“If We Train Them, They’ll Leave”

If We Train Them, They'll Leave

Train people well enough so they can leave; treat people well enough that they don’t want to.

Richard Branson

Some ad agency owners have a certain amount of tunnel vision where their employees are concerned. Agencies generate creative ideas and intelligent strategies; collect and analyze customer research; develop insights; and combine our research, knowledge and creativity to put forward marketing efforts that sell products, build brands and excite consumer engagement and loyalty. We are as a result heavily dependent on our talented, skilled people… and likely to be fearful of losing them. This is one reason why many agency owners are reluctant to support or promote employee training, especially in a healthy job market.

“If we train them, they’ll just up and leave, and we’ll be out the cost of the training, as well as having to hire new employees to replace the ones who leave,” argue many agency principals. While it is true that some employees may take new skills elsewhere, investing in employees through helping them toward career goals, and ensuring they attain new skills and abilities, is also a great way to bond employees to the agency… and failing to train employees is pretty certain to result in their seeking career opportunities elsewhere.

Advancement Is Important to Most People

There is more to a job than just payroll and benefits, although agencies must pay attention to offering competitive salaries and benefit packages as well. But many other factors influence job selection, from lifestyle choices, to values alignment with employers, to having challenging work and a sense of purpose. Denying employees, especially younger people, the opportunity to grow and develop is not likely to win you any degree of loyalty.

On the flip side, there are many arguments forongoing employee training, including:

  • Improved employee performance and productivity; 
  • Development of new skills and capabilities that will benefit your clients, and attract new business; and 
  • Growing employees into managers, and maybe, eventual next-generation agency owners.

One big retention argument is that increased job satisfaction comes from helping employees grow. In fact, it is actually more likely that an employee who is encouraged to acquire training in new skills and abilities will stay with the firm for several years. Employees understand that attaining new skills makes them more marketable, but they also believe that having new skills will help them advance within their present organizations. That means that your culture of learning should include aligning rewards, recognition and career advancement with support for ongoing training.

What Are You Telling Your Employees?

Robert Glazer, CEO and founder of Acceleration Partners, and author of the Friday Forward blog, recently shared thoughts on leadership and building strong individuals with a quote from basketball star Lebron James. James was asked in an interview about the parents involved in the “Varsity Blues” college bribery scandal. The interviewer asked if James wanted the best for his kids.

“I don’t want the best formy kids. I want the best outof them,” said James. Glazer expanded on this theme:

“Wanting the best out of someone is more about helping them tap into their innate desires and ambitions and encouraging them. It’s not about passing your [desires] on to them.” Glazer suggested that not giving people the opportunity to become their best selves ultimately harms those people. He further cited the examples of the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers. The Vanderbilts gave everything to their children, and within a generation their huge fortune disappeared. The Rockefellers taught their children strong values—and their fortune remains intact today, with their descendants continuing to lead in business and charitable endeavors.

Lead by demonstrating the values you want your people to adopt and support. Skill training is just part of the learning process, but values and strong leadership help people use their skills in ethical and powerful ways to support not just their own growth, but your agency and its goals. 

Talent, But Skills Are Lacking

Keep in mind that our business is changing so rapidly, new graduates are emerging into the workforce lacking skills we need right now, let alone future skills. Without investing in employee training, agencies will fall ever further behind in client expectations and competitive capabilities.

Institute training policies in your agency:

  • Set up mentoring programs so new employees can quickly learn important skills they were not taught in school. 
  • Finance, in whole or in part, employee training to acquire new skills to the benefit of the agency. Budget for at least some training expenses annually.
  • Ask newly trained employees to share their new skills with co-workers in lunch & learn sessions.
  • Encourage self-training by enrolling the agency with an online training partner like LinkedIn Learning, CreativeLive, or other video training providers. Allow employees a certain number of hours per month to take online training.
  • Incorporate training plans in employee career planning, and set training objectives. Make sure employees follow through.
  • If concerned about employees taking their training and running, include a clause in your policies manual stating that agency-paid training must be reimbursed to the agency if the employee leaves within six months of the training.

Retention Is Tied to Personal Growth

No one wants to stagnate in a job that never changes, or that offers little scope for personal growth and advancement. If you “trap” an employee in a job rut, they are far more likely to pack up and seek opportunities elsewhere. In short, if you don’t train them, they’ll leave anyway. 

That applies to older employees as well as newbies. Everyone hopes for growth and opportunities to advance. If a youngster leaves, you lose a little knowledge; if a long-time employee leaves, you’ve lost institutional knowledge you’ll have much more difficulty replacing. Make sure training is evenly distributed across your entire enterprise, not just provided to younger staffers.

Help employees toward career goals, and you’ll build loyalty and commitment to your agency—and encourage a culture of learning that will keep your agency growing and vital.

Training should not be confined to trainees. It should be a continuous process, and should include the entire professional staff of the agency.
The more our people learn, the more useful they can be to our clients.

David Ogilvy


Need training? Check out Second Wind’s Fall Training Schedule.

Read also: How Employee Training Pays Back to Agencies: Part 1

How Employee Training Pays Back to Agencies: Part 2

Why Training Matters as Much as Smart Hiring

Why Agencies Must Merge “Digital Immigrants” and “Digital Natives”

The Training Gap: Solving the Agency Employee Training Dilemma


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