Build a culture that supports employee growth



During this month’s INSPIRE Leadership talk, Karen Church shared a story that resonated with me.

The ELGA Credit Union CEO recounted how, years ago, she had been impressed by the work ethic of an employee who had worked for the organization since high school. So, she told the young man she thought he might end up running the credit union one day.

The employee was in his early 20s at the time, and as Church tells it: “Did I know that he’d be running the place someday? No. But did I build a belief in his mind that it was truly possible? Yes.”

And she did—so much so that particular employee will take over Church’s position in 2021.

What I love most about this story is that is shows just how powerful encouragement can be. In sharing that positive feedback, Church had unknowingly planted the seeds for her own succession plan.

When employees feel engaged at work, everyone wins. It improves company morale, reduces overall turnover and results in stronger relationships with customers.

The opposite can be true when employees feel disconnected. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, disengaged employees are more likely to negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays and drive customers away. In the U.S., that can add up to $605 billion in lost productivity each year. So, what can employers do to keep their workers engaged?

Recognition, for one, is a major factor. In fact, according to the same report, employees who don’t feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year. And unfortunately, just three in 10 U.S. employees reported receiving recognition or praise for doing good work in the last seven days.

One way that employers can address this is to take a cue from Karen Church. Show employees attention and appreciation for what they do. Don’t wait for an annual performance review to give kudos. Give them recognition in realtime.

What’s more, invest in your people. Gallup reports that the No. 1 reason employees leave a job is lack of development and career growth opportunities. In fact, just 30 percent of U.S. employees say they have someone who encourages their professional development.

As employers, we must prioritize professional growth. We need to help our employees define goals and create opportunities for them to take on exciting challenges.

This could entail identifying new projects that allow employees to learn and apply new skills. It might involve encouraging your team to attend workshops at the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce ( or participate in certification and/or continuing education programs at local colleges and universities.

In the end, by providing new opportunities for employees to acquire new skills, employers aren’t just investing in the individual, they’re also investing in their workforce and their bottom line.

DeAndra Larkin is group vice president at the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.

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