How to Encourage Top Talent to Grow with Your Organization—Not Outgrow It

board 3695073 1920

“Why would I invest in developing my employees when they’re just going to leave and use those new skills to help some other company?”

That’s one of the most frequent concerns we hear about implementing a robust learning and development program or fostering a culture of constant growth. Leaders fear that their investments will amount to nothing when employees take all that development and put it to work at a different company.

And we understand the instinct. Retaining talent (especially millennial talent) is more difficult than ever. We also know that the cost of replacing an employee is equal to six to nine months of that employee’s salary, according to SHRM research. If employees are more likely to leave than not, and if that departure will be costly as is, why bother investing in them while they’re here?

But that’s the wrong attitude.

The benefit of a truly effective learning culture is that it inspires employees to seek new opportunities and growth within their organization, not outside of it.

Yes, an employee who is constantly learning will eventually outgrow her role, but if her organization is savvy, they’re empowering her to apply her skills in new roles within the same four walls—creating a powerful return on investment for the company.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Build an A-Team author Whitney Johnson refers to this as a learning ecosystem:

“High-growth individuals who embrace new learning make the organization smarter and contribute to its growth, but they can’t do it alone. They need their managers to have a reciprocal interest in individual growth and create a learning ecosystem to foster it.

“Like a biological ecosystem, organizations are either growing or they’re dying. And organizations grow when their employees are learning. So if you want a high-growth organization, you need to create a learning ecosystem to support high-growth individuals — to expose them to new and challenging opportunities before their roles become stale.”

So how do you create a mutually beneficial learning ecosystem?

Creating a learning ecosystem goes beyond simply investing in learning and development programs. It requires a cultural commitment to learning, training programs that truly benefit employees, and openness to actively helping team members find (and sometimes develop) opportunities to have a true impact on company growth.

In broad strokes, here’s what that might look like:

1.   Building a Culture of Learning

No matter what kind of culture you’re trying to build—a culture of collaboration, of innovation, or of learning—the first thing to remember is that culture comes from the top. If leadership isn’t open to and actively prioritizing ongoing development opportunities, neither will employees.

It’s not enough to make training platforms available or send around memos about the importance of learning. Company leaders can only build that culture by example, beginning with the c-suite. When employees see leaders fostering a curiosity-oriented culture, it will start to trickle down through the organization.

2.   Investing in Effective Learning Platforms

Traditional L&D platforms, workshops, and seminars tend to be general, one-size-fits-all offerings that neither capture employees’ attention nor drive much lasting impact. In order to encourage employees to embrace the new learning-centric culture, it’s time to try something different.

Cloud-based, adaptive learning and development programs offer customizable training opportunities based on every user’s unique skillset. As a result, users aren’t made to sit through material that they’ve already mastered or that isn’t relevant to their goals. Instead, they can feel good about investing their time and energy into learning, because they know it was designed specifically for them—and because they know the lessons will be directly applicable to their work.

3.   Encouraging Growth within the Company

The same HBR article tells a story about a Gannett employee who felt his current role was getting stale. But rather than seek new opportunities elsewhere, he was able to propose a new role for himself within Gannett—to both his own benefit and his company’s.

“Companies need to see that a high-growth employee who loves to learn is a very valuable asset. Redeploying them on a new learning curve within the organization keeps their expertise in-house and allows them to share and build on it — a potentially exponential gain.”

Encouraging employees to take initiative, shift perspectives, and step into new roles—and rewarding them for doing so—will reinforce the notion that your company’s leaders care about their growth, but they also value the wide range of contributions they can make to the company. When employees believe their skills, perspectives, and work are valued, they’re more likely to remain engaged and loyal to their organizations.

If your organization has been resistant to learning and development, or has yet to see the desired impact on talent retention, it may be time to think bigger. The right L&D programs are powerful alone, but in the context of a robust learning ecosystem, they just might be unstoppable.