Twenty-one years ago, I fell in love with Della. Only those in my closest circle knew her. She looked good. She smelled good. We went everywhere together. She came to live with me in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It took some time, but after five years, I was fully invested – and I knew that Della belonged to me. I had never really thought about a situation where she would no longer be there.
Well, as it seems to happen, things change. The news came that I was going to have a child. I was totally surprised and thrilled at the same time. However, the reality of the situation is that it cramped Della's style, and she went to be with another man. It turns out that the other man saw an online advertisement with Della’s picture, and his reaction was apparently the same reaction that I had so many years ago. It was love at first sight. Della went to be with him, and to this day, I have never seen her again. As a result, I ended up buying a used Volkswagen Passat with oil leaks, but at least it would carry the baby seat. Here's to remembering Della, the two-seater Honda Del Sol convertible that I purchased on St. Patrick's Day 1998.
What were you thinking? Do you not name your cars? If you did not know where I was going with that story, it was because either you do not know me well or you made a few assumptions based on the limited information that you were given. Either way, we were looking at the same story through completely different lenses.
We often correlate having 20/20 vision with perfect eyesight. Actually, 20/20 vision simply means that you can clearly see, at 20 feet, what you should be able to see at that distance. Clarity is related to a specific proximity. I certainly must wear glasses to bring things at a distance into that kind of focus.
What lenses are you looking through as it relates to your team? Could it be that you have made false assumptions because you have not taken the time to learn their stories and what drives them? What do they value? What are their hidden talents? You will have to get closer than 20 feet to obtain that level of clarity.
If you are leading that team, do they know your vision? Do they know what you value? Do you even see them, or is your focus always on the finish line? If this last one is the case, you will likely catch glimpses of steady droves of people passing you by, entering and exiting the human resources office as you stare at your P&L sheet. The 2019 Retention Report by Work Institute, for the ninth consecutive year, identified the category of career development as the number one reason employees quit. More than 22 out of 100 quit for career development reasons, and that is on the rise. What is your prescription for that?
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An ancient proverb holds, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” For a moment, I will indulge in one additional “Della” story. Before I was married, my true love (now my wife of 16 years) was riding with me in Della, the Del Sol. She wanted us to go explore Bangor Cave. The plan was to meet some of her family there for a fun spelunking outing. It was a place her dad had taken her when she was a child. In 1937, Bangor Cave was touted as the only underground nightclub in America. Raids, legal proceedings, liquor, roulette wheels, and slot machines accompanied the cave.
My soon-to-be wife could not remember exactly where the cave was. We came upon a railroad track. She felt confident it was somewhere right off of the track, in a wooded area. She was convinced that I needed to drive down that little gravel path beside the track to get to our destination. The loose gravel really beat up Della’s underside, but we kept going until we came to a tunnel that encompassed the track and the utility road. My fiancée was certain that the cave was just on the other side of this tunnel. I thought I could see far enough to feel comfortable enough to make it, and love is blind, so I drove my car inside a train tunnel! We got to the other side, pulled over and walked around. She said it looked kind of familiar, but concluded that this was not the right spot. We needed to go back and look elsewhere. The possibility had already crossed my mind, but I “played the odds” outside of the cave some 60+ years after roulette wheels were played inside the cave. You probably guessed it. Around the halfway point, inside the tunnel, heading back, I looked into my rear-view window and saw this giant, round, white light quickly approaching, followed by a loud horn that reverberates nicely inside a train tunnel. I gunned it, moved as far to the right wall as possible, and got out of the tunnel and as close to the wooded edge as possible just before the train passed. All the while, the train horn continued to resound. We did eventually make it to our destination, but her family, whom we were meeting, had already left by the time we arrived.
We knew the destination but did not have a clear vision for how we were going to get there. It very well could have been the end for this young couple. To cite Habit #2 from Stephen Covey’s classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” we certainly want to “begin with the end in mind.” Just don’t have tunnel vision. Constantly look around to see where you can add value to the people on your team, even if you are not the leader of that team. People don’t leave companies. People leave people.
If your employees are leaving as a result of a lack of career development opportunities, you cannot afford to forego investing in a training/learning and development group. When you make that investment, do not make the mistake of only connecting people with good content. That does not give you a competitive advantage. Connect people with people who go on a learning journey together. They will learn from each other, and the relationships and experiences will last. I believe loyalty begins to arise in an organization with this mindset. Otherwise, you might just end up at a desirable destination with the entryway to that destination containing a revolving door with employees inside who just look somewhat familiar. The ones whom you thought would be there felt like the gravel was beating them up and moved on to another destination.
In our business, the speed of innovation in Industry 4.0 will overtake us if we do not get on board. In learning and development, we also have to be innovative as we influence our respective cultures relative to the dynamic needs of a multigenerational, high-speed, high-tech workforce. If we do what we have always done (tunnel vision), talented people will not wait on us to arrive.
As I look ahead to next year, I have 20/20 vision, so to speak. I realize that I will have been with Motion Industries for 20 years in August 2020, and I will have another 20 years until retirement – assuming the traditional retirement age of 65. To quote the title of a book by Marshall Goldsmith (which my supervisor recommended at this midpoint of my personal career), “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There.” Look in your rearview mirror and learn from your successes and failures, but chart a new course that adds even more value to every member of your team.
Where are you going? How will you get there? Does your team have clearly communicated goals and a defined destination? Are team members equipped with a map to follow, or are they lost, with no idea where they are going (other than to their spot on the assembly line)?
We can realize a return on our career-development investments. If there is no investment, employees in 2020 are not likely to return to our respective places of business. That is very clear to see.
Brock Culpepper is director of learning & development at Motion Industries, where he leads the company’s training arm – Motion Institute. He is passionate about cultivating a continuous-learning mindset through technical training and professional development learning. A graduate of the University of Alabama, Culpepper has worked for 19 years for Motion Industries.