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How to Hold on to Your Best People in 2014

By Jenn Steele - Feb. 2, 2014
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It’s already February. As a business owner or hiring manager, you’re pumped for an awesome 2014.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the questions turning over in your head might include:

Am I going to lose any of my good people this year?

How am I going to hang on to my best  people this year?” or

I wonder just how many of my team are already thinking about moving on?”…

Do you have the answer to any of these questions?

The answer is most likely ‘no’ because you’ve been bombarded with a swathe of information on succession planning, hi-potential development, leadership development etc, and you just don’t know which way to turn.

The key thing to remember is that people make their own career choices – some more actively than others. And the best thing you can do for them is to highlight that they have control over their own journey but more importantly that you have options for them at your company.

Many business owners worry that they may not actually have the opportunities available but this should not be any impediment to helping your people develop.

If you don’t have the opportunities, your employees will quickly work it out for themselves. But you need to understand that you could potentially have other opportunities that you didn’t know would appeal to them … because you never asked.

It is not uncommon within many organisations to hear a conversation along the lines of:

CFO: “What happens if we invest in our people and they leave?

CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?

This is the essence of career management – investing in your people, but focusing on the things they are engaged with that will also drive results in your business.

The intellectual horsepower of a company is often the thing that really sets it apart from its competitors, and an organisation’s ability to harness this horsepower is what will define its success.

How do you do it?

Well it’s not as complex, expensive or difficult as you might think:

  1. Define your goal: It sounds simple and obvious, but not enough people look at this when seeking to implement a new initiative at their business. The simplest question to ask is “what is the business problem I am trying to solve, and does a career development program give me a solution?” If you are unsure, then do some more digging as you may need to look at a different solution.
  2. Get buy-in (either from your peers or your management group): Before you can look into career development for your people, you need to check “if” you can. You don’t want to start with a concept that goes nowhere. Find out who is interested and link career development to achievement of some key business goals, but ensure they are realistic and tangible as you will need to measure outcomes against these later. You will need your colleagues to help drive the process and this is much easier if they also see the benefit and believe in it.
  3. Start with a pilot to test the program and build commitment: Once you know what you are aiming for and have buy-in, test out your theory. Select those individuals that you think will value the program most and use them as champions. They will see this as an investment in them. You may also think about taking on someone who you are unsure is in the right role as this will also prove your concept and also help them make good decisions re their career with you.
  4. Ensure when you recruit or promote that you know what you are looking for in terms of capabilities/skills/competencies: The purpose of a career development program is that people in your business have a plan about where they want to go in their careers. They can then make good decisions about promotions or projects in the context of their career map. As a business you can then use this information to make informed decisions about promotions and recruitment activities so that you are putting people in roles they are interested and likely to succeed in.
  5. Make career development part of your business: Ensure it becomes part of what people talk about. Once in place, the career development program should be something everyone in your business does. You should ensure that every employee completes their career development plan, at least within the first 6 months of them being with the business.
  6. Own it and champion it: Once it starts, it needs to be given momentum and support. You need to find someone to champion it, and it’s probably you if you were the one who brought it to the business. It’s advisable to review it every 12-months, but don’t make major tweaks more than every couple of years.
  7. Measure it: At the beginning you will  need to set some goals, so don’t forget to revisit these and ensure the program is delivering!

What does a career development program look like?

Career development programs are very different depending on the size of your organisation. For example, it is likely if you are a business with more than 1,000 employees that your program will be more comprehensive than that of a business with 50 people.

That said, there is the argument that a career development program is in fact more important for a smaller business as a single person can have a greater impact on the success and performance of the business than in a larger company.

Typically there are 3 components:

  1. A self-assessment: This will determine what the employee enjoys doing and what he or she believes they’re good at.  This could involve a psychometric assessment, of which there are several available in the marketplace.
  2. A career development framework: This builds on the self-assessment piece and helps employees look at the options available to them. This includes tools and learning to help people make informed decisions and better understand what they should be looking for in their career.  These tools are not courses etc, but models to help people work out what they need to learn to move to the next rung on their career ladder (whether it be up the ladder or across to a similar role in another part of your business to learn new skills on the job).
  3. Creation of a career plan: This can be used as part of ongoing performance discussions and general planning.  This is also really useful for succession planning where you can identify future leaders in your business based on their preferences.

Why you should think about career development for your employees

Our research shows that 46% of people are in a role that is not ideal, and particularly at this time of year, many people have come back to work with the idea that they are going to make a change.

Also worthy of some consideration is that a significant number of people leave organisations because they didn’t know the options available to them in terms of career options.

You can lower your recruitment costs and drive up retention by simply making sure you provide the right framework for people to explore their career with you in the context of them – not in the context of a succession plan or something they can’t really touch.


Gavin Lister is an Executive Career Coach with Right Management and has worked with senior leaders and corporates supporting their career development approach and initiatives for over 10 years.


Jenn Steele

Jen Steele is a dynamic, results-driven leader with over two decades of experience in the technology and marketing industries. As the CEO of KissMetrics, Jen is responsible for driving the company's strategic direction, growth, and overall success. Before joining KissMetrics, Jen held various leadership roles in sales, marketing, and operations across several high-growth SaaS companies. One of her notable achievements was her tenure at Recruitloop. Under her leadership, Recruitloop experienced exponential growth in revenue and customer acquisition, establishing the company as a market leader in the recruitment industry.

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