Unfortunately, in some cases that also means holding those employees back, so they won't get promoted -- or leave.
In some ways that temptation is understandable. It can be tough to replace a key player who gets promoted. And as for long-term employees, they not only know your business, your processes, and your customers, they also help nurture and maintain your startup's culture as it grows.
But not encouraging your employees to pursue ongoing education, to further develop their skills, to grow and develop and learn, well, that's just not smart.
And it's incredibly short-sighted.
I always push people to learn more. It's good for them.
And (even though this is a secondary reason) it's great for the company.
Mentors can make a difference
That's why we encourage employees to work with mentors -- to learn from people who are more skilled, more experienced, and more connected -- both inside and outside the company. That's why we encourage employees to attend conferences. That's why we encourage employees to read books -- lots of books. Sometimes we even make certain books required reading when an employee takes on a new role.
The goal is to help our employees advance in the company.
Their gain, your loss?
But it's also fine if they develop skills and knowledge that allows them to take a position at another company. In fact, we're more than willing to help people land a position at another company if doing so helps them advance their careers.
Of course, that means we might train people who will potentially work for competitors, or even someday start their own business and be competitors, but that's also okay. Startups are based on logic, reasoning, analytical skills, business skills, hard skills -- but they're also personal. The vision of the founder is unique. The culture that you nurture and grow is also unique.
That means your company's "secret sauce" is incredibly difficult to replicate -- if an employee who leaves even wants to replicate it. In all likelihood, that person will want to build a business based on his or her vision. After all, that's why people start companies, right? So they can run them their way.
In short, your vision can't be duplicated. Imitated, but not duplicated.
Passing the baton
Think about it this way. One day -- hopefully not too soon -- the people we train and develop will be better than us. That progression is natural: we stand on the step of the generation before us and place our own step on the stairs. Then the next generation stands on our step and places their own.
Our generation learned from the talent and generosity of our mentors. The next generation is learning from us. Someday they will teach the next generation.
And that's how you grow a great business. As a small business owner, you have a responsibility to serve your customers. But you also have a responsibility to serve your employees. Your job is to encourage, mentor, train and develop your employees so they can achieve their goals.
Provide the tools and training to help your employees do their current jobs better and to gain the skills and experience required to do the next job. And the next.
Whether that's within your organization or not.
Do that and not only will you build a better company, you'll also build a team of people who realize you care about them. Which means that in turn they will care about you and your business.
Which also might means they'll actually stay with you for the long-term, because everyone wants to work for people who truly care about them -- not just as employees, but as people.