Elizabeth Craig, John Kimberly, and Peter Cheese have written a good column for the Wall Street Journal about how to retain your top executive talent. They argue that we ought to be investing in leadership development, even if it means that our people become more attractive to other companies. We might lose some people because we've made them more employable by outside firms. However, in many cases, that type of investment in our people will actually increase retention. Here's an excerpt:
That's why it's crucial that companies get serious about retention now. And that means giving executives opportunities to
take on greater responsibility, broaden their skills and cultivate a
network of relationships with their peers. These are the things that
executives we have surveyed consistently say they want most from their
jobs. Of course, executives want these opportunities largely because the
skills, experience and relationships they acquire make them more
valuable on the job market. So there is always the risk that a company
may invest in building its executives' talents only to see some of them
take those talents elsewhere. But our research shows that executives intend to stay longest with
those companies that offer the greatest opportunities to enhance their
employability. On balance, a company will keep more talent by helping
its executives grow than it would by denying them these opportunities.
And as a bonus, its executives will be more valuable to the company
I agree wholeheartedly. I would simply stress that companies cannot simply put efforts into leadership development without actually delivering exciting opportunities that come with increased responsibility. If someone gets mentored, sent to executive education programs, and assigned a coach... but has to wait and wait for that chance to take on new responsibility... well, then they are likely to leave. People want to know that their efforts at self-improvement are going to yield opportunities to practice their new skills and capabilities. They want to learn by doing. Moreover, employees don't just want more responsibility. Promotions alone won't do the trick. They want exciting opportunities. They want to tackle new challenges and explore new aspects of the business or of their discipline. Meaningful work is key, not just a new title and more direct reports.