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Jul 21, 2014

A common complaint made about development programs is the concern that it will create employee turnover.

As employees develop new capabilities they will be unsatisfied staying in their current roles and will begin actively seeking opportunities elsewhere. People argue that “if we develop our employees other people will hire them away.

Or as some managers put it, “Why should I develop people just so others can poach them from me?”

Concerns about talent poaching are misguided and extremely detrimental to long-term organizational health.

Blaming the wrong person for “poaching”

First, what company wants to employ people who no one else is interested in hiring? Do you want your organization to be the place that hires people who no one else wants?

Second, not developing people for fear they will be hired away is like refusing to maintain your car for fear it will look more attractive to thieves. While there is risk in developing people only to have them leave, it is far worse to not develop them and have them stay.

Third, retaining employees by discouraging career advancement is a great way to build teams consisting entirely of employees who lack ambition and energy.

A manager who complains of losing an employee because they were “poached” by someone else is blaming the wrong person. The problem is not with the employee or the “poacher;” it is with the manager who failed to create a more desirable career path for the employee.

If a valued employee unexpectedly leaves to pursue opportunities elsewhere, the fault for the turnover falls on the manager for failing to recognize the employee’s career ambitions, and, on the organization for failing to give the employee access to career opportunities that match their long-term interests.

Loyalty to opportunities in their work environment

The only loyalty companies should ask for (and expect from) employees is loyalty toward a work environment that provides them with opportunities to fulfill their career goals.

The concept of talent poaching should be stricken from any organization that is committed to development.

It may make sense to have guidelines on internal transfers in order to avoid excessive turnover in specific roles, but it never makes sense to punish employees for exploring alternative career options within the company. Nor should managers be discouraged from talking with employees in other groups about internal positions that will help advance their careers.

Remember — the question is not whether employees with strong performance and potential are going to seek new job opportunities; the question is whether they will look for these opportunities within their current company.

Note: This is an excerpt from Steven Hunt’s book Common Sense Talent Management: Using Strategic Human Resources to Improve Company Performance.

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