coaching and development
Training & Learning

How to Use Coaching and Development to Keep Star Employees

No one quits a job because they are too satisfied. And people, often equal parts resilient and stubborn, can push themselves through weeks, months, or even years of long hours and challenging conditions. But everyone has their limits. And—as the historic employee exodus over the past two years has made abundantly clear—when employees reach theirs, they are more than happy to look for a better opportunity elsewhere.

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to hang on to your workforce using coaching and development techniques, so you won’t end up seeing your top talent walk out the door.

What causes high-performing employees to leave?

When a job becomes unbearable, one of three causes is usually to blame: low pay, limited opportunities, and lack of respect.

  • Low Pay — As we found in our recent analysis of the factors driving the Great Resignation, low pay was the most-cited reason for leaving a job. But, while money is an obvious motivator (as it should be), it is definitely not the only thing—nor the most important thing—affecting employee job satisfaction. In fact, many workers, if given the choice, would opt for flexibility and fit over financial incentives. A recent study found that as many as 61% of professionals in the US would be open to accepting a lower salary if it meant they could continue to work remotely. 64% of workers said they would prefer a job with a better work environment over a 10% higher salary.
  • Limited Opportunities — According to a Pew Research survey, 63% of respondents who left their jobs in 2021 cited a lack of opportunity for advancement as a reason—the same share as those who cited low pay. Of course, your rising star employees know that the journey to SVP or COO won’t happen overnight. They know they have to put in the time and the work. But they want to know that their effort is not being wasted. If they feel like they are on a dead-end road with no opportunity to advance, they will look for opportunities elsewhere. And the same skills that helped these rising stars shine in your organization are going to make them highly attractive to other companies happy to scoop up talented employees.
  • Lack of Respect — In the same Pew survey, 57% of employees said they left their job due to lack of respect—the third most common reason. Respect can come in many forms. Two of the most important forms of respect for employees are Owed Respect, the basic civility and reverence that comes from status or membership in a group, and Earned Respect, which includes recognition for the individual’s qualities and behavior. When employees feel respected in their jobs and feel they are getting the recognition they deserve, it reinforces their personal growth and their feeling of connection with the group—those who don’t are likely to seek respect elsewhere.

57% of employees said they left their job due to lack of respect.

So, what can L&D professionals do to keep employees? The good news for HR and L&D professionals is that while you may not be able to hand out stacks of cash to all of your deserving employees, you do have the power to create a more engaging and enjoyable workplace. Through coaching and development, you can help employees identify the right opportunities and create a roadmap for success. And as an L&D professional or HR manager, you can help build a culture of respect by supporting each employee’s individual needs and career goals.

Educate employees on available opportunities

The last thing a high-performing employee wants to do is stagnate in a dead-end position. If they don’t have a clear idea of how they can progress within your organization, they are likely to look for opportunities elsewhere. By educating employees on the different career paths available in the organization, your employees will always know what their options are for the next step and what they need to do to get there.

At 360Learning, for example, we have developed a Career Path Framework for our developers that helps them to know exactly where their careers could go within the organization. We have built the framework around 5 skills that encompass what we consider to be the core competencies for our developers: Technical Mastery, Product Crafting, Organizational Mindset, Collective Improvements, and Community.

By organizing our developer paths around this standardized set of skills in this way, each developer knows which skills they will need to master for each trajectory. This approach allows us as an organization to maintain the same expectations for each level.

When it’s time for a developer’s Career Path assessment, to see if they can reach a higher level, Lead Feedbackers meet with the developer and any peer who is able to provide insights. They use the skills grid to evaluate the developer’s professional growth, which new skill requirements have been reached, and which skills still need to be developed further. This makes it a simple and straightforward process to understand what new levels have been attained and provides an opportunity to discuss the developer’s career plan for the following months.

Engineering career path as part of coaching and development
An overview of a skill and its six different levels we use as part of our engineering Career Path.

Of course, the most obvious opportunities are for promotions and the salary increase that comes with them. And while it is essential to have clear information about the various roles and opportunities for internal mobility, that may not be enough. For many organizations, it simply isn’t possible to promote all of your employees every year like clockwork. That would just lead to massive payroll costs, not to mention some serious title creep.

Luckily, opportunity comes in many forms. Outside of promotions, you can help employees progress with opportunities available for personal development or participation in important groups and status projects, for example. In addition, enabling employees to create courses or other content where they can share the skills and subject-matter expertise they have developed throughout their career helps to validate their hard work and their professional growth. Making sure employees are aware of these opportunities can give them shorter-term goals to focus on along the long journey up the corporate ladder.

Help employees build personalized plans to reach their individual goals

Career goals are very personal. Even two people in the same position today may have very different ideas of where they want to be in five or ten years. And your superstar employees won’t settle for a one-size-fits-all career path. They want a career path intended just for them, where they can use their unique skills and do what they do best.

Because of this, career coaching also works best when it’s personalized—when you can work one-on-one with employees to identify what motivates them, what obstacles they are facing, and what the organization can do to help them meet their career goals.

Your superstar employees won’t settle for a one-size-fits-all career path.

For some companies, especially those with more well-defined roles and organizational structures, personalized coaching might involve providing information about each position—including the job description, the required skills and experience, and the development path for reaching that position—and comparing that against the employee’s current goals, skills, and experience.

For other organizations with more flexible structures or roles that require wearing multiple ‘hats,’ personalized coaching might focus more on the skills and interests of the employee and how these could be developed to fill skills gaps within the organization.

But whatever approach you do take, the goal should be the same: Help each employee develop realistic expectations of their advancement, map out their path to success, anticipate obstacles to achieving their goals, and understand how the organization will support them throughout their journey.

Related: A Practical Guide to Employee Coaching for L&D Teams

Create learning & development resources that align with professional development needs

Investing in resources that encourage your employees’ growth shows them that you value them and want to build a long-term partnership. According to LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees said they are likely to stay longer at companies that support their learning and development.

But it is important that the resources available match up with the needs of both the employees and the organization. If your company has a steady stream of individuals interested in being promoted to a specific position, it makes sense to invest in creating a series of asynchronous training courses to make it easier for everyone to learn on their own without having to tie up valuable time from more senior employees. On the other hand, for a position with only one or two prospects, mentoring or job shadowing programs may be more effective. (If you're new to mentorship, you can check out our guide, below, for some pointers).

Mentorship asset

Scale your L&D program with peer mentoring.

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You can also give employees a chance for on-the-job training working with peers and mentors in their desired roles. This means employees can start preparing for their next role and even try out different roles to see where they fit best. And as soon as a position opens up, you have a steady stream of employees ready to start on day one.

Programs like this have the dual benefit of making employee transitions smoother while at the same time boosting employee retention. In fact, in 2020, companies in the top quartile for internal mobility had a median employee tenure of 5.4 years, more than 30% higher than the 2020 average of 4.1 years and nearly twice the 2.9-year median tenure for companies in the bottom quartile.

Related: 8 Benefits To Cross-Training Employees

Curious what has worked for other successful L&D professionals?

Of course, these are just a few of the ways you can incorporate coaching and development strategies to keep your star employees shining bright. But every organization, and every employee, is different, and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.

But there are over a thousand professionals just like you who are eager to share their knowledge, their challenges, and their success stories—and you can connect with them in the L&D Collective, the go-to global community where L&D leaders come together to share knowledge, build relationships, and experience collaborative learning in action.

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