Do They Have to Leave to Learn Something New?

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Our favorite “stay interview” question is, “What do you want to learn this year?” It seems all great performers are interested in learning. And when promotions and pay raises are in short supply, you might turn to learning as a way to enrich their jobs, alleviate boredom, even re-recruit them to your team and to your purpose. Learning on the job is a powerful way to engage or re-engage with the work.

It Can Happen to Anyone                                

Did your own “job EKG” ever go flat? Did the feeling of challenge change to a feeling of routine? Did you think something was missing? What happened to your energy? In any case, did you start to wonder what else there was? Did you start to look around?

Unfortunately, your most valued employees are the most likely to suffer this sense of job discontent. By definition, they are savvy, creative, self-propelled, and energetic. They need stimulating work, opportunities for personal challenge and growth, and a contributing stake in the organizational action.

Job enrichment means a change in what your employees do (content) or how they do it (process) and it inevitably involves learning. Enrichment helps employees to find the growth, challenge, and renewal they seek without leaving their current jobs or employers.

An enriched job is composed of one or more of these features. It:

  • Gives employees room to initiate, create, and implement new ideas
  • Promotes setting and achieving personal and group goals
  • Allows employees to see their contributions to an end product or goal
  • Challenges employees to expand their knowledge and capabilities
  • Allows employees to “job sculpt” and make the job they have a job they love

A job can be as neatly tailored to a worker’s peculiar goals and requirements as a pair of Levi’s [jeans] to an online customer’s imperfect physique.

—David Ulrich and David Sturm

Consider a Learning Assignment

We said that learning is core to enrichment. Now let’s look at how a learning assignment brought back the “juice” of the job for one employee.

When Sergey’s boss asked what he wanted to learn next year, he said, “I’d like to improve my negotiating skills.” The boss said, “Great, let’s do it,” and they began a 3-step learning process. Here are the steps they followed and how it worked out for Sergey.

Step 1. Conscious Observation. Sergey’s boss selected an expert for Sergey to observe—someone who was exceptionally skilled at negotiating. After the observation, Sergey and his boss discussed what Sergey noticed, learned, would mirror or do differently.

Step 2. Selected Participation. Sergey’s boss gave him the chance to take a well-defined but limited role in a negotiation (preparing the opening remarks with a vendor). The goal was to give Sergey an opportunity to get his feet wet without feeling overwhelmed. Following the meeting, Sergey and his boss discussed what worked and where there might be room for improvement.

Step 3. Key Responsibility. Sergey’s boss gave him primary responsibility for a project that required excellent negotiation skills. Sergey completed the entire negotiation with the vendor and was both visible and accountable for the outcome. His boss was present, of course, but would have stepped in only if Sergey requested his support.

It worked. One year later, Sergey is thrilled with his job and continues to develop mastery as a negotiator for his organization.

In short, if you help employees enrich their jobs, you can benefit them, their teams, and the entire organization. Stay alert to learning opportunities for all your employees. Then watch their “job EKGs” spike!


This blog post is based on concepts from Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans. This bestselling book provides twenty-six strategies to keep talented employees happy and productive. In addition to updating and revising all information for the fifth edition, the authors have included more international stories and statistics.

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