Unless, of course, employee development is your job. You have a very different perspective when you expend time, money, effort and insight into developing a worker, only to see him or her take that knowledge and apply it elsewhere.
Over time, I have become familiar with both sides of that coin. You probably have as well. From editors to ad salespeople, circulation management to secretaries, I’ve seen them come and go. I’ve lost superstars who needed no improvements, and I’ve worked hard to improve those who did. I’ve succeeded, I’ve failed, I’ve tried, tried again.
Employee development has been a part of my professional interests since before that term was popularized. (I am old enough to bridge the gap from Personnel to Human Resources.) I readily admit that prior to the launch of this magazine, workforce productivity was not my primary focus, but it didn’t take me long to realize employees were a resource we had to invest in.
Let me tell you two stories, and then let’s see if we can find a moral together.
Employee A was sharp—too sharp. I could see so much potential here, I invested heavily in her professional development. I sent her to the best seminars, classes and workshops. She attended conferences and bought books by the pound. The innovations and ideas I saw coming from her were great. I was so pleased, I seldom turned down her requests to improve her skills. It was money well-spent, paying back all kind of dividends until the day she left because she had grown as far as she could within our organization. I didn’t mind the money I’d spent, even though I’m not the one realizing the full return on that investment. The truth be known, I took great pride in her as she continued to grow within the industry.
Then there was Employee B at the same company. He was an inherited hire, but I told myself there was a spark there, and I was determined to develop his full potential. He took seminars, classes and workshops, attended conferences and bought books by the pound. The innovations never came, the ideas weren’t always workable, and the money, by and large, would have been better spent remodeling my bathroom. This employee wasn’t about to leave. He stayed, was comfortable and productive, but we never realized the full return on our investment.
You’ve been there, right? You win some, you lose some. Happily, the cream rises to the top in almost all cases, and positive return in one area often leads to further investment. This is still no guarantee you’ll retain your star performers, but there’s a proven connection between learning and loyalty, rewards and retention.
I’ve learned a lot in management, but I think the hardest lesson is knowing when to toss in the towel. You have to walk a fine line to determine how much is too much, and there comes a time when tilting at windmills bypasses obsession and becomes insanity. Continuing to invest in failure is a costly business decision.
But I’ve also learned that the only thing worse is not investing in success. That’s what learning means to an organization, guaranteeing some sort of success. Trace the roots of whatever educational initiative you’re offering now, and that’s where they lead. Whether it’s a desire to grow market share, to motivate employees to take ownership or to enable a smaller staff to make greater gains, enterprise education is about getting ahead.
Editor in Chief
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