How Investing In Workplace Learning Can Unlock Potential

August 19, 2016 – As recruiting chief Jeff Kaye points out in the following interview, the barriers to entry in the search profession are lower than almost any other line of work. Many industry leaders, like Mr. Kaye, therefore see a developing need to step up training efforts for newcomers to the field as well as for those that have plied their trade for years.

Mr. Kaye has made it his mission in recent years to put a strong emphasis on training. To that end, he developed NextLevel Exchange where he serves as co-chief executive along with Nicholas Turner. NextLevel Exchange provides on-demand training for recruitment professionals on a global basis.

In the following exchange, Mr. Kaye discusses why training has fallen off in recent years and why he sees a direct link between the training of professionals and their retention rates. He also looks at what might be changing within the C-suite itself, where new positions dedicated to training — like chief talent officer, chief learning officer and chief retention officer — are expanding in use and popularity. Mr. Kaye concludes by discussing the correlation between good training and corporate profitability, and where he sees employee training heading in the next decade.

Mr. Kaye is chief executive of Kaye / Bassman – Sanford Rose, a position he’s now held for over two decades. Ranked by Hunt Scanlon Media as the 10th largest search firm in the Americas in 2016, it employs more than 120 consultants in the U.S. and enjoys annual revenues of nearly $40 million.


Jeff, one of the hallmarks of your firm is training. Why?

If you ask most recruiters how they learned the search business, they will give you the name of a person – their boss or the trainer they watched on DVD or VHS tapes, or they may even name themselves as their sole means of development! The barriers to entry in our profession are lower than almost any other line of work. We essentially train ourselves. What we lack is a centralized resource representing what I deem a ‘recruiter university’ — a place where search professionals can come to learn the fundamentals of our business and where tenured veterans can offer up best practices and assist in the development of future high potential leaders in our field. To that end, we’ve set up an equivalency program dedicated to exactly this. Our mission is to elevate the competencies of search professionals, and thus the reputation of our industry. With over 2,000 clients in 30 countries, we have conducted programs ranging from business development and effective sourcing to performance coaching and organizational development. Our clients now range from boutiques to multinational search firms as well as internal talent acquisition departments.

Why have internal training and learning practices seemingly gone by the wayside in the last decade or so?

Illogically, training is somehow synonymous with new hires. Yet, can you imagine if your physician never attended conferences and relied on the same surgical techniques he or she learned in medical school? Why should our industry be any different? Not only does ongoing learning and development benefit clients and candidates, but it allows even the most tenured of professionals to add to their toolbox. Unfortunately, some organizations view training as something that is appropriate for sales professionals but not consultants. While consultative, our profession necessitates effective persuasion, questioning and listening skills to make the appropriate professional recommendations. To illustrate, imagine if a targeted candidate said they were happy and not looking and the consultant failed to persuade (dare I say ‘sell’) that candidate aggressively to consider the possibility of change. I am perplexed at how some organizations can lure successful professionals from their respective industries — who have gone through years, if not decades, of training — and then try to integrate them without paying heed to their learning, training, or professional development needs.

Is there a direct link between training and retention?  

‘Train to retain’ is not just a cliché, but rather a proven strategy. Employee loyalty is not eviscerated, it has simply evolved. Whether voiced or not, recruiters are always conscious of the value proposition offered by their firm. In nature, plants are either growing or dying – they do not survive in a stagnant environment. Humans are the same; if we do not provide opportunities for growth, boredom and stagnation set in. Ongoing development serves as the catalyst for the growth needed not only to sustain a long term career, but to strengthen the value proposition that becomes imperative.  If the word ‘training’ resonates as too sophomoric, replace it with learning, development, coaching, mentorship, scholarship management – but do not remove the catalyst itself.

Jeff, how are companies approaching training at the senior levels and what types of positions are being developed to address it?

Strong leaders are the most important source of growth, inspiration, and long term employee engagement. Many organizations are therefore taking a much more active role to ensure that managers are trained to inspire employees, share their expertise, and offer opportunities for growth. This can be taught, monitored and managed just as much as the achievement of sales quotas or quarterly objectives can be. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, said: “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” Empowering employees and boosting their self-worth breeds trust, and that trust breeds loyalty. Loyalty is earned, and more leaders are being tasked to preserve the human connection within their organization. This is done by enabling the successes of others, improving the performance of others, giving meaning to tasks, and modeling the behaviors you expect. The simplest formula is quality hires plus meaningful development equals increased retention. Evidence of the importance of this simple formula is exemplified by the evolution of director and VP-level titles to the now elevated C-suite roles such as chief talent officer, chief learning officer, and chief retention officer.

Can good talent training save companies money?  

Your question reminds me of an old adage — a CFO says to a CEO: ‘What happens if we train our people and they leave?’ The CEO replies: ‘What happens if we don’t train them, and they stay?’ But in regards to saving companies money, a study by the American Society of Training and Development showed that ‘leading-edge’ companies trained 86 percent of employees while ‘average’ companies trained only 74 percent. Leading edge companies also spent twice as much per employee. Companies that invest the most in workplace learning yielded higher net sales per employee, higher gross profits per employee, and a higher ratio in market-to-book values. Ironically, within the search industry, the search firms that spend the most on training have higher producers and more profitability; the less successful firms claim they will wait to invest in training until they are more profitable. This is the equivalent of the farmer who cannot afford water and fertilizer until their seedlings begin to sprout. The most valuable asset of any organization is its people. As such, an organization’s greatest cost is hiring the wrong people, the opportunity cost of failing to hire the right people, and the lack of productivity and low morale that ensues. The solutions to these issues is to spend more on learning, yet most companies facing these issues spend less and this creates the downward spiral to which we’re so accustomed.

If you look ahead a decade where do you see the biggest changes coming in training? 

The world of predictive data analytics, virtual reality, behavioral sciences and the like will continue to drive the future. The concepts of what we will learn I do not believe will change significantly, but the mediums, methodologies, and approaches will change drastically. Ten years ago, Next Level migrated from DVDs to one of the first online recruiting educational platforms in our industry. The transformation 10 years from now will be exponential. I guess if I had to put my Nostradamus hat on, I believe training, learning, interviewing, and even hiring will be most transformed by advancements in virtual reality. One thing I know for certain: nothing will ever replace the importance of personal communication and meaningful relationships with clients, candidates, and colleagues.

Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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