportunities and a clear career map.

Today, the program has 20 new people entering each month.  The vast majority of long-time employees are trained and actively involved as both mentors and mentees as they aid those coming behind them and look to the next step in their career development.  Corporate growth is at its highest rate and turnover is exceedingly low, as our team recognizes they do not have to job hop to gain skills, secure additional responsibility and grow both personally and professionally.

Ongoing Execution

After a long and successful season where our wins far exceeded our losses, we’ve made it to the Championship.  The program has paid off and continues to grow and improve.

The results?  Over five years, we have moved from less than 10 percent of our people being internally trained to more than 70 percent, which not only results in overall cost savings, but a significant boost in morale and commitment.  Over that same time frame, the size of the company has grown 50 percent.

A few other items of note:

  • Internal cohesion is exceptional.  Since our team is homegrown, we know how to work together and leverage our respective strengths.  Everyone comes from the same mentality and shares a vision for how we will succeed.  When we do need to recruit externally, we have a solid foundation on which to introduce them to our company and quickly make them a productive member of the team.
  • Culture is strengthened.
  • Energy levels have jumped.  The younger people have a passion for their positions, knowing that they are respected and being groomed for the next level.  They recognize that performance will be rewarded and see a clear path forward that justifies their effort and commitment.
  • The program is rewarding.  It brings a harmony to the organization where people work enthusiastically at a place where their own careers are being nurtured while they are helping others to find jobs and worthwhile employment.  It’s a win-win.


We all are well-aware of the current skilled talent shortage.  Turnover and low employee engagement are drags on any business.  Rather than constantly be on the lookout for new talent, why not consider the people you already have on board?  A thought to always keep in mind:  these are humans, not resources.  They appreciate being appreciated and will respond when they are treated with respect and given opportunities to learn and grow.

With a dedicated focus on people development, there’s no reason why your team can’t bring in the kind of performance that anyone can be proud of.