"CEOs can't wait to read Sunny Bindra's articles every week."

Why train employees, when they’ll just leave you?

Nov 19, 2012 Business Daily, Management

“It is the rare person who has a single employer for a whole career, and employers understand this. So it follows that it is unreasonable to expect employees to accept becoming useless to other potential employers, however invaluable they may have become to their current employer. If your skills and knowledge are valuable only to your current employer, you are in trouble. Sooner or later, for one reason or another, your employer will no longer be interested in buying those skills, and you will have no place else to sell them.
Obsolescence is bad business for employers as well as employees. It is costly for employers to disposition the obsolete, and to hire or develop employees with the skills that the departed should have been developing all along.”

W. J. KING & JAMES G. SKAKOON, The Unwritten Laws of Business (2007)

The Unwritten Laws of Business was first released more than six decades ago, and updated more recently for a modern audience. What is amazing is how timeless the lessons it contains are – and how relevant for what we consider to be our technology-driven age.

One of the many principles it highlights is this: “Maintain your employability as well as that of your staff.” Consider that this thought comes from a bygone era, when lifetime employment in one organization was not uncommon. Even then, some enlightened fellow had the insight to view things differently. The thought is expanded in the excerpt shown.

What was a telling point way back then hammers itself home today. In today’s fast-changing world, which one of us can afford to say: “That’s it, I’m trained; I know what I need to know for the rest of my career?” Try that even for a year, and see where it gets you.

But there’s a problem. Employee (and especially senior employee) churn has never been higher. People don’t stick around in companies like they used to. They move on, quickly and frequently. So why should any one company train them? CEOs and HR heads often tell me: it’s a mug’s game, training. You pay for people’s development, only to find them moving on and using it to good effect elsewhere.

I trust you’re not one of those leaders.

Today, skill-sets need continual upgrading. If you’re still sitting in the same place doing exactly the same things in the same way that you were doing five years ago, I have bad news for you. The day is not far when your company comes to tell you it no longer needs you. You will be replaced by a smarter employee, or even a device. So don’t accept zero personal development.

It is equally silly for employers to stifle skills development. Your business of five years ago may resemble your business today, but here’s a safe prediction: your business five years from today will look nothing like today’s. You can hold me to that little prophecy. So suppressing personal development in your key people will have only one result: obsolescence. You will go through all the pain and cost of redundancy, and end up looking for expensive new people.

Far better to keep investing in people today and tomorrow, and keeping a healthy budget for employee development. Accept fully that you’ll lose a proportion of your people, and recognize also that you’ll receive a bunch of people trained by others. That’s the way it goes.

A final word for employees with any ambition: don’t sit around waiting for your employer to find the money to spend on your training. Invest in yourself. It’s your life and your career, after all. In today’s world with all its opportunities for self-advancement, you have no excuse. Find the money, find the time. Take charge of your own development. It’s no one’s problem except your own.

Share This

More Like This

Like it? Hate it? Engage here
  • Just ensure that investing in yourself does not go agaist the interest of your employer. Avoid conflict of interest at all costs, and you might enjoy the retirement packages.

    • @Christiano, I’m not sure I agree; What would an example of ‘going against the interest of your employer?’ be and what retirement packages will there be in 5 years, 10 years time?

  • Adam

    Thank you Sunny, for reminding us that employees are just as much susceptible to the disruptive forces of obsolescence as the businesses that find themselves victims of this unforgiving digital age. We’ve read about most of these very businesses along with your excellent insights and discussions of their prospective outcomes i.e. the kodaks, the newsweeks, etc. Employees would fare well to exercise some foresight and place their fate in their own hands, rather than completely rely on a complacent management’s stewardship through these choppy waters.

    The wonder of this small world of ours is that one just never knows where they’ll draw inspiration and ideas from. Forgive me for digressing, but I promise it is related to the greater topic of obsolescence and the disruptive power of the digital age. Out of a comment on one of your recent articles, I expressed some curiosity as to the fate of the education sector and how long before it eventually becomes a casualty to what Clayton Christensen would probably term as “the innovator’s dilemma.” Well, my answer came from an unusual source, a short seller, who is very much invested in the idea that obsolescence and the disruptive power of the digital age will continue to produce opportunities to exploit the corporate managements’ lack of foresight and vision in the face of these changes.

    As I was recently taking in a lecture by James Chanos, famed short-seller especially known for taking a short position against Enron, who was delivering a lecture earlier this year to an audience at the CFA institute about some of his ideas and rationale for his short positions in industries which are ripe for disruption as a result of the technological revolution. One topic of particular interest was his discussion of digital distribution and its inherent impact on the “physical media retailers as an endangered species.” After that line, I knew it had to be interesting. As a short seller, his record has been nothing short of spectacular so it was very interesting to hear him recommend Clayton Christensen’s book “the Innovator’s dilemma” as the best source of understanding the history of the power of disruptive technology in the various industries despite most outstanding companies effort’s to maintain their market leadership.

    Prior to purchasing the book, I decided to hear Clayton Christensen’s speech particularly to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education given my interests into whether education as we traditionally know it might also suffer from similar disruptive forces that have claimed other industries. Despite the lecture being long, he didn’t disappoint. The variety of industries discussed by Clayton from the computer industries to steelmaking and more importantly in my case the education sector was well worth listening to. In my humble opinion, his book is probably as important as Michael Porter’s competitive strategy. I hope you enjoy the lecture below as I did. Clayton’s insights will definitely prove vital for business leaders, educators and employees alike.


    I am extremely grateful for your generosity in providing an excellent platform in exchanging your ideas and insights and affording us an opportunity to throw in our two cents. Apologies again for the length.

    • Adam:

      Your responses are always welcome.

      Christensen indeed wrote the book on disruption. Literally so.

      Thanks for the video link.

      • Adam

        Thank you Sunny. Always a pleasure. Your insights and articles have always been a must-read for me. Thank you.

    • @Adam, excellent video – very engaging and thought-provokiing. Not having any business education this was a great lecture on innovation & disruption for me. For the benefit of the readers I made note of some of the sections by timestamp (although be warned Vimeo’s time-bar controls are odd)

      00:24 – why is success so hard to sustain?
      00:25 – stroke & learning to talk again
      00:26+ – example of disruption – the steel industry
      00:58 – transistors, RCA & Sony
      01:25 – importance of faculty in higher ed
      01:28 – Product development by org chart – Prius
      01:34 – Harvard vs U of Arizona business classes
      01:40 – business intelligence in education
      01:45 – what matters to the customer? (milkshake example)
      01:53 – elite-ness/exclusivity & the customer

      • Adam

        Thank you Chandesh. Glad you enjoyed it. Some profound material. I really enjoyed the part about how six faculty members at Harvard are responsible for around 80% of the contributions from alumni. And his story about the generous alumni at Bowdoin College who donated huge sums before a teacher made a difference in their lives.

        I pretty stayed much stayed home my last two years in university because my professors were content just pushing the same content in the textbook while in class, so I figured why bother make the journey.

  • Vipi Sunny
    http://www.khanacademy.org and http://www.ocw.mit.edu/index.htm are 2 great sources of online learning.

  • Nelson Mandela

    Very insightful and 100% relevant be it to the self-employed or otherwise; everything requires continous improvement for an improved result.