Retaining talent through learning

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Written by Lyndon Wingrove on 19 November 2014

Attracting the most talented staff in your industry is essential if you want to outperform your competitors, and of course a certain degree of attrition is needed for fresh perspectives and new ideas. But retaining key talent is equally, if not more, important. By holding on to your best people, you not only retain their skills, but also their knowledge of your organisation – its structure, its culture and its vision.

But successful employee retention is an ongoing struggle for many firms. According to research carried out by specialist HR recruiter Ortus, 60 per cent of HR professionals are seeing an increase in the number of offers made to their staff by rival businesses. In spite of that heightened risk of losing key talent, fewer than half (47 per cent) of those surveyed said their company had a strategy in place to deal with retention.

When you look at the statistics around people’s job search habits, it is not difficult to see why retention causes companies such a headache. Research from recruiting firm Adecco revealed that 52 per cent of UK workers are planning on changing jobs within the next two years. So what more could be done to counteract the problem? One proven way to encourage retention is through having a solid L&D strategy in place.

Providing a clear development path

According to Ortus’ research, the biggest catalyst for employees leaving an organisation is career development (75 per cent), closely followed by salary (72 per cent). This means that even if giving your staff a significant pay rise is not an option, you could still encourage them to stay by providing a clear and structured plan for them to grow in their career over time.                          

Investing in learning is one of the most effective ways to achieve that. Learning, at its core, is all about enhancing the way people work. But it can be much more targeted than that. You can put people onto a learning path which evolves as their seniority and responsibilities grow. Not only that, but you can create a learning path which actually encourages that growth in the first place.

When you invest money, time and energy into the development of your people, you essentially show them, rather than just tell them – an important distinction – that you have belief in their future at the company, and that there will be real opportunities for them to progress because the business itself will be successful. By building on their strengths or developing them in line with a future vision of their role, or of the organisation itself, you give them much more of a reason to stay with the business long-term.

Promoting better engagement (from the top)

Learning can, and does, encourage higher levels of employee engagement, and retention is intrinsically linked to engagement. Perhaps the most effective way to create engagement is through learning interventions targeted at managers and leaders. Everyone knows the saying: ‘people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.’ It may be a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true, so it is essential to support leaders in creating a climate that enables and engages employees, and that this climate then filters down throughout the organisation.

This is where it is vitally important to distinguish between leaders and managers. When it comes to engagement, it is a manager’s job to empower their team members, make them feel valued, and provide clarity of roles and responsibilities through clear communication. For a leader, however, engagement comes from being a role model – sharing a solid company vision and reflecting the values of the organisation in their everyday behaviours. Both, however, have the ability to affect the day-to-day environment in which employees work, and this is critical in engagement.

The question is, then: can those qualities be taught? In essence – yes, they can. It all comes down to showing leaders how to be visible within the context of the organisation, and how to communicate with the business in a transparent and engaging way. The best way to achieve this is through a dedicated learning intervention aimed at the leadership level, and one which focuses not just on what engagement is, but on the skills required to affect it.

Integral part of a wider retention strategy

While learning alone may not be a ‘catch-all’ solution to the issue of retention, it should be considered a vital component of your wider employee retention efforts. L&D is not only about making people better at their jobs (although that is its core function); it is about investing in people and giving them the opportunity to develop and thrive within your business, and enhancing their skills and knowledge in a way which is relevant to the strategic goals of your organisation.

Learning provides a powerful means by which to not only retain your talented people, but also ensure they are as productive and effective as possible when they do stay.

Lyndon Wingrove is director of capabilities and consulting at Thales L&D []



Submitted on 23 November, 2014 - 15:45
Hi Lyndon, Thank you for reminding us that, ‘people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.’ As you stated that it may sound a bit cliche' but it is true and continues to be problematic. I've also heard "the body can't work without the head." so until organizations support the head/leaders this culture will continue. Lyndon, thank you for this post and please check out the blog at Roosevelt University where I am a student in the Masters of Training and Development program: Kim

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