Your best people jumping ship and going to a competitor is every company’s worst nightmare. But in the rush to get a key person replaced, how often do we pay any attention to finding out why a particular employee has chosen to head for the hills?

A series of recent US research studies have provided a clue. Talented (and particularly young talented) people often leave for pastures new because quite simply, they feel they are not learning and being given the opportunity to grow quickly enough.

So what can you do to make your high flyers feel nurtured and valued and ensure they stick around?:

Create a Learning Environment

This doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune sending your best people on expensive, external training courses. But you do need to ensure they have plenty of opportunities to develop their skills and competencies. Talk to people about what they need and want to learn and find creative ways to meet that need. Stretch projects, secondments, internal workshops or even volunteering opportunities can all help people feel they are constantly learning and that you value them enough to invest in their development.

Provide Mentors

Lack of access to a business mentor has been identified as one of the top two reasons people leave their jobs. You don’t have to have a complicated, formal mentoring programme to provide this kind of support. Senior people in the business are often more than willing to share their knowledge and experience with up-and-coming talent – and they often benefit hugely from the experience themselves. You could also consider helping your people find external mentors – perhaps in a client company or from within a supplier – to help them develop a wider perspective.

Discuss Career Paths

In a difficult economic climate, no-one can make promises about promotion or how an individual’s career path might pan out. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about it at all. People need to have at least some idea of the kind of route their career might take and what sort of opportunities might be on the horizon. If managers shy away from the conversation, it’s easy for employees to feel that they have no prospects whatsoever and that if they are to develop, they need to look elsewhere. Make sure your best people know the direction the business is heading in so that they can see what that might mean for them going forward. Above all, be honest and make sure you don’t over promise. If someone is in a role where future prospects are limited, make it clear that they will be able to build their skills and experience to a certain level, but that you would be expecting them to move on when it reaches a stage where their capabilities or ambitions extend beyond the scope of the role.

Prioritise Performance Reviews

The problem with the traditional annual appraisal is that, as its name implies, it only happens once a year. Young people particularly are impatient to progress. They want to know how they are doing, what they need to do to get better and what else there is for them to learn. A key reason for leaving often cited by departing employees is that the job “didn’t turn out as they expected it to.” Making performance conversations a regular event means there is much less chance of misunderstandings arising about people’s roles, responsibilities and what you need them to do differently.

Make it Personal

Too often managers don’t actually have conversations with their team that go beyond the superficial level. But if you make an effort to take an interest in people and build a relationship with them, you are much more likely to pick up early on signals that someone is maybe dissatisfied with their role, struggling with a particular person or issue or needs more clarity about their prospects. Taking time to check in regularly with people and develop an insight into what makes them tick may well help you avoid the departure of someone you’d really like to keep.

Look for Patterns

If you collect and analyse data about employee retention on a regular basis, it makes it much easier to identify trends or problem areas. Thanks to the latest HR software systems, this is no longer an onerous task. Technology can help you gather information about how long people stay, which roles or departments suffer from the highest employee turnover and what level of training has been provided. If you can see that all your graduates are leaving after a year, there’s a clear message that you are not meeting their needs and need to approach development and engagement in a different way.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.