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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Apr 17, 2020


This week we explore whether investing in people’s development makes them more likely to stay with an organisation, even if it increases their career opportunities elsewhere.



Hello and welcome to episode 74 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we explore whether investing in people’s development makes them more likely to stay with an organisation, even if it increases their career opportunities elsewhere.

There is a cartoon that does the rounds on LinkedIn every so often. It has two people, typically a Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Executive Officer. In the cartoon the CFO says “What if we train them and they leave?” to which the CEO replies “What if we don’t train them and they stay?” It’s pretty cheesy and has sparked thousands of variations. The origins of the quote probably go back to Henry Ford, who reportedly said “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay!” The sentiment clearly strikes a chord - we need to invest in people, even if it increases the risk of them leaving.

What’s missing in both the cartoon and Henry Ford quote is the other side of the equation. It implies that developing people is almost a regretful necessity - a short term investment we need to make, even if it does nothing to retain people. I’m sure we would all like to think that investing in the development of our people will make them more likely to stay, but is that actually the case? Can we increase staff retention while also making it easier for people to take their increased capability and leave?

Before I tell you the research answer to these questions, I want you to think back over your career. Think about those managers and organisations that really invested in your development. It might have been through training courses, but it was more likely time taken to mentor you and give you challenging experiences combined with support and encouragement. Were you more likely to leave as a result? Probably not. 

For me, the times I was invested into were also the times when I really wanted to stay and bring my best. And, interestingly, the times when my development was placed as a high priority were usually a combination of a great manager and a great culture of ongoing development. Continuous improvement and relentless feedback were features of the work environment. That meant some painful conversations at times as I was pushed to keep improving. I even remember telling a colleague that I wished there was a point where my leadership development was done! But it was also motivating. It seemed like everyone, from the newest employee to the most experienced, were all pushing themselves to get better. No one was pretending that they were perfect. Everybody had more to learn.

Back to my earlier cliff hanger around the research. A paper published just a week ago by Daniel Dietz and Thomas Zwick showed that investing in training significantly increases employee loyalty and retention. As people receive development that increases their chances of finding work elsewhere, they simultaneously are also more likely to stay with that employer. This increase in retention occurred even when the training meant employees could take a higher paying career path outside the business. Even gaining externally certified and portable qualifications still increased the likelihood of an individual staying with the organisation.

Richard Branson is quoted as saying “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to”. This research helps demonstrate that investing in development is part of treating people well. It’s an investment that pays off through higher loyalty and higher retention.

While we are on the topic of development, I have a series of webinars coming out over the next few weeks. Head over to the Leadership Today website and join our mailing list to ensure you know what’s coming up. Have a great week.



Daniel Dietz, Thomas Zwick. The retention effect of training: Portability, visibility, and credibility1The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 2020