Problem: I have often invested resources into employee professional development, only to have them leave the company. I understand that professional employees want to develop their skills, but I don’t want to invest in employees who wind up leaving for a better job elsewhere. How do I ensure that I will retain the people in whose professional development I invest?
The current economic conditions of low unemployment and high job growth have created a perfect storm for employers. Organizations that used to struggle to find good talent now are faced with the challenge of retaining their top employees. Many of today’s highly educated professionals have their choice of open positions. Unhappy, unfulfilled or simply bored employees can easily leave for a new position elsewhere.
During this perfect storm, employers understandably are evaluating their return on investment in training people who may then parlay that training into a better job with another employer. As a director of the UCCS College of Business’ Office of Professional and Executive Development, I hear this complaint from many business leaders. Fortunately, there is a proven, though paradoxical, path out of this dilemma.
The key to retaining talented employees in whom you’ve invested professional development resources lies in understanding their divided loyalties. Many professionals, especially the most talented ones, are dedicated to their profession first, and to their employer only secondarily, at best. Paradoxically, especially in times of high professional mobility such as we are now experiencing, employers actually benefit from increasing their investment in professional development. This is because professionals actually view the commitment to their professional development as one of the most attractive things about a work environment. They view this workplace factor on a par with quality of the day-to-day challenges of their work, and above salary and other perks. Professionals want to develop and practice their craft above all else. Here’s how you can help them feel that their development is a priority for you.
1. Find formal professional development opportunities.
Outside of internal, company-specific training, find reasonable opportunities for employees to engage in structured training throughout the year. Examples include outside high-level training programs through a local university’s executive education unit or a reputable training organization; online “microlearning” seminars or webinars; or short lunch-and-learn sessions for teams.
2. Spend time facilitating informal learning opportunities.
On-the-job learning opportunities regularly present themselves in disguise. After attending a new-client meeting, schedule a debrief with a less-experienced employee. Do you want a junior employee to take the lead on a new project? Schedule a time to discuss the important components and skills to be gained. You can easily reframe a work situation or responsibility as an opportunity for learning.
3. Regularly encourage employees to apply learning.
To see ROI from training, leaders need to provide encouragement and opportunities for employees to apply newly acquired skills. Did an employee just complete a leadership program? Provide them with an opportunity to take the lead on an initiative. A department lead completed a financial training? Let them have input at upcoming budget planning meetings. The more time that an employee can intentionally practice a new skill, the more likely they are to integrate these skills and provide more value in their role.
You can bet that your employees, happy or unhappy, are talking about your company to their peers. They will describe how your organization invests in its employees and offers training for career advancement — or how it doesn’t. These peers are your potential customers, possible investors, and future employee candidates.
Will employees stay forever? No. However, they are more likely to stay years longer if they feel valuable to their organization and that their leaders invest in their growth, leading to a tangible ROI. Personally, I’d rather have an outstanding employee eventually leave my organization after four years of hard work and innovative drive than a disengaged employee who contributed little value during their tenure.
Henry Ford once said, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”
Shawna L. Lippert, MBA, is the director of executive education and professional development in the College of Business at UCCS. Lippert is also an adjunct instructor of business and career professionalism. Contact: OPED@uccs.edu.