Train them and they will leave!

If we train them they will leave.jpg

Recently, we approached an organization to explore the possibility of partnering with them for training. We were told that they do not believe in training! “They will leave if we train them” they said. Without much ado, we came back and scratched that company’s name off our list of potential customers. However, this incident got me thinking – how prevalent is this mind-set?

The best response to this question is summed up in the cartoon below – someone asks this question to the CEO “What if we train them and they leave?” The CEO responds “What if we don’t…and they stay?” Simple to the point of being funny but very profound.

Why do people leave? There is a saying – “People join organizations and leave bosses”. It ultimately boils down to a simple thing – how are people treated in the organization? Sir Richard Branson puts it very nicely “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to”. So while training does increase employability, no one leaves a company because they got trained.

If we ask an organization “Do you need to build capabilities?” the answer would invariably be yes. In a recent McKinsey Quarterly survey, 90% of respondents said that building capabilities was a top-ten priority for their organizations. Aren’t building capabilities and training people two sides of the same coin? So the same question posed a bit differently has an obvious answer. Probably, it has to do with the proverbial conflict of us vs. them – Sure, ‘we’ need capabilities but ‘they’ getting trained? Not so sure.

Can a company afford not to train to build capabilities? Not providing training will lead to dissatisfied customers and loss of opportunities for the company. This in turn will lead to loss of revenue and adversely affect the bottom line. Put differently, competitors who train team members will provide superior service and ultimately gain market share from others. A company cannot afford not to train to build capabilities. As Branson puts it “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.”

Companies employ different techniques to recover their investments on training. For example, a company might require team members to reimburse for the cost of the training should they leave before a specified period of time. These often run into enforceability issues from a legal perspective. Also, it is not very clear how effective such actions are. Some CXOs argue that that they would like rather lose the training cost than to have someone stay at the company just because he/she does not want to pay for the training. Sometime, a gentleman’s agreement and a handshake works better than formal papers.

The other interesting thing is to see who the people who leave are and what impact does training have on them? All organizations complain that the good guys seem to leave. This is universal. These ‘good’ guys are willing to invest in themselves even If their organization is not. As a people manager, I have had a lot of team members approach me to see if the organization would reimburse for their training. The good guys often did that ‘after-the-fact’ – having undergone the training and not let the reimbursement policy be the deciding factor whether to undergo training. So for a company that does not train – it would still lose their best people and be left with folks who are often unable to get better prospects outside. And then keeping those folks untrained can become a scary thought!

The cost of not training is far more than any training investment done by companies. While it may seem counter intuitive, training actually builds team members’ loyalty. Team members are more committed to their organizations that show commitment to their people by providing them with training.