Do Your Employees Want Career Development? Maybe You Should Send Them Out of the Country

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Why do people quit? There are a lot of answers to this question, and it may be surprising to learn that, of the millions of Americans leaving their jobs every month, many are not doing so because they want bigger paychecks; instead, they do so because they are unhappy with their jobs.

Forbes contributor Alan Hall (linked above) notes that the reasons for this unhappiness are rarely tied to money or benefits: 31 percent of employees were unhappy because they felt they lacked empowerment; 35 percent were unhappy with internal politics; and 43 percent felt they did not receive proper recognition.

In short: employees really care about opportunities for personal development and professional growth. If talent doesn’t find these things at your company, they become disengaged, and you’ll quickly lose them to employers who do offer these things.

Millennials are especially interested in training and development opportunities, and they’re more than willing to jump ship if they’re dissatisfied – as we’ve noted in the past. As increasing numbers of millennials join the workforce, more and more companies will need to offer enticing professional and personal development opportunities – or watch as high-level talent passes them by for the organizations who do.

Kyle Borchardt, chief operating officer of leadership training firm Virtuali, says that thinking about the reasons why employees leave is what helped his company create Go!, a professional development program he describes as “study abroad meets business school meets full time job.”

“We really took a step back to understand and evaluate what is wrong with the business environment today, with regard to the high levels of disengagement and the high levels of attrition, especially amongst millennials,” Borchardt says.

Part of the problem, Borchardt says, is that employers don’t fully understand what millennials want and need out of their jobs. While stereotypes cast millennials as needy or entitled, Borchardt believes that millennials simply respond to a different style of leadership. “As opposed to just managing millennials, you need to lead millennials,” he says. “Millennials want developmental experiences. They want to be constantly learning on the job.”

With an emphasis on the experiential side of professional development, Virtuali’s Go! is a far cry from the team-building exercises and dull, day-long conferences that spring to mind when one thinks of “P.D.” Consider, for example, that Go! is currently the only leadership development program that allows participants to live abroad while continuing to work their jobs.

The Program in a Nutshell 

Borchardt explains that Go! is not meant to be a one-off program, something that companies do once and never again. “Our ideal client would be someone that we partner with,” he says, “We really want to become a part of their overall talent strategy.”

For example, Borchardt sees Go! as a good addition to any Fortune 500’s rotational program for emerging talent. “We’d ideally like to be incorporated into that rotation, or the capstone of that rotational program,” he says.

The Go! program comprises four modules which all participants complete:

  1. Module one is a leadership assessment that aims to help participants discover their individual leadership styles (or “leadership brands”) through self-assessment, one-on-one coaching and 360-degree feedback from leaders, subordinates, and peers.
  2. Module two focuses on virtual team leadership. Borchardt describes it as a 3-4 week project simulation “that is a mix of live webinars and classes, and then a hands-on simulation.” In the simulation portion, teams work together to solve business cases using only virtual means of communication.
  3. Module three is where Go! really differentiates itself from other professional development programs, as participants spend 15, 30, or 45 days “studying abroad” at Virtuali’s Buenos Aires campus while continuing to work their full-time jobs. “Similar to a nights and weekends MBA program, our curriculum is a combination of MBA courses, hands-on business practicums, leadership development activities, a number of cultural activities, a speaker series, and networking events,” Borchardt says. “It’s really this very immersive experience that broadens your view on global business, and it teaches you how to lead and manage a virtual and a global team. You really come back feeling much more fluent working cross-culturally.”
  4. Module four is an alumni program, which allows graduates of the Go! program to access opportunities and resources for continuing development.

Borchardt says that the program aims to meet the multiple desires of millennial employees, mixing their taste for learning and development with their passion for travel and their experiences in a globalized culture.

“Our curriculum is based on the three pillars of personal and professional development, global experience, and flexible work,” Borchardt says. “I think more and more millennials really want to have a balance between their work and their personal life, and obviously as technology changes the way we work, there’s a huge skills gap that exists. Technology has evolved so rapidly, and the human component has not. People don’t know how to manage a team remotely or virtually. They don’t know how to work with people across different time zones.”

The “Study Abroad” Approach to Professional Development

Like a college study abroad program, in which students spend time away from their schools while still completing coursework, the Go! program sends participants off to Buenos Aires while allowing them to continue working their full-time jobs. “Because participants work throughout the entirety of the program, their development occurs on the job and can be applied in real-time, which ultimately results in more effective learning,” Borchardt explains. “That will ultimately translate to stronger leaders and greater performance.”

Part of the allure of study abroad programs is that they allow students to meet and mix with new people from new walks of life. Borchardt says that Go! offers a similar opportunity. Go! participants have the opportunity to experience to people of Buenos Aires, but it should also be noted that the program itself brings together professionals from a variety of careers and industries. “We really like the cross pollination of having individuals from different companies working together. You might have a first-time manager from a Fortune 500 company paired with the director of a startup,” Borchardt says. “Maybe the industries overlap, maybe they don’t, but I think having that cross-pollination of individuals working together is paramount in terms of experience, development, networking, and building a broader understanding of how different people work in different environments.”

By asking participants to work their full-time jobs while living in Buenos Aires, Go! hopes to help employees learn how to work within the flexible, globalized workforce, in which people may regularly collaborate across borders and time zones. “You understand who you are as a leader, and then you learn how to lead and manage a virtual team, and then you actually get to apply those skills in real time from an international location,” Borchardt says.

Before settling on Buenos Aires, Borchardt conducted a full analysis of “about 40” cities, taking into account things like safety, cost of living, and the language. Buenos Aires met all of the criteria and also offered a valuable “sex appeal,” Borchardt jokes. Known as the “Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires offered participants an exciting location in which to develop their leadership abroad.

“Go! aligns with the top benefits that emerging leaders are looking for, which are professional development, flexibility, and international experience,” Borchardt says. He believes that offering these things leads to engaged leaders, higher productivity, stronger culture, better recruitment, and better retention.

“The real strength of our program is the combination of all that,” Borchardt says. “Not only will we develop your future leaders at a critical juncture in their career, we’ll also ensure that the individuals themselves remain productive and engaged and ultimately loyal.”

Expansion Plans

For now, Go! only has one international campus (in, as we’ve mentioned, Buenos Aires). However, Borchardt says it will not be that way forever. “Our 3-5 year plan is to expand to 4-6 new markets,” he says. “Our ideal situation would be that we have one campus on almost every continent.”

Aside from expanding globally, Go! is also looking to expand technologically. Virtuali plans on instituting a platform that allows participants to access trainings, teachings, and other resources from their mobile devices. “That would include everything from the courses we currently have to some language learning tools, so when you’re abroad you can just tap your phone when you need to learn a common phrase or communicate with someone,” Borchardt explains.

Go! is certainly an interesting spin on the idea of professional development, designed to quench multiple employee thirsts while keeping them loyal to their employers. After all, how easy could it be the ditch the company that let you to live in Buenos Aires for a while? Go! may be a blueprint for companies looking to attract top talent in the future. It’s no longer all about paychecks, but exciting, invigorating development opportunities.

Read more in Career Development

Matthew Kosinski is the former managing editor of