What’s Wrong with Staying Put?

Being 41 years old, I’ve had the experience of what it’s like to be an employee, an entrepreneur, a business owner and now Chairman and CEO of Brandon Hall Group, an influential analyst firm in the fields of learning and development, talent management, executive management, and sales and marketing impact.

Though I have been with several companies, I always had wanted to join an organization – like Brandon Hall Group – where I could stay long-term and grow the company. So I don’t agree with the premise, which many executives have bought into or just have given in to, that employees should NOT be with one company over the course of a career.

Many executives have come to accept that talented employees – and especially those in the first 10 years of their career – will move on from their organizations – and should move on – in order to gain different types of experiences and learn to work in various work cultures and environments.

I realize this is an extreme contrarian view, but I have not given up on the notion that we can return to the days where it was possible to have one career at one company.

I think it is dangerous to accept that many employees, some of them in key roles, will only stay two to three years – even at a good company, with good leadership, good products and a great strategy. I think one reason many companies struggle and sometimes fail – especially in terms of product quality and customer service – is they lack key contributors with strong institutional knowledge and deep insights into product lines and the wants and needs of their customer base.

Executives who accept a culture of continual employee churn may be turning a blind eye to the real reason for the wanderlust – that their hiring practices, their retention practices and maybe their corporate culture are not what they should be.

My thinking, as well as Brandon Hall Group’s research, proves a few things:

  • Whether you are a practitioner or executive, it is almost impossible to accomplish and reach your potential within two or three years in an organization. I want our employees to reach their potential here, not somewhere else. That’s not personally rewarding for me or the company. Most of the top performers in companies have been with them for several years.
  • There is something to be said for institutional knowledge around culture, process, people, and systems. Longtime employees understand better how to get tasks done, initiatives approved, problems solved. And, they can be great mentors or teachers of new employees. This breeds a culture of continuity that, as long as it does not get stale, drives success.
  • Employees of conglomerates actually have a great chance of staying in the same company, and able to fulfill their career aspirations across different divisions, or even different lines of business. Think General Electric.
  • Many executives believe in mentoring and development. But they get downright discouraged and often don’t invest in it enough when they see HiPo after HiPo leave for another opportunity in another company. Mentoring is time-consuming and difficult. I don’t want to mentor someone who is going to my competitor, or even a non-competitor, if it’s not going to benefit me over the long haul — and by long haul I mean seven to 10 years.

All of the above really comes into play in the hiring process. You can’t be great if you can’t keep good employees seven to 10 years, if not more.

This is why hiring, learning and talent management are at the forefront of almost every executive’s mind on how to improve performance in all of their company’s functions. Without the right people, the right business strategy, the right research, the right leadership, the right salesforce, the right marketing strategy, the right focus, companies just don’t thrive.

Through the Brandon Hall Group Excellence Awards, we see winning companies in the talent management category – both large and small – get recognized for more thoughtful and thorough hiring practices, better onboarding programs, innovative leadership development initiatives and other efforts aimed at improving retention.

As more companies invest in innovative retention strategies, my hope is that we’ll see a new trend in which companies get back to truly valuing their employees and employees see the benefits of progressing and doing great work over a lifetime – or at least a good portion of their careers – at one company.