Martin Nally

Martin Nally

Friday, 06 May 2011 16:22

Retaining Key Staff As A Start-up: Offering Employee Development

How can I offer career progression to staff when there’s only four of us in the business?

How can I offer career progression to staff when there’s only four of us in the business? It seems hard to promise grand promotions when the company hasn’t grown to a decent size yet.


One of the greatest myths of our time is that “all staff seek career progression”. They do not. What they seek is development.

Career progression or succession planning may not be a possibility in some small organisations but development and “advancement planning” may be possible.


Let me explain. You can develop your team in a myriad of ways and still keep them motivated and contributing.

If you cannot offer true career progression, you can still offer “career advancement” by developing your people.

You can immerse them in every aspect of your business. When I mention development I do not mean training courses or education.


Although both of these elements are important, the best way of truly developing your people is through experiential learning.


Try and keep this ratio:


  • 10% development time on training
  • 20% development time on education
  • 70% development time on experiential learning

Opportunities exist within every business to offer some or all of the following experiential learning opportunities:


  • Coaching (you guide someone in an area where they need exposure).
  • Mentoring (assign a mentor to offer support and a sounding board).
  • Shadowing (allow someone to shadow an experienced team member to expose them to different models).
  • Stretch assignments (take someone out of their comfort zone and give them a go at a task or challenge).
  • Project work (assign people to projects which build their experience).
  • Cross functional work (have team members work outside their normal area of expertise).
  • Full change of job (allow people to take on other roles within your business).

The same conundrum exists for critical roles in your business as well. How can we keep our high performers?


And how can we satisfy those who are masters at their craft and do not want career progression in the traditional sense? Again the trick with this group is to offer development.


Some of your people are happy to do what they are good at. They do not seek career progression, but they do want development so they can be even better than they currently are.


So use a different and more appropriate language. Say openly to your team that you cannot offer career progression.


Most will get this. But then say you are willing to explore opportunities for career advancement and development.


Explain the list I have provided and gain their perspective on what’s possible and what’s not. Explore with them what they see as really beneficial to them.


You may be surprised what this conversation unearths. As business owners we are often “tell assertive” so become more “ask assertive” and you may find out a thing or two.


After all, if what you hear is able to be delivered you can say that powerful saying: “You said, we did.”


And you will have made inroads into retaining some stars.

Martin Nally is the founder and MD of hranywhere - a Human Resources Service Company, offering people solutions to business. HRA represents the new generation of HR, focussing on providing the people support that businesses need. Prior to this, Martin has worked at Coles Myer Ltd, the Mayne Group and Kraft Foods, where he held a number of GM and senior HR roles.


Ask Martin or any other StartupSmart Mentor a question here.

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