Training written on Chalkboard

Why Training Matters for Retention

Picking up from my post on Monday on Why Training Matters for Diversity, today I want to talk about retention.

I want to borrow one line from this article as my starting off point –

Organizations must provide opportunities to learn and grow, or they will lose their best employees.

The article I linked above is about having a “learning culture”, which is something we hear often, but I would argue that we seldomly see in practice. The reason I say that is because I’ve seen entirely too many organizations claim to have a learning culture, and point to having a couple of trainers. Yes, having a full-time training department is a start, but it does not a learning culture make.

Let me ask these questions about your learning culture:

  1. Is everyone in your organization encouraged, and enabled, to learn new skills? – Let’s be clear, this means everyone. It also means that not only do you give them a pat on the back for taking a course, attending an educational event, or studying on their own but you also provide some time and financing for them to do those things.
  2. Is everyone encouraged, and rewarded, for teaching? – Do your senior employees get bonus points for spending the time teaching other employees what they know? Or do they get punished for not having as many billable hours despite the fact that they are helping the organization overall by spreading the knowledge?
  3. Do you have an actual plan for growing each member of your staff that incorporated both the business need and their interests? Is your training team even aware of these plans?

Here’s where things get a little more interesting. Often the “learning culture” consists of nothing more than verbal encouragement to learn some new skills during your non-work time. Maybe there’s even a congratulatory email announcement when you achieve a certification or some other award on the basis of your attempts to educate yourself, which is exactly what you did, with your own time and money.

If you are actually investing time and money into helping grow the skills of your staff then let’s look at the flip side of a learning culture. Do you have a “teaching culture”? Does your day-to-day workplace culture allow the time for your people to teach each other? Is it encouraged? Is it recognized? Again, this is where I see a lot of organizations fall down in terms of really being what they say they want to be. Often the best way for someone to learn a new skill in your business is from the person who is already doing that thing in the business. But they don’t have the time, or there’s nothing in place to encourage them to do that. The people wanting to learn are often pointed in the direction of the training department, and quite possibly a group of folks who do not have the deep subject matter expertise of someone in the job. So they can maybe get them started, but only so far.

This brings me to that final point. Having a learning culture requires a plan for each employee and for different types of jobs. It requires coordination between the official training department, managers, HR, and the subject matter experts throughout the organization. It may look a bit messy. It may include some mix of internal training, external resources, job shadowing, self-study, and group learning. I’d argue that a true culture that promotes and encourages learning would leave open all of those possibilities. I’d also argue that your training staff isn’t just there to teach classes but to provide and coordinate all of those options. They are there to “provide opportunities to learn and grow”, whatever those look like for all of your employees who wish to do so. They are key to retention but they cannot do it alone. The culture must reward and encourage learning and growth in meaningful ways or all the training staff in the world won’t make a difference.


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