What if they leave us?

Talent Management
Cédric Van Garsse

What if they leave us?

Most likely you have come across the popular social media meme in which the CFO asks: “What if we invest in developing our people & they leave us?” and the CEO replies with: “What if we don’t & they stay?” I bet we can all think of a CFO who would ask this question. Some of you are probably quick to praise the CEO and condemn the CFO. While others will rather side with the CFO, especially in times when cost management is high on the agenda.  

Obviously it wouldn’t be very sustainable for a company to simply be a “talent mill” that recruits, hires, and trains employees only to lose them as soon as they learn the ropes. So in a way the CFO makes a valid point. Yet building on learnings from past experiences by ensuring business continuity is critical. Without it, companies repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Losing this backstory and having to rebuild that knowledge and expertise within a team time and again, entices one of the greatest costs of employee churn. So from this point of view, the CEO is right. But which is it then?

Developing a growth mindset

Investing in the retention and development of your best talent is actually the best thing to do both for your company and your employees. But if each individual grows their skill set and becomes increasingly more valuable, how will you be able to keep them? What is a sustainable model for investing in employee development, without falling into the trap of becoming a “talent mill”?

Make them want to stay

There are a few basic concepts which need to be in place in order to keep your best employees:

  • Rise beyond standards
    Sometimes an employee’s development or growth does not necessarily line up neatly with your standard  performance evaluation cycle. You do not want to lose your rising stars  because their raise was too small or too far into the future.
  • Promotion matters
    Do not hesitate to publicly recognize the growth of each employee and grant appropriate title changes as they are earned. They do not only affect your employees’ career path, but also their motivation and pride by providing confirmation of their growth.
  • Grant freedom & flexibility
    More freedom and flexibility is received as a token of trust and respect. Let your employees decide how, when and where they tackle their tasks. Giving more control over their projects will stimulate ownership, pride and motivation.

Some will leave

But even with all that in place, some will eventually leave. They will outgrow their role and need higher levels of responsibility, in some cases even higher than what your team or your organization can offer them. So yes, some of them will still leave you for greater opportunity. Which takes us back to the initial question “How can investing in employee development ever be sustainable?”

Anticipate their departure

A growth mindset within your company will only become sustainable when you also start to proactively anticipate your employees’ inevitable departure from the moment they walk in.

  • Documentation is key
    Document their learnings so that their knowledge can easily be passed down to their future replacement. Have them draw up Best Practice Reports which explain what has been successful, but also outlines what has failed. So even if they leave your company, you won’t lose that valuable backstory and the effectiveness of your team will not drop.
  • Capture their network
    Have your employees register their activities, contacts, open opportunities & customer knowledge in a centralized CRM system, so that your commercial intelligence doesn’t crumble when they walk out the door.
  • Internal Mobility
    Invest in your internal mobility policy, so that when employees outgrow their role, they can hopefully find a new position with greater responsibility within your company. That way, they’ll be able to personally assist with onboarding their replacement and they will be accessible to answer questions for a while.
  • Leave the door open
    Even when an employee decides to leave, there is no need to hold a grudge. Make sure to part ways respectfully, recognizing their skills and what they have done for the company. Leaving the door open, will make it possible for them to maybe come back one day and re-join the organization with newly acquired experience & knowledge, and renewed commitment to the company.

So what if they leave us?

So what will happen if we invest in developing our employees and then they leave us? I suggest you do the following: Show up for their farewell parties and celebrate all they have brought to you and to the company as they grew. Wish them well and actually make the effort of staying in touch, because they WILL pay it forward one day, to you, your company, your Employer Brand and those they will lead in the future.

Have a look at our training courses and discover how we can help you develop the talent within your organisation

About the author

Cédric Van Garsse, Director Individual Talent Management

Cédric leads the Individual Talent Management department and advises European customers on people & development related challenges and opportunities.

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