Does inspiration threaten retention?

Courtesy of stevendepolo
Courtesy of stevendepolo

Though I didn’t attend, Brooklyn Beta took place at the end of last week here in Brooklyn. Over a thousand people gathered in the Brooklyn Navy yard to listen to inspirational speakers and to meet each other. I had drinks with a few Beta attendees Friday evening after following along on Twitter, taking note of the positive energy and connections happening all over the place. It was the kind of energy that incites change, the kind that has the potential to prompt a certain percentage of people in the audience to call “last straw” and set their mind to leave their current job.

So this led me to wonder: does inspiration threaten retention?

As a former Director of Employee Development, I feel the pain behind the question. There’s an interesting dance that happens between those responsible for professional development and the employees who want to attend events like Brooklyn Beta. Sometimes it’s not about the conference price tag. Instead, it’s about the threat.

Given the industry we’re in, there is always a threat. The developers and designers we work with receive recruiter emails daily. It’s a poaching world out there… but the threat of the blind recruiter pales remarkably in comparison with inspired change and growth. So what can you do? Are you sending people to conferences so they can be inspired out of their jobs?

It’s not only conferences; you have to acknowledge that nearly any level of stretching will do the same. Asked to speak somewhere? Invited to drinks with a few influential members of the industry? Stumble on one of the millions of inspirational memoirs, manifestos, TED talks, or powerfully succinct tweets? It can all be perceived as a threat, if you let it.

There’s a great way to attack this problem head-on: you call it out. You pull aside an employee who attended a conference and ask them what inspired them the most. You ask them if they learned anything they think could make your organization better or you ask them to write a blog post about their experience. Make sure your company isn’t afraid of inspiration. Instead, see it for what it is – amazingly powerful energy – and harness it to help your organization evolve.

As I’ve been writing this post, there’s a metaphor pulling at me – the father who won’t let his daughter date. Don’t be that dad. We all know how that goes down.

Instead, provide a safe place to discuss inspiration and make a genuine effort to weave your employees’ growth into the company’s growth. Because we’re all growing – up, down and sideways – and ignoring that is the real threat.