Is There Really A Retention Conundrum?

Contrary to Dilbert’s assertion, most employees don’t leave organizations due to the plethora of meetings held (although, I suspect that death-by-meeting and other perceived time-wasters don’t help).

No, just like the errant spouse who feels as though they aren’t experiencing “growth and development” in a stagnant marriage, many employees leave because they feel as though they’ve hit the wall within their current places of employment – that they don’t have access to tools that will aid in the growth and development of their careers.

Therein lies the (perceived?) conundrum – employers are reluctant to help develop talented employees for fear of losing them, and talented employees are leaving organizations because of the lack of development opportunities.

In his recent article “The Career-Development Gap: Why Employers Fail To Retain Top Talent”, Panos Mourdoukoutas asks and answers one of the questions that troubles organizational leaders across the globe (bold emphasis mine):

“But why do companies fail to accommodate the expectations of their talented employees? Because of time and money that may end up subsidizing the competition. Mentoring and coaching require a great deal of time, for both the mentor and the apprentice. Formal training is costly and requires paid time off work for the employees involved; and there’s a dilemma over its effectiveness. “Employers are understandably reluctant to make big investments in workers who might not stay long.”

Monika Hamori, Jie Cao, and Burak Koyuncu echo this sentiment in their most recent article for the Harvard Business Review. In “Why Top Young Managers Are in a Nonstop Job Hunt”, the authors wrote (bold emphasis mine):

“Dissatisfaction with some employee-development efforts appears to fuel many early exits. We asked young managers what their employers do to help them grow in their jobs and what they’d like their employers to do, and found some large gaps…[workers are] not getting much in the way of formal development, such as training, mentoring, and coaching—things they also value highly.”

In my doctoral research, I studied the congruent competencies of exemplary sales leaders from Fortune 500 companies throughout the U.S. I specifically interviewed sales leaders who were promoted from individual contributor sales roles to positions of sales leadership within their organizations – to determine the factors they feel contributed to their successful ascensions.

I’m currently developing my research into a book, but my findings mirror those of Mourdoukoutas and Hamori et. al. Of the sales leaders I interviewed, every one of them were identified as high-potential employees early in their careers. Subsequently, each of them were given formal and informal coaching and mentoring – and as leaders, each of them provide coaching and mentoring to those whom they deem as high-potential employees as well. Additionally, each of them have enjoyed long tenures within their respective organizations – thus addressing the retention conundrum.

So is there really a “retention conundrum”? Perhaps.

Sure, coaching, mentoring, training, and development can be significant investments for organizational leaders – especially in these challenging economic times. And, one can’t guarantee that the benefactors of such “luxuries” will stick around long enough to employ their newly developed talents within the enterprise.

Still, business is about risk – and effective leaders would do well to not be timid (or cheap?) when considering the cost of developing high potential employees to increase retention…especially when you consider the cost of losing HiPo’s to other leaders who aren’t afraid to take those risks.


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