Invest in Ongoing Learning and Development Activities for Employees

By Bob Nelson

A great strategy for retaining high-potential employees is to invest in a variety of ongoing learning and development activities for your HIPOs. The best organizations realize that providing employees with opportunities to learn pays dividends for both the firm and the employees. The firm gains workers who are better skilled, more versatile in their work assignments, and motivated because they are challenged and encouraged to grow.

Employees get the opportunity to learn new skills, gain new ways of viewing things, and network with coworkers. When employees get the chance to learn and better themselves within the organization, they can sense the firm’s commitment to them; enhanced trust and loyalty follow suit.

All development is self-development, 90 percent of which occurs on the job. Therefore, explore with your HIPOs the challenging assignments within their current jobs as well as supplemental learning and development activities outside of their jobs.

In its Mini Retention Survey, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that employees are most hungry for tools, information, and knowledge they can take as their own. “Many companies are hesitant about providing such development programs for fear that those employees will up and leave with their newfound skills and credentials,” says SHRM spokesperson Barry Lawrence. “The irony is that the more tools you offer, the more likely employees will stick around.”

Following are some real-life examples of employee development:

  • At pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company, learning for new MBA grads is structured so that HIPOs receive 20 percent of their learning from coaching, 70 percent from their work, and 10 percent from formal education.

  • At Epson Computers (now Epson), high-potential employees rotate through executive internships that allow them to actively participate in meetings and decisions at the executive level prior to returning to their job.

Says Robert Lukefahr, one of the founders of Third Millennium, “Training is one of the best motivators. The opportunity for high potentials to increase their portfolio of skills through training, either formal or informal, ranks high on their list.” As several staff accountants at Price Waterhouse point out, learning is a significant piece of the new contract that will bind people to their firm. “I’m here because I keep learning,” says one 30-year old. “Whenever I get a little bored, a new project comes along with opportunities for learning. For me, stagnation would lead to restlessness.”

Additional development ideas for high-potential employees include

  • Leading or being a part of supplier and process improvement teams

  • Engaging in formal executive education programs through a leading college or university

  • Shadowing (following a key leader around in their job)

  • Attending closed-door strategic briefings

  • Swapping job with colleagues in other functions

  • Performing stretch assignments and problem solving

  • Participating in specialized skills training like project management, Six Sigma, or data analytics

  • Developing and presenting proposals to senior leaders

  • Representing the company at industry meetings