CFO: What Happens if we Invest in Developing our People and then they Leave Us? An Honest Attempt to Answer the CFO’s Question.


CEO - What happens if we don't and they stayYou’ve probably seen this meme floating around social media. It strikes a chord, doesn’t it? We’re quick to praise the CEO as the hero and condemn the CFO as the villain in this hypothetical conversation.

I bet you can think of a CFO who has asked questions like this.

But it’s worth taking a closer look at the greedy CFO’s question. What’s the answer to it? What will happen if we invest in developing our people and they leave us?

The CFO’s Perspective

When you think about it, the CFO makes a valid point. No company can afford to simply be a “talent mill” that recruits, hires, and trains rising stars only to lose them as soon as they learn the ropes. That’s clearly not sustainable.

One of the greatest costs of employee churn is the lost opportunity to build on learnings from past experiences. Backstory is critical in business. Without it, companies repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

The Power of a Growth Mindset

We need to retain our best talent but investing in their development is actually the best thing to do for them and for the company.

In his new book Hit Refresh, Satya Nadella credits Carol Dweck’s book Mindset for inspiring him to promote a growth mindset at Microsoft.

Hit Refresh & Mindset

What’s the end result of implementing a growth mindset in the culture of an entire company? If everyone digs deep and invests in learning, what will that create? For Microsoft, it created the ability to rediscover its soul.

It can do great things for your company too but what will that mean exactly? As each person grows their skill set, they’ll become increasingly more valuable. So how will you keep them? What is a sustainable model for investing in employee development?

How can we have a sustainable model that prioritizes employee development but isn’t simply a “talent mill”?

The Necessary Minimum

There are a few basic necessities required to keep star employees. Here are just 3 obvious ones:

  1. Raises – Sometimes an employee’s development warrants more than the standard cost of living increase. And often their growth doesn’t line up neatly with the annual performance evaluation cycle. How many star players leave because their next raise was too small or too far into the future? Make sure that doesn’t happen on your team.
  2. Promotions – Find ways to publicly recognize the growth of each person by granting appropriate title changes as they are deserved. Promotions matter! They affect each person’s career path, strengthening their resume and LinkedIn profile by giving tangible, objective evidence of growth.
  3. Increased Freedom & Flexibility – Even if you aren’t able to give a significant salary increase or a title change, you could still increase their freedom and flexibility. Give them more control over their projects. Let them decide how, when, and even where they tackle their tasks.

“Seventy-five percent of millennials want flexibility that also keeps them on promotion tracks” – Ian Seigel, CEO, Ziprecruiter

The Inevitable Departure

But even when you invest in developing your employees, they will still eventually outgrow their role. They will (and they should) eventually need higher levels of responsibility – sometimes even higher than your role.

If you do your job of investing in your people, they will eventually leave for greater opportunity. So once again, we’re back to the question, “What is a sustainable model for investing in employee development?”

A Proposed Solution – Prepare for their Replacement:

Compensate them fairly, promote them appropriately, increase their freedom & flexibility and while you do all of that, prepare for their inevitable departure. How can we do that?

1. Document Learnings:

As they are growing, ask them to document their learnings in ways that can easily be passed down to their future replacement. Have part of their growth include creating Best Practice reports that not only detail what works but also outlines what was tested but failed (and why).

2. Promote Internally:

If you invest in your staff and they outgrow their role, hopefully they will find a position with greater responsibility within your company. That way, they’ll be able to personally assist with onboarding their replacement and they will be accessible to answer questions for a while.

That’s the ideal scenario but even if they leave your company, as long as their learnings are documented, you won’t lose that valuable backstory and the effectiveness of your team will increase.

Let’s go back to that CFO’s question one last time – What will happen if we invest in developing our employees and then they leave us? How about this answer?

  • We will celebrate!
  • We will celebrate the success they brought to the company as they grew
  • We’ll celebrate their continued career development
  • We’ll celebrate the fact that they will pay it forward as they invest in those they will now lead

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1 Comment

  1. Great article. It amazes me how many companies don’t understand the necessary minimum. I used to invest so much time and energy into my employees but had to push hard with my executives to be able to give them the minimum raise. I knew that many of my key employees could double their salary at another company. Because of the investment we had put in them and the value they provided because of their experience with us they were worth more than what we paid them and that killed me. Instead of giving them the deserved raise the company would rather risk the loss, which was much more expensive. It was very unwise to not recognize their value.

    Liked by 1 person

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