Learning & Development

The Critical Link Between Effective Training and Retention

Employee training and development efforts are an important part of many organizations’ business strategies, and for good reason. Effective employee training can increase employee effectiveness by teaching them new skills and processes. But employee training initiatives are also effective tools in employee retention efforts.


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Compelling Statistics

The link between employee training and retention is clear and supported by much research. Consider these informative employee retention statistics reported in a recent TalentLyft infographic:

  • According to Gallup, 51% of employees are considering a new job.
  • A report from the Center for American Progress found that turnover can cost organizations anywhere from 16% to 213% of the lost employee’s salary.
  • A recent workplace study study has found that 87% of employers said that improving retention is a critical priority for their organization.
  • An Allied Workforce Mobility Survey discovered that companies lose 25% of all new employees within the first year.
  • According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for 3 years if they experienced great onboarding.
  • MRINetwork has found that 72% of candidates are driven by career advancement opportunities, the number one reason people change jobs.

Given the impact of employee training and development efforts on employee retention, companies need to reconsider the old-fashioned training paradigm that many have been utilizing for decades: minimal training that is provided at the start of employment as routine onboarding by designated trainers who may or may not have a solid grasp on the trainees’ job role or the material they’re training.

A New Paradigm for Training

Training in the 21st century, when change is constant and technology dominant, must take a different approach from training in the past. Today’s learning and development (L&D) pros and senior leaders need to be asking:

  • How can we best determine if employees are learning and growing?
  • What are some common missteps and mistakes we must avoid?
  • What is the role of the manager/leader in training efforts? What is the role of training and HR staff?

To help answer these questions, and to get a better overall understanding of the changing nature and challenges of training in today’s business environment, we spoke with Abby Lewis, Senior Product Manager for Harvard Business Review Corporate Learning.

How can organizations best determine if employees are learning and growing?

“This is a difficult thing to measure for all companies,” says Lewis. “Ultimately, this question is about impact and measuring the success of particular learning experiences in your organization. There are lots of different ways to think about measuring impact, and leaders should consider the most important metrics that are personal to their organization.”

Lewis references one approach from a Harvard Business Review Corporate Learning blog post, which argues that looking at usage data that provide the number of active users and new adopters can show that organizations are creating the behaviors needed for a culture of learning.

“These insights can also show the trends on how learning resources are being used,” she says. “If people are actively sharing content, it is a good indication that they are engaged and find the resources valuable.”

She stresses that it is also helpful to simply ask learners to evaluate what they’ve learned, what behaviors they have changed, etc. An important thing to remember is that goals don’t have to receive immediate results to be worth achieving.

Therefore, measuring the impact of learning might, or might not, show tangible benefits in 90 days or fewer. By understanding the timeline of an employee’s growth, an organization can more effectively measure whether the worker made progress in his or her learning goals.

What are some common missteps and mistakes?

One of the most common missteps made by organizations is simply not prioritizing employee development. “It is not enough to send people to training once a year,” says Lewis. “Learning is now part of the modern workplace contract, and it should be a part of workplace culture, as workers expect investment in the skills, knowledge and experiences that will keep them productive and employable.”

Lewis points to a recent Degreed/Harvard Business Review Corporate Learning report, which found that managers are not providing the guidance as consistently as learners need, as only 39% of managers gave regular feedback on performance or skills and only 38% held periodic check-ins with their employees.

“To better prepare employees, give assignments that require employees to be resourceful and make decisions with real-world consequences,” she recommends. “Then, reflect on those moments with employees so they are getting real-time feedback.”

Another misstep that organizations make when it comes to developing employees, says Lewis, is assuming there isn’t enough time for training. “Managers can easily weave employee development into what they are already doing, so it is essential that they empower employees to ask for opportunities and seize everyday moments for practice and insight,” she argues. “Given opportunities to grow and build skills, employees feel energized and engaged, their productivity will rise, and teams will be able to keep pace with everyday tasks and the business as it evolves.”

What is the role of the manager/leader in training efforts as opposed to training and HR staff?

As noted previously, the old training paradigm often involves designating official trainers for specific training periods, whereas a modern approach looks at incorporating the skills and experience of managers in driving the employee development process. In this sense, managers and leaders serve as coaches in some respect.

So what exactly does that coaching look like? “Coaching does not mean directing, but instead helping people learn how to make smart choices on their own,” says Lewis. “A successful coach promotes learning ability, guides productive coaching conversations, listens and questions effectively, and provides constructive feedback. Additionally, coaching is not following a lockstep process, giving employees explicit direction, mentoring or training, or offering advice. Rather, it is an ongoing process where leaders help people reflect on and improve their performance.”

“Effective coaching is measured in employees’ commitment and engagement, productivity, retention rates and perception of upper-level leadership.” Lewis argues that all leaders should be trained in effective coaching and that coaching should be a critical topic in leadership development.

As far as the relative responsibilities of employees and employers in the training process, Lewis believes the lion’s share of that responsibility belongs to the employees themselves.

“An employee is responsible for a majority, say 90%, of their career development, while a manager owns the rest of an employee’s development,” she says. “Career lattices have replaced career ladders, meaning employees can no longer solely rely on their company to provide specialized training to promote them upward. Now, an employee must take on a variety of roles, sometimes moving laterally, to carve a unique career path. This allows an employee to continuously broaden and renew their skills so that they can more easily navigate an increasingly competitive market.”

In an advanced, service-oriented, knowledge-based economy, employee training is more effective than ever, not just for upskilling employees but also for attracting and retaining the best employees in a workforce that increasingly sees personal and career growth and development as key considerations in their job search and career path. This shift in employee preferences requires a closer look at the old paradigms of employee training.

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