You’ve got an incredible Systems Engineer. As a sole contributor, his performance is stellar, and his manager couldn’t be happier. The only problem is, your prized Systems Engineer has his sights set on next steps. He wants to become a program manager and then a people manager.


Losing this engineer’s output would be a tough hit for the team. And his manager knows how difficult it would be to replace him. To avoid the expense and lost time, his manager whisks his career ladder away and out of sight. So, Mr. Systems Engineer is trapped in his role with no way up.


Naturally, he begins to look for ways out.



Poor retention begets even poorer retention.


Companies don’t promote high performers to management roles because they don’t want to lose their contributions. Those same high performers leave because they want career advancement but can’t get it. Because companies no longer tend to invest in robust training and development programs, there is no rising cohort to take on the vacant roles. Instead, the vacancies are filled by peers poached from competitors. And the cycle goes on. (HBR)


The absence of development programs creates a vicious turnover cycle. It also leads to a growing epidemic: employee disengagement. The problem of employee disengagement is far spread and costly: “Gallup estimates disengagement runs companies about a third of the disengaged worker’s salary in lost productivity. Actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.” (Gallup)



Breaking the cycle.


Organizations stand to gain a lot from improving their engagement and retention rates. When managers feel they have growth opportunities, they become more engaged, which in turn increases their productivity. What’s more – good managers are not only likelier to stay themselves when they’re engaged, but they’re also likelier to keep their team on board.


We may never return to a point where people spend their entire careers at one corporation – we may not want to – but we should aim to extend average tenure. The median tenure for employees age 25 to 34 is just over 3 years. Extending that median to 5 to 10 years not only saves organizations on the cost of turnover, but it also makes it easier for organizations to grow. The sales pitch to prospective employees is so much stronger when you can point to teams of people who value your mission and culture enough to stay longer than just a couple of years.



brightwing employees

How Brightwing does employee retention.


When prospective employees find out the average tenure of a Brightwing team member is 8 years, they’re often surprised and intrigued. What is it about Brightwing that keeps people engaged enough to stick around so long?


Jason Hochstein – Brightwing’s Talent Acquisition Director – was recently asked that same question. Here’s how he tells the story (see his original LinkedIn post here):




[Full text of Jason’s post]: “The other day I was catching up with a recruiter from another firm. She stopped me mid-sentence: “People usually stay for a year or 2. How is it even possible that people stay at Brightwing for 8 years ON AVERAGE?”


The sound of her curiosity (& anger) made me pause.


Good question. “We keep the beer fridge stocked at all times, KAREN.”


Just kidding. Didn’t say that.


I’ve been thinking about it, though. A lot of orgs pay lip service to the same core values. But most DON’T hire & fire by them. Most DON’T reinforce them except at yearly review time. At most orgs, the core values are framed on the wall, but have nothing to do with our lives.


When we say “Always be Growing” is a core value, we mean it. It’s baked into the way things work. Managers have regular 1:1s with their people to tackle not just the immediate workload, but also to ask the bigger questions. Where do you want to go? How can we get you there? I see colleagues nominate each other for awards for going out on a limb. I see leadership working with team members to carve out a path that makes sense for them.


I think the way we practice “always be growing” keeps people at Brightwing.


What keeps you at a job? What prevents you from staying for more than a few years?”


Jason captures the essence of how we approach employee retention and engagement. Here’s a little more about our approach to developing our employees:



We customize development opportunities to fit the needs of each individual.


As an organization, we’re committed to our people. That means we invest in them. All of our managers consistently talk to their team members about opportunities to grow.


What do these growth opportunities look like? Well, that depends on the person.


We have one marketing coordinator, for example, who was performing above and beyond expectations. In their 1 on 1’s each week, her manager gauged her feelings about her weekly tasks and asked her to think about a skill she’d like to focus on developing. Turns out, when she faced limitations with website design in the past, she’d really enjoyed teaching herself how to adjust the CSS and HTML here and there. And she’d gotten the hang of it pretty quickly. So, together with her manager, she identified web development as a key area to focus on. Because they knew she learned best by doing, they found a self-paced online coding course she could work on every Friday. Thanks to her training, she was able to design and launch a new website – an accomplishment she refers to today with pride and satisfaction.


A pair of recruiters arrived at a development path quite differently. After being promoted to team leads, these two recruiters were ready for leadership training. We identified a training course that we could bring in-house, and the pair sat down with our Director of HR every week to digest the material and discuss real-life scenarios they encountered as they began to manage their teams. 


We have a business development manager who has embraced one-on-one coaching with a sales trainer. We have directors who have chosen to attend seminars on how to have critical conversations with their employees.


The point is – professional development is not a one-size fits-all program. Weekly or bi-weekly check-ins allow managers to understand their team members’ goals and progress, and a flexible approach allows us as an organization to find the best focus area and delivery mechanism to suit each individual.



We embrace non-linear growth paths.


What does “career path” mean in today’s market? Most often, there’s not an obvious answer. Depending on the individual’s strengths, interests, and circumstances, each recruiter or business development manager could go one of many ways forward. Whether they’re headed toward a leadership role or not, it’s important for that person to have open doors in front of them.


We understand “growth” to be a mindset, rather than a goal you can check off your list. That means as leaders we need to be open to possibilities in whatever form they appear to us.


One of our lead recruiters started at Brightwing as an intern 14 years ago. She transitioned into recruiting, then sales, then marketing, and then back into recruiting where she rose in the ranks. Her path was a zig zag. And that’s not an accident. By learning about herself and the business through this variety of roles, she became the incisive, high performing lead recruiter she is today. Her growth as an individual didn’t take an obvious course, but both she and Brightwing benefited from her creativity and flexibility as a professional.



We give our people the opportunity to put their learning into practice.


Professional development is pointless if you don’t give people the opportunity to use it. Theory can only take your organization so far – you need to trust your people to practice it in ways both big and small.


Take the case of these two Brightwingers. A business development manager and a recruiter had 10 years at Brightwing between them. An ambitious pair, they wanted to manage and grow a Brightwing branch. Completing a leadership training program at a local university helped them on their way to realizing that goal. The leadership team recognized their potential, and today, they run a fast-growing, fast-paced, and fun branch office.


Developing your people is certainly a long-term endeavor. But the return is well-worth the investment. Movement up and around the organization helps our people stay engaged. High employee engagement helps us stay successful in an evolving marketing. And for that all to work, we’ve found a customized approach to employee training and development to be key.