We’ve talked before about the baby boomer exodus, the coming wave of retirements and the ripple effect that’ll have some professionals once again job-hopping in a search for the perfect employer. Whether or not it’s a valid concern remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt the idea behind this particular curtain is a solid business issue of which every executive has to be cognizant: retention.
It’s easy to dismiss these concerns as being outside your purview, especially those of you who don’t report through the HR organization. Retention—like its first cousin, hiring—is clearly an HR issue. But of course, it’s not that simple: Learning touches every branch and mission-critical function of an organization, and retention is certainly a key component, even in the most employer-friendly labor markets.
I don’t need to outline why retention is important: You don’t have to be the senior vice president of HR to know that onboarding-related costs add up quickly. But the dollars aren’t even the tip of the iceberg—the brain drain that occurs every time a long-term employee hits the road can be damaging in ways both large and small, and some companies can take years to build back up to the needed level of productivity.
Learning, even if operating independently of HR, doesn’t have the luxury of being cavalier about retention. Chief learning officers who get involved early and often in the retention issue will save the company cash, make knowledge development and transfer a more successful and long-term enterprise for the organization, and combat the trend toward job-hopping among younger employees, helping build a sustainable company culture and ensure a long line of succession at all levels.
Ken Blanchard recently shared with me a white paper just released by The Ken Blanchard Companies and its Office of the Future research project. Ken is offering 10 steps to decrease dropouts and retain key personnel, a sort of “retention insurance.” Learning is certainly a key component in many of the initiatives, and definitely can help with your own staff of learning experts:
- Show genuine interest and appreciation. Remember, a little good morale goes a long way.
- Make work meaningful. If employees see the value of their efforts, they’ll feel better about doing it.
- Ask courageous questions. You know why some people leave. Do you know why some stay? Arm yourself with information.
- Grow competencies situationally. Don’t let employees rest on their laurels. New challenges help keep skills sharp and engagement sharper.
- Meet one-on-one routinely. It seems obvious, but be sure you’re aware of the needs of managers, leaders and your direct reports.
- Make retention everyone’s responsibility. You’ve got a company full of eyes and ears. Let them be the first alert for problems that can be fixed.
- Be a career builder. This is a natural for the chief learning officer. Be sure the workforce knows you’re interested in developing competencies, for the employees’ sake and the company’s.
- Help people get an “A.” Think all A-level employees know they’re A-level? It’s best to be sure all drivers know the grading curve.
- Manage the meaning of change. When a business finds itself in times of trouble, open communications can help dig it out. Be open and available to your people to help them help others through rough waters.
- Walk the talk. Few things are more frustrating than “do as I say, not as I do” attitudes. People look to leaders for inspiration and motivation. Are you practicing the principles you want to see extended across the enterprise?
The baby boomers may be at the center of the story currently, but retention is a permanent issue, and it’ll be on the plate of each chief learning officer who succeeds you. Now’s a great time to build or refine the best practices for this key business need and to define the value learning brings to labor.
Editor in Chief