The biggest risk to learning and development (L&D) has been, and will likely remain, the underfunding of our initiatives in lean times. Most senior leaders who don’t see the value in developing their employees tend to use a hatchet at the training budget. (We’d prefer a scalpel and a bit of precision if it must happen, right?)

As L&D professionals, we realize that employee development impacts business efficiency and employee engagement and can help you forecast some pretty gnarly trends if you’re savvy enough to notice them. So, how do we help leaders see the importance of learning and development in lean times? How do we ask for the scalpel in exchange for the hatchet?

Aligning your development efforts to the future of the business is a surefire way to shroud your budget in a cloak of safety. To do so, you’ll need to look to the future and dig into some useful data. One way is to examine the people who are leaving your company.

Employees leave companies for a variety of reasons but rarely because working there is too engaging or because they feel too prepared for the next level. If you want to catch them before they walk out the door and leave your company in a succession planning nightmare, try these five strategies:

1. Align Your Leadership Development Plan With a Succession Plan

Work with the human resources team to identify which leaders are eligible for retirement or likely to leave in the next five years. To ensure that there is a pipeline of qualified internal employees ready for the next level, it’s time to identify high-potentials and start the knowledge-sharing process.

2. Analyze the Retention Data

If employees are leaving to work elsewhere, it’s because they’re finding something at a new company that they failed to receive at yours. Are they leaving within the first year or three years at your organization? Why?

If you’re losing more managers than non-supervisory employees, you might need to bolster your leadership development initiatives in this direction.

3. Prepare for Change

Identify the learning initiatives you’ll need in the future by analyzing where your business is today. Determine any environmental, political and organizational changes that may occur in the near future; then, develop training programs to prepare your stakeholders for those changes.

4. Play Tic-tac-toe

Cross-train at least two levels down and one level laterally. To be efficient in building a succession pipeline, you want to be strategic in your planning. By cross-training two levels below, you can create a vested interest in the career ladder (and you won’t put all your eggs in one basket).

What does this particular form of tic-tac-toe look like? If your chief financial officer (CFO) will be retiring in five years, start having regular training sessions with the deputy chief and senior manager of finance. You’ll also want to offer the opportunity for lateral interest. It’s surprising how many senior leaders have interest in running other departments (and the skills to do so effectively). Now, you have, at minimum, three internal options for the role in five years. If one leaves before the five years are up, you still have backup for a successor.

5. Be Transparent

It sounds simple. In the age of social media, modern workers are used to seeing, hearing and knowing everything about their surroundings, especially the things they care about, at a moment’s notice. If you want them to care about the future of their work, you’ll need to develop a communication plan to tell them about the vast opportunities to grow at your company.

You won’t need a kitschy gimmick or a red carpet. A simple email, webpage, wiki or similar tactic sharing how to participate in career development programs will suffice. In a 2013 TINYpulse engagement survey of over 300 companies around the world, transparency was the No. 1 factor contributing to employee happiness.  Keep your employees happy by telling them how you’re going to save them from the scary world outside the exit sign.

These strategies may seem simple, but there is a great amount of time and effort your L&D team will need to put into building relationships with other departments to find the information you need. (It might be a good idea to have chocolate as a peace offering in the process.)

The key to remember is that employee development should always align to your business’ current and future needs. Showing how L&D supports these needs will keep your budgets intact and your teams working with purpose.

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