Why are Zappos, Facebook, Google and Netflix perceived as the most desirable employers for so many prospective employees? These companies are like magnets because they are learning organizations: innovative, adaptive and focused on developing their people. And as these headline-grabbing companies know well,
a focus on talent development is necessary not only for attracting and retaining top talent, but also for maintaining a competitive market edge and fueling growth.

A 2014 study from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at The University of North Carolina found that organizations that invest in the training and development of employees at all levels benefit across the board with stronger talent pools, lower turnover and higher employee satisfaction rates. The study goes on to say that “high-impact learning organizations reap the benefits of investing in training and development by financially outperforming their peers…earning a profit growth three times that of their competitors.”


A recent WorkTrends study also discovered another benefit: improved employee engagement. Their survey found that organizations that scored the highest on training and development had employee engagement scores 40% higher than organizations that scored the lowest in training and development.

Many organizations, however, still struggle with achieving tangible returns on their talent development programs. Among the biggest challenges is how organizations recognize the individuality—as well as the commonalities—among an increasingly diverse, multigenerational workforce. A static, one-size-fits-all talent program has its limitations and fails to connect all generational cohorts.

The following are three guiding principles to help organizations gear their training and development to elicit the full potential of all employees across a multigenerational workforce:

1. Invest in all employees equally. Ongoing training opportunities directly affect retention, motivation, engagement and productivity. Older, more experienced employees feel valued when they learn new skills and can continue to contribute.

Generation X employees (born between 1965 and 1980), sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, are few in number and get little attention.
Yet developing this generation’s leadership capabilities will add to competitive advantage as Baby Boomers retire. Gen Xers typically are self-starting, self-reliant and can bridge communication gaps between Baby Boomers and Millennials, raising engagement and productivity.

Millennials or Generation Y (born after 1980) are especially interested in learning and development and will be less likely to leave a company (retention and turnover are significant Millennial challenges) if they have opportunities to learn, acquire new skills and grow.

2. Create and model a culture that reinforces collaboration and learning.
If you don’t have a two-way mentoring program, start one. Different than the traditional one-way model, the two-way system enables older employees to learn from younger ones and encourages diversity of solutions. It also enables experienced employees to pass on their “wisdom,” ensuring knowledge transfer as Baby Boomers retire.

3. Recognize the strengths and prime motivators for each generation. Differences in societal influences, historical events, education and upbringing have shaped the generations into different entities, with resultant differences in communication preferences and styles. Take advantage of these generational differences for increased creativity and innovation and be sure your policies and procedures don’t hinder productivity and motivation. For example, does your reward strategy focus on productivity and accomplishments rather than length
of service?

Are your leaders role models for reinforcing the shared values among all the generations? Do they emphasize the value of learning and tie it to overall organizational values and objectives? And, are your training methods delivered in a variety of ways to satisfy multigenerational learning preferences? Including these strategies and offering ongoing personal and professional talent development will not only keep employees’ skills up-to-date, but also bring you much closer to being hailed as a learning organization with all its rewards.


About the author

Suzanne Kaplan, a Vitalyst partner and President of Talent Balance, is a generational consultant and speaker who specializes in increasing workforce performance through multigenerational integration.