TANGO Partners Perspective – November 2021
A Training Perspective on Employee Retention
Michele Kilmczak, MA, LMSW
Director of Training & Grant Management
In the midst of the COVID pandemic, the Great Resignation is having a considerable impact on many organizations. Recruitment poses its own challenges, but convincing people that your organization is a great place to work is a lot easier than convincing them to stay.
Shifting the culture of an organization beyond competence and compliance, encouraging growth, innovation, and tapping into the collective knowledge and wisdom of employees will also increase employee retention. The intentional development of a learning culture that encourages staff engagement, helps staff feel valued, invested in, and deeply connected to the mission of an organization is critical. The costs are minimal, and the benefits to employees and organizations quite significant. What are the hallmarks of a learning culture?
- Training that reflects the organization’s values and mission. Every employee should know the “why” of the organization and have a clear understanding of how their individual role contributes to the larger picture – your mission. This is especially important for roles at the entry level of the organizational hierarchy, where staff often report feeling invisible and expendable. Not surprisingly, these tend to be the positions with the highest turnover rates. Organizations that are resigned to this churn are missing an important opportunity to nurture loyal staff who are motivated through being recognized as highly valued team members performing important work.
- Training that reflects the work, with directly applicable takeaways. The pitcher-and-glass model of learning in which expert trainers pour knowledge into passive recipients is the least effective way to learn, and ignores the fact that employees are in many ways the experts in what they do every day. Trainers who facilitate a process of shared learning will empower staff and instill knowledge that lasts long after the training session is over.
- A data-oriented approach to learning. Many organizations invest significant resources into staff training, but follow-up is quite often lacking. People leave trainings excited and highly motivated to practice new skills, energy which quickly fizzles out. Staff meetings are a great opportunity for the team to brainstorm effective ways to implement new skills, and for managers to identify additional training needs.
- A variety of professional development opportunities. No one wants to feel stuck in a position with no options. Give staff the opportunity to explore new areas of interest or to delve more deeply into enriching their current knowledge. Identify career pathways and support staff in navigating them. Develop a pool of internal trainers who demonstrate particular skills or knowledge and enlist them in sharing their expertise with their peers.
- Managerial training that reflects supportive leadership and a focus on staff care. While fear might work in the short-term as a motivator, in the long run it erodes trust and creates toxic cultures. A defining feature of a learning orientation – and a key factor in retention – is leadership style that provides psychological safety for employees. Supervision will always need to be task-focused, but managers also need to appreciate how emotional stress directly impacts performance and outcomes. Training for managers should build a recognition and understanding of the unique emotional stressors their employees face each day and develop supportive strategies and resources to enhance staff care.
- The courage to view failure as a critical component of success. A true learning culture needs to begin at the highest level of an organization. A learning organizational culture faces failure squarely and honestly, using the experience to develop innovative solutions that harness the collective wisdom and diverse perspectives of staff.
Energy expended convincing people with one foot out the door to stay would be better spent creating the optimal organizational conditions to retain and engage our most loyal and valued employees. A learning culture will do much to accomplish this, while creating the conditions for optimal organizational resilience and customer satisfaction.
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