The secret connection that really keeps your team engaged

Jimmy Burroughes
6 min readNov 24, 2022

Last week we started discussing the idea of connection — in particular the idea of connecting new starters to the business, their peers, and the wider network they need to succeed.

This week, we’re exploring the other end of the employment journey — the reason people leave their roles and how we can prevent that. And it too is about connection.

This graphic is the third time I have seen this data presented by McKinsey based on their global research. It shows the reasons people leave their roles. The reasons themselves jockey for a place with each iteration, but the top 5 have been pretty consistent for a while — which means we have a target we can aim at and hit to solve this. Let us focus on that first circle — the lack of career development and advancement.

Why is this a game-changer?

Employees leave teams because they don’t feel like they are making progress. Added to the cost of living increases many families are facing at present, plus the fact that employees want to see career success (especially younger generations), employers are under particular pressure to do something a bit different.

One of the questions I often ask leaders who are going through our first WoW Lab — “Align” is to think about and describe the moments they were most proud of. Their career highlights. This normally turns out to be the moment they were given the opportunity to shine by someone who believed in them. They were connected to a development opportunity. Think about it- how did you get your current job? Because of the skills and experiences you have. And how did you learn those? Perhaps through development?

Employees want to show you what they can do and to be given more opportunities to show you. Whether early in their roles and wanting to show you that they are competent, or perhaps they are keen to support you by taking on additional responsibilities. The challenge for you as a leader is how do you connect your team with these opportunities?

The benefits?

Connecting people with development and supporting them to grow has a massive commercial upside. If your team is developing, they have more skills to enable solving more complex problems. They contribute new ideas and perspectives. They can offer insights. All of this creates value and bottom-line performance improvements.

Leaders who don’t develop their team tend to fall into one of four categories:

  1. They believe they are too busy, or that their employees are too busy to undertake development.
  2. They don’t have the budget for development courses or to pay for coaches at the moment.
  3. They are fearful that if they develop their team, there may be competition from their employees and this puts their position at risk.
  4. They actually do development but don’t talk about it as being development or maximize what is happening through reflection or integration of learning.

Understandably there is a tension between development and delivery in many leaders’ minds. It is up to you as a leader to identify those factors for each individual and then to plot some steps with them on how they can do their jobs AND in a way that enables this development. We call this on-job development.

I have conducted hundreds of exit interviews as both a Head of Recruitment and a Consultant and when we ask why people are leaving, they say something like, “I didn’t get any development”. When you dig a bit more about training, feedback, projects, and secondments (the list goes on) it turns out that actually, they’ve had quite a bit. So we aren’t saying that to get these benefits you should be adding more things. Just communicating them better.

The most impactful change you can make:

Not many people know about on-job development. It costs very little and is actually fully within your control and often makes the biggest difference to performance because it’s centered on them learning new skills and experiences to help them perform better in their role.

The one thing that we see that makes the biggest difference to employee perception, performance, retention, and engagement is the connection conversations we have before, during, and after the development happens.

Do you think you have 10–15 minutes to connect with each of your employees to talk about their goals and aspirations? You could even pre-send a little questionnaire and ask them to fill it in so they have time to prepare. Easy right?

Then connect with them to identify their strengths and work out what might be the best way to develop those strengths so they can achieve their goals. It might be going on a course, or getting a coach but more often than not, it’s actually about on-the-job development.

Examples of on-job development for employees might be:

  • Taking part in a new project
  • Attending meetings with you to observe and learn how they work
  • Being asked to take a look at a problem they haven’t seen before
  • Being asked to speak in front of the team
  • Ask team members to attend the meetings of another team to share what they are working on or to listen to what others are working on

Whichever activity you choose, remember it should be linked to helping them achieve their goals and aspirations whilst growing their skills and experience to deliver as an employee.

None of this is particularly innovative up to this point. Now comes the secret sauce of development — connecting the development with your employees’ awareness of development.

Connecting the dots

Many leaders actually do quite a bit of on-job training but they forget to tell the employee about it, forget to check in during it, and forget to take the opportunity to maximize the learning through reflection and integration. We say forget, but from experience, it often isn’t something they are aware of.

So the secret lies in the connection.

Summary of connections leaders can make:

  1. Connect with your employee and talk about their goals and aspirations then tell them that you are going to connect them with an opportunity to undertake some on-job development.
  2. Connect with your employee each week for 10–15 minutes and ask them what they are learning through the development you have setup with them
  3. Connect with your employee after a month or two and ask them their reflections about themselves and how their experience has changed since they started this development.

When we see leaders making this one connection, the benefits become realized and the business thrives as a result. And from a purely selfish perspective, you won’t spend as much time recruiting and training new employees. You’ll be focused on the things that matter to drive your business forward.

Speak soon,


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Jimmy Burroughes

Showing leaders and teams how to change their conversations to change their business performance results.