How to Retain Employees by Transforming Feedback into Learning

by Dr. Jan Hoistad

Sociologists and marketers tell us that Millennials are a fun-seeking, forward-thinking, and fearless bunch. They’re willing to tackle any project at any hour of the day if they find it interesting. That’s the vibrant upside.

But as with most things, that upside comes with a downside. Generally, younger workers almost always seek constant communication and a fast learning curve. When you’re unable to provide it, they won’t stay engaged, making it difficult to not just grow employees but retain them.

Leadership is now facing a challenge: to provide learning opportunities in a continuous, fast-paced and engaging way. The key lies in fully embracing this need for continuous feedback and turning it on its head for everyone in your organization.

You do this by creating a company that places a high value on communication, but you do this through the company’s vision and culture — a culture where communication is educational.

Here are 6 ways you do it:

1. Start off employees on the right foot. Hiring talent whose values closely align to those of your own is only half the equation. The onboarding process is just as important to their growth — and shouldn’t be confused with training. Onboarding mainly focuses on what the new hire feels, sees, and hears in relation to your organization.

Be upfront about the company culture, explaining your expectations and the necessity of adopting the growth mindset. Make sure you, your team, and your company engage with the individual. Follow up with him or her regularly, helping to reinforce the idea that his or her contribution matters.

When onboarding new talent, do things that reinforce that his or her contribution matters.

2. Delve into the whys of the job. It isn’t enough to just train a person on how to do the job. If you truly want to establish a learning culture, delve into its whys. Train on the meaning or purpose of the role to encourage greater employee engagement, thereby increasing the desire to learn.

Formalizing your training program can help with this. But make certain to consider all the little things that can better connect people with their jobs. Go beyond the consumer benefits of your product or service, and look at the bigger picture of your organization. Then, make it a part of your training process.

3. Speak to their higher potential. When you believe in your new hires, demonstrate your commitment to their success, and expect nothing but success from them, you’ll often see greater results. It’s the rule of expectations. You’re actually encouraging them to succeed with your expectations, and they’ll rise up to meet that challenge.

Believe in your new hires. Demonstrate your commitment to their success. Expect nothing but success from them. 

Make sure they understand that you’ll help them grow and succeed if they put forth the effort. This is where a good leader or mentor within your organization can often provide the encouragement necessary for them to reach this higher potential.

4. Add variety to development efforts. Tedium can set in when training focuses on one channel, which will inevitably damage engagement. Look for interactive ways to train on the hows and whys of the job. Mix up training and development efforts between computer-based, text-only, group, and videos. Look for ways to add variety.

5. Differentiate between praise and feedback. Educate everyone within the organization on the difference between feedback and praise. Make it part of the company conversation by hosting lunch & learns on the topic of growth mindsets vs. fixed mindsets. Integrate language of “not yet” vs. criticism. The differentiation matters just as much as the hows and whys of the job.

Educate everyone within the organization on the difference between feedback and praise. 

6. Personalize learning opportunities.  Everyone has a different style and rate of learning, so it’s critical for a learning culture to personalize learning opportunities. Take a 360 view of everyone in your organization, and offer up opportunities based on the individual, such as participating in a round-robin think tank, allowing for time away to ideate on his or her own, or sharing what they’re creating or doing on other projects.

Fighting against the direction we’re moving in today’s workplace is never an option. Instead, you must embrace it and look for ways to leverage the skills, qualities, and attributes of both new and seasoned employees. Company culture is a means of doing this, and your company will be better for it.