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Is Measuring Employee Retention a Sign of a Good Training Program?


A common challenge I am at times asked about is the measurement of the effectiveness of employee development training programs. It is difficult to give a standard answer as there is such a great variance in the training that is available. Retention of employees is sometimes put forward as a possible measure of training effectiveness of developmental programs, which typically do not show early results. I usually advise against reliance on retention as a success factor. Retention is influenced by more than merely the most recent course that was attended. If retention is to be used as a success factor in program evaluation, the assessment instrument would have to be capable of separating out external factors such as the local job market as well as internal ones such as team cohesion and pay scales. A further consideration is the quality and competence of those employees who go and those who remain. Typically, the employees who rate as the best performers with the greatest skills have a greater ability to leave the organization, with the less professionally mobile ones, the ones least likely to add value, remaining. I would advise that if you do use retention as a criterion, you should apply it only in relation to your high potential, high achievers. You need to ask yourself whether retention should be your central measure. The answer lies in what the outcomes are that you expect from the program. Retention of employees is achievable by other, less costly means. If your focus is on creating value for your customers through improvements in efficiency and effectiveness, then employee retention might be a complimentary rather than a primary measure. The business goals should be the focus of training programs. The Kirkpatrick evaluation schema is something I encourage clients to use for the evaluation of training. By tracking the internal career progressions, both promotions and lateral transfers, of employees who have participated in developmental programs, you may have more relevant data compared with considering retention on its own. In conclusion, consider the desired outcomes for the business: What are the business deliverables? Combine these with some of the longer-term developmental factors I have discussed here and you will be well on your way to designing an evaluative instrument that will provide relevant and valuable information.

2 Responses

  1. Employee Retention and Training Opportunities

    I really like the idea of correlating training and development opportunties to employee-retention.  But what about the practice?

    As a Non-Exec Director of more than 15 companies internationally over the last 20years, and before then, MD of one of the first companies to receive Investor in People accreditation in England, of course I am biased.  But I do passionately believe in training a workforce to be the best they can be – for its own sake.  

    The classic argument agains this, especially by smaller businesses, has always been: "What, train our staff for our competitors’ benefit?  Not likely!" 

    But I utterly reject this for the following reasons.

    First, of course you want your staff to be as good as they possibly can be, at least while you employ them? 
    Secondly, while not all of your staff may necessarily share this goal of personal self-development, don’t your best ones? – the ones you most particularly want to keep?  (Not necessarily the most ambitious, by the way7)
    Thirdly, while some employees developed at your expense may then leave you, for opportunities you couldn’t possibly offer at the time, surely ‘what goes around comes around’?  You may lose some skilled people whom you have developed, in any function at any level, but you can also always recruit others, trained elsewhere.

    And, have you noticed, how many of your best employees who may leave you come back into your life as future suppliers or customers?  That is certainly my experience.
    Some of course may become competitors – but at least you know them! 
    But I find consistently that, if you have acted honourably as an employer, having chosen well and provided as many career development opportunities as you reasonably can, there are remarkably few ex-employees who ever forget this in their future business dealings. 
    (I am reliably told that many accountants, lawyers and consultancy practices rely on a considerable proportion of their new work from past employees.  And why not you?)

    But is there any direct correlation between developing your staff as best you can, and employee-retention rates? 
    I fear not!

    In part, I fear this is entirely economically driven. 
    In tough times, like now for many, with jobs so hard to obtain, many sectors will find their employees far less mobile.  (But isxn’t it true? – the most able go first?) 
    And in better times, even the less able and less committed may move, just to see what ‘over the fence’ may look like.

    So in practice, I don’t find there is intrinsically a very straight line between employee-retention and personal development.  But I certainly don’t think this is a very good reason for NOT developing your staff!  Employers surely do this out of enlightened self-interest?

    However, if you are concerned about losing staff you have invested in significantly, why not make repayment of your exceptional development costs contingent on a sliding scale fer repayment by the employee over, say, 3 years?  This needs the employee’s agreement, of course, but I have never known a motivated employee reject this.

    And if you really want to plot employee retention (and engagement) against your employee development costs – do make this an essential part of your exit interviews?  You wiil know much more surely if you do!
    (And you may also establish those leavers’ managers who don’t really believe in developing their staff, whatever you and the Board may say…  You may even be quite surprised by how many middle mangers will frustrate their juniors’ development for fear of internal competition, or in fear of losing their best people?  But it happens!  Quite often…)

  2. Employee Retention and Training

    Hi Jeremy. You put up a good case for saying that even if the turnover rate for your best employees goes UP with increased investment in employee development, you should still develop them.

    I find it hard to argue with you. I can’t put my finger on any stats at the moment, but I’m inclined to think that higher investment in development is correlated with higher retention rates. If this is the case, it may not be a direct causal relationship. Investing in people development may be correlated with other truly causal factors, such as showing an interest in people, being goal-driven, good communication practices, etc.

    Thanks Jeremy for sharing your views. I wonder what other people think. If turnover went up in your organization after you beefed up your development programs, would you stop them?

    Leslie Allan
    Author: From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance

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