The 7 Common Success Traps, Part 2: Lack of Long-Term Employee Training and Development

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g.
Please enter your work email

The “seven common success traps” are the traps I’ve learned about over the course of my career working with clients and collaborators from some of America’s top organizations, including Fortune 50 and Fortune 500 companies. These traps are based on both my personal experience and the stories shared by my clients and collaborators. 

These success traps can and do happen to the best of us. They can even destroy massively successful, well-established companies. It behooves us to understand what they are so that we can recognize when we’re in their vicinity and, if we can’t avoid them altogether, at least make it out alive.

That’s why I’ve written a book about these traps and why I’ll be exploring these seven traps on over the coming months. I hope that my books and articles will help companies overcome these traps — especially now, amid one of the most challenging economic climates we’ve ever seen.

Read the rest of the series:

Part one 
Part three 
Part four 

Imagine a marriage in which neither partner worked on bettering themselves. Let’s say this couple is together for 40 years, going through all the life stages — buying a house, having and raising kids, etc. And all along, neither party puts any effort into developing as a person.

Can you imagine how miserable that marriage would be? Would it even last 40 years?

Which brings me to my next point: Why does the long-term “marriage” of employer and employee often see at least one partner (the employee) not investing in developing themselves?

If we’re not growing and developing on some level, we are either stagnating or actively deteriorating. In the absolute best-case scenario, we will go through life and work on autopilot: disconnected, disengaged, and making minimal impact on our organizations, coworkers, and the people we do business with.

This article will focus on two key factors that fuel this success trap and offer advice on what organizations can do differently.

If You Don’t Develop Your Employees, Who Will?

The first factor driving employee stagnation is pretty straightforward: Even the best companies often fall very short when it comes to long-term training and development of their staff.

I’ve had the opportunity to work for Fortune 500 companies, and most of these companies indeed have a strong, structured training program for new hires. More often than not, the issue is that the ball is totally dropped after this initial training. It’s like someone putting all their effort into impressing a potential romantic partner — and then, once the couple is together, they completely neglect their significant other.

Some of these organizations talk a very good game about the importance of training and development, but they don’t always follow through with their actions. In my own professional experience at these companies (and working with clients who work for these companies), it has been very apparent that many organizations treat employee development as a simple check-the-box activity. Meanwhile, staff members find it difficult, if not impossible, to develop in the ways they want to. Heaven forbid the company actually provides effective coaching to help employees clarify and pursue their own professional goals!

Anyone who thinks their employees’ needs, desires, and goals won’t change from the time they were hired is living under some giant rock of delusion — or, more likely, they just haven’t consciously thought about it. And, really, why would you even want employees on staff who weren’t dedicated to continuously growing in their lives and careers?

I know it sounds very much like common sense, but take an honest look at your organization. Does it really support long-term employee development? Or is training only offered when the organization needs it, employee goals be darned? Let this be your wake-up call.

But employees are free to develop themselves outside of work, right? Well, why would someone attend a weekend seminar on their own time and their own dime while your company stands to benefit from their new skills and knowledge? Sure, some people are extremely passionate about continuous learning (and some may be legitimate workaholics in need of intervention), but the majority of your staff members have friends, families, and interests outside their professional lives. They already work 40-50 hours a week. Are they also supposed to spend their own money (and limited free time) on continuous training when that’s something your company could help with?

Now here’s the potentially great news: You can avoid this success trap without burning employees out on too much “extra learning.” Instead, you can incorporate continuous development right into your employees’ day-to-day experiences.

As an article by former Motorola Vice President of Learning and Development Greg Walters outlines, research that Motorola conducted into its own development programs determined that structured learning alone was not the most effective tool for employee learning. Instead, a combination of structured learning with coaching, collaboration, and on-the-job experience proved most powerful.

Don’t Let Job Descriptions Get in the Way of Great Work

The second factor hindering long-term employee development is the rigidity of the average corporate role. Of course, it is a great thing to have some structure for your company that includes defined roles with clear descriptions. Otherwise, it would be complete chaos. But that structure needs to allow for some flexibility and expansion, or else it will create limitations for employees and restrict their ability to perform at their very best.

I had an opportunity to interview Susan Graye, a global talent acquisition lead who worked for a large technology company for 16 years. During our conversation, I asked her what one or two things the company could have done to be more sustainably successful.

Graye felt one major issue was the company was too rigid when it came to roles and responsibilities. She believed a more agile approach would be more effective and save the company all the additional costs that come with hiring new employees to handle each new task that cropped up. Graye also believed more employee development to create more agile teams would have helped the company evolve.

But What If They Leave?

A lot of companies have one seemingly valid reason why they don’t invest in more employee development, and it’s this reason that keeps so many companies falling into this success trap: Why invest all this time, attention, and money into your staff if they will probably leave you eventually?

But here’s the thing: No company wants to lose its staff members, and the more your support your workers, the less likely it is that they’ll leave. Sure, there’s a risk that you’ll invest extra time and money into staff and some of them will leave you anyway. But on the flip side, you’ll actually retain more of your best talent when you invest in them.

So think of developing your staff as an investment that pays dividends, not a cost.

As the often cited Richard Branson quote goes, “Train people well enough so they can leave, and treat people well enough so they don’t want to.”

Scott Engler is an internationally recognized branding thought leader and LinkedIn specialist. Connect with him on LinkedIn to learn more.

By Scott Engler