Career Development – Charting a Path that Fosters Retention
By Deb Walker
It’s Monday morning and you’ve just walked through the front door of the office to a text from an employee asking: “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
These words are seldom used to share good news, and are often followed by a letter of resignation. Your mind races to better understand the situation. Should you have seen this coming? How will this affect the organization?
Once you get past the sadness of losing yet another bright light in your team, your mind settles reluctantly on all the costs associated with another departure – both direct and indirect.
Direct costs are those that hit right at the bottom line and include the time and the actual dollars it takes to recruit – particularly now during low unemployment; overtime owed if there is any delay in getting a replacement identified and functioning in their role; training and orientation required to bring the candidate’s skills up to where they need to be; delays in executing projects and initiatives which impact the bottom line in the short term (at minimum); and, potential loss of customer confidence and future revenue in the long term.
Indirect (or soft) costs are those that impact productivity and morale such as the team’s adjustment to loss of the outgoing employee and to the addition of a new team member; fatigue that may set in while covering off the skill gap left by the departing employee; and the loss of institutional memory, or re-establishing relationships both internal and external to the organization such as with customers and suppliers.
Not that there aren’t opportunities that also present themselves each time someone leaves an organization, but let’s consider some of the options available before you get to that dreaded text.
For many years, the focus in HR departments was on turnover. It was one of the few measures that we had, although many (read: most) didn’t know how to interpret what that data was conveying. Now we’ve exchanged the word for “retention” and use the data as a measurement of “success”, often without really examining what it means and what it is telling us.
Retention is actually a side benefit of having a strategy firmly focused on employee development, growth and engagement. A “retention strategy” is nothing if it doesn’t connect to the overlap of what both the employee and organization need. There are as many reasons for an employee to leave as there are for an employee to stay. According to Forbes (6 Reasons Your Best Employees Quit) and CIO (9 reasons good employees leave – and how you can prevent it), here are some of the top reasons why employees quit:
- Mission and/or the execution of vision is muddled and/or not in alignment with expectations
- Leadership – most people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers
- Being stifled or not provided access to up to date technology and resources
- No developmental opportunities
- Lack of appreciation / recognition (monetarily and otherwise)
We have a myriad of alternatives for proactively meeting and counterbalancing these reasons, with a top choice being employee development.
As organizations become flatter, yet all the while more diverse in structure, career development takes on a new meaning. Employees are looking for ways to enhance who they are in their current role within the company. In their acquisition of new skills and competencies, they are also motivated to develop skills they can take with them wherever they go as part of their personal and professional toolkit. Long gone are the days of the “one employer” career. Although you can’t guarantee an employee will stay at your organization throughout their professional career, you can take steps to ensure employees feel included and valued within the organization as well as in how they are heard and acknowledged.
There is a multitude of ways that employees can be provided with solid developmental opportunities. Some of these include lateral and vertical opportunities through job shadowing, mentorship programs, robust succession planning, and access to a career coaching program. Other considerations include alternative rewards and recognition programs that are geared to the individual and their needs, and opportunities for formal training in areas that engage the employee.
Critical to any initiative for proactively addressing retention is to actually listen. That includes having managers and leaders trained and prepared to hear and support. Part of actively listening and wanting to be heard in return is to be frank and transparent in communication and intent. Nothing will be gained if token responses to requests are made and – worse – promises are made but not kept.
So, let’s revisit that Monday morning text. What steps can you take as an employer to retain your talent? Consider practices designed to ensure pro activity in supporting the developmental needs of employees (and the organization) such as these specific career development activities:
- Career Counseling
- Career Pathing
- Inventory of skills and competencies
- Training – available to all positions and growth oriented for both organization and individual
- Job Posting and succession planning
- Lateral development opportunities and follow through
With these foundations in place, you can better demonstrate your support in employee development and provide your employees with a great reason to stay.