Blog Post

Quest for Knowledge: A Key to Senior-Level Retention

Cornerstone Editors

A company leader who started from the ground up was once the embodiment of the American Dream -- the employee rose through the ranks, stayed loyal through the ups and downs, and, years later, was rewarded handsomely with a corner office. Today, though, with 14.2% of CEOs at the world's largest companies leaving within a year, senior level retention and overall company loyalty is at a historical low.

There isn't a single explanation for this changing environment. On one hand, the level playing field in most offices today makes the ladder a low-level employee used to climb relatively obsolete. Now, CEOs sit next to interns in open office environments and some companies don't even have strict titles or a permanent hierarchy. On the other hand, though, leadership still exists -- maybe not in the traditional, rigid sense, but it's still there of course. So how do you convince your leaders to stay, adopt the company's core values and inspire new hires when there's no ladder to climb? One answer is knowledge in the form of career-long learning.

"No longer expecting, or expected, to offer life-long loyalty, the commitment of talented employees often lasts only as long as an organization provides valued opportunities to exercise and develop their skills," writes Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD and a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review.

While most employees aren't likely to turn down a catered meal or gym membership, senior leaders seem to value the opportunity to learn and grow even more. There are a number of different approaches companies can take to effectively train these leaders, but the most successful companies approach senior level training from multiple angles.

Contextualize and Prioritize

Petriglieri says that a constant integration of day-to-day learning within the culture of a company is tantamount. Stale, drawn out training sessions -- especially those led by outsiders -- are apt to bore senior leaders and create fissures between management groups. If there is a constant conversation around learning ingrained in your company's culture, leaders will be able to draw from experiences within the company to teach one another and provide relatable lessons to peers.

Contextualization combined with personalization "deepens leaders' developments by linking what they do to their history and context; accelerates it by helping them learn more from their experience; and strengthens leadership communities by increasing their openness and shared ownership of the organizations culture," Petriglieri writes.

Social and Collaborative Learning Works

We learn best from one another. The show-don't-tell learning method has never had a better chance for success in the work environment as it has today. With company culture revolving more around collaborative creation and less around internal politics -- senior level leaders have the opportunity to learn from everyone around them.

"Internal training is, if the company is at some scale, always better -- that's because the best way to learn something is by teaching it, so internally done training not only benefits the trainees, it benefits those doing the training as well -- and it also internalizes the important competence of skill development," says Jeffery Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.

Invest the Time

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek survey, businesses that rank among the best companies for leadership spend more time developing leaders than peer companies: 16.4% of all respondents report spending 25 or more days per year developing senior leaders, while 22% of the top leadership companies spend 25-plus days developing their top talent.

"It goes beyond formal training and is part of everyday life at Southwest, where employees at every level are exposed to leaders so they get to see how the leaders think," Elizabeth Bryant, senior director of talent management at Southwest, tells Businessweek. "Even informal mentoring and exposure to company executives helps to broaden people's perspectives and stimulate their passion about the job."

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How to keep your employees from jumping ship


How to keep your employees from jumping ship

Learning. Empathy. Advancement. Purpose (LEAP). The key to retaining employees, especially in times of low unemployment, lies in building a company culture based on these four words. Low unemployment means that employees are in the driver's seat, choosing the jobs they want and jumping ship for better opportunities when they come along. Job openings are plentiful and employees have a lot of choice in front of them.

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