No one wants to become stale--so don't fault your employees for wanting the opportunity to expand their skills and grow their careers. This is how they remain relevant and valuable in a high-churn job market. They build their experience, avoid specialized pigeonholes, and stay on top of changing technology. And it's up to you, as their employer, to give them the chance to do all these things--not just for their own good, but for the good of your entire company. Why? Because the desire to find better growth opportunities is so strong that, next to compensation, it's the number one reason today's talented young employees are leaving their employers.
But cultivating a culture of growth, and ensuring that workers are given satisfying growth opportunities, can be a challenge at times. Here are a few pearls of wisdom I've picked up over the years:
Company growth comes first. Remember, first and foremost, that growth is a team thing. In business, as in many sports, it's not about one person--it's about the entire team winning. Opportunities for the growth of individual players simply won't exist if the team isn't doing well as a whole, so you need to be very clear with employees about what the company's objectives are. Define what growth and winning mean for the team at large, and measure that before you look at individual work.
Size matters. When you do focus on carving out growth plans for your high performers, bear in mind that bigger companies might have it easier. They have more employees, more offices, or more position levels--so they have the luxury of more traditional career paths. Smaller companies might need to be a little more creative when planning growth trajectories. For example, many employees want to work up to becoming managers and leading a team of people--but that might be tough in a smaller company if you don't have the budget. Instead, consider giving excellent performers management over critical interdisciplinary projects. They'll still have a valuable opportunity to grow, lead, and contribute with impact.
Growth exists in depth and breadth. Many people tend to focus on vertical growth, where employees move along deeper in their existing functions. For instance, if a company is investing more in marketing demand generation, that creates opportunities for employees in that area to move further down that path, taking on more work and more responsibility on a larger scale. But there is also horizontal growth, where people broaden their skills by moving to different or ancillary functions. And this type of growth is also important on an individual level--because, as anyone in the war for talent can tell you, skilled candidates who can wear many hats are in high demand.
Share your successes. Building a growth culture, like building any facet of your employment brand, requires that you broadcast critical value messages from your company. When your high performers move up or take on more responsibility, let everyone know. You're showcasing your workplace as a true meritocracy, where only the best players, the ones who hit their milestones, are rewarded with opportunities--not squeaky wheels or teacher's pets. Ultimately, this publicly level playing field motivates people. Your existing employees will work harder, and the talent you're trying to hire will see your company as a place where career advancement is an attainable goal--and they'll want to join you.
Recent research shows that 71% of employees between the ages of 18 and 29 think their current jobs are just entry points to a much longer journey. And the reality is that you can't keep everyone forever--especially your best workers--no matter how hard you try. But if you provide growth opportunities that matter, you will build a reputation as a company that transforms and strengthens its employees for however long they do stay with you. And this fact, in and of itself, will position you to retain your stars longer, and to attract the best talent, over and over again.