Develop your team — or lose them

Top talent will leave if they feel boxed in, so employers need to provide pathways for growth and advancement.
By Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA

Employee retention is essential for long-term success. Recruiting, hiring, and training new staff members will always be an expensive endeavor, doubly so when you have to replace your best talent. Good leadership involves ensuring not just team performance but also the happiness of the team's members. When you fail to recognize what your people need, you risk losing them to a competitor. Often, what they need most is a path toward growth and professional development.

Develop or lose

We've all heard the stories about Millennials being serial job hoppers, and it's true they change jobs more often than members of other generations. Workers of all ages, though, are now leaving their jobs at an increased rate. Folks with a one-company career are becoming a rarer breed. Research from the Work Institute shows that roughly 1 in 3 American workers will voluntarily leave their jobs each year by the end of 2020. The number one reason they will do so? To seek better professional development opportunities.

Developing and growing your people internally is the easiest way to keep them motivated, engaged, and in house. In a strong job market like the one we're in now, the onus is on employers to demonstrate their value to team members as much as vice versa. Obviously, pay and benefits play an important role in determining how long a person stays with a firm, but so too does the ability to advance and grow in their current environment. When somebody begins to feel they don't have any avenues for self-improvement and progress, they begin to look elsewhere for those opportunities. A 2015 Gallup survey found that 93% of people who changed jobs did so by moving to a new employer.

If you don't provide professional development to your team members, somebody else will. If you don't want to be left with a revolving door of talent, you need to invest in keeping your people from feeling stifled or complacent. The first step comes in how you think about professional development in the first place.

What development really looks like

We work in a profession where many people are required to attain continuing professional education (CPE) credits on a yearly basis. These credits, while useful, aren't a replacement for providing people with the skills that will make them perform better, provide more to their clients, and gain more for themselves. Development classes, in areas such as leadership skills, project management, analytical intelligence, and even sales training, can be mandated, but they often work better when they are an optional outlet for your most ambitious and forward-thinking team members. Most of all, they should provide real benefit, not just allow you to tick off a box.

When it comes to a near-ideal manifestation of an in-house professional development program, one can gain inspiration by reviewing what Deloitte has done in its firm. Deloitte University is a leading light when it comes to professional development and leadership programs. Founded in 2011, the leadership development academy focuses on providing employees with skills to propel them forward in their careers and contribute positively to their community. Deloitte also holds seminars for professionals who don't work for the company.

Of course, most firms aren't going to be able to devote that amount of resources to such services, but budgetary limitations shouldn't be a barrier to creatively thinking about avenues for advancement and how expertise in your firm can be used to train your team in new ways.

The simplest way to get started is to sit down with some of your key performers and ask them what they need to feel more valued in their work. In some cases, you may be able to provide advancement opportunities in house. In others, you may find it best to send somebody off-site for additional education. Often, you'll decide what's best on a case-by-case basis, but you should definitely consider setting aside some funds to provide team members with these kinds of experiences.

Leadership and development

One of the telltale traits of bad leadership is inhibiting the growth of your team members. Certain managers want people to stay in their box, do their job well, but never pine for anything more. These are the exact types of managers who alienate their best people and cause them to leave. Tire tycoon Harvey S. Firestone once said, "The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership." When you nurture talent and give folks the sense that there's still more for them to learn, do, and achieve, you keep them around a lot longer. So what do you do to expand and grow your people, outside of CPE? Take the time to step back from the day to day and create a plan that will excite your staff. After all, it's better to spend the money on retaining people and creating happiness in the work culture, than having to recruit new people in.

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is CEO of The B3 Method Institute, a keynote speaker and adviser, host of the Breaking Beliefs podcast, and Technology Innovations Taskforce leader for the AICPA's Information Management Technology Assurance (IMTA) Executive Committee. Learn more at To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at

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