CFO asks the CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “ What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

The above joke touches on a very important issue which while many people agree on in theory you will not find it in practice, at least widely. One of the biggest complaints Zimbabweans, in general, have about dealing with Zimbabwean businesses is dealing with the people in the businesses. Zimbabwean business has on many occasions complained about the quality of graduates being churned out of institutions. Both problems not only have the same solution but as the title of Ryan Holiday’s book on stoicism goes, the obstacle is the way. Let’s talk bout investing in employees.


investing is the process of putting resources such as time and money into something with the expectation of a return in the future. So when we talk about employees it’s about using resources available to us to improve the employee’s abilities and hopefully output. You may look at ideas like training, continuous professional development, and short courses but it’s not all about work skills. To prevent this discussion from becoming too long I will save practical activities for investing in employees for a second article down the line. For now, we need to understand that there are ways businesses can make their employees better.


Well, the why is obvious, a better employee means a better organisation. If you employed someone to handle sales in your company you would want to have someone good at selling there. We can’t always find the best people but we can find suitable people. Investing, in this case, would mean training them in sales to improve their performance. This isn’t necessarily spending money on a sales course for them, it could be spending time teaching them what you know. The CFO in the joke asks the pertinent question, what if we invest and they leave. The CEO retorts by asking what happens if they don’t and people stay. Taking action to improve the employee is better than complaining about the incompetencies of the employee you chose in the first place. Just in case you’re not sold on the idea let’s look at the best reasons to invest in employees.

Improved performance

This is the obvious one here. A more competent employee does better work. This may be an issue of additional skills or perspective. Whichever the case you would want an employee who is better at doing the job.

Improved competency

If performance is measured by specific output competency can be taken as your understanding of the subject. A good employee gives customers what they ask for while a competent employee gives customers what they need, even if they don’t know they need it.  Competence is a deeper understanding of the work and things around the work.

Improved harmony

Harmony comes in many ways. The Japanese car manufacturer Lexus put it best with their engineering approach that says noise is inefficiency. While this came in their approach to engines it makes a lot of sense for work environments. The more back and forth you have between employees and customers the slower you sell. The more back and forth between departments and employees the slower you produce. Noise is inefficiency. The more personal struggles an employee has the more likely their work will be affected.

To tie a bow around it recall one of my favourite definitions of a business; a system of processes that provide a product at a profit. That system of processes is run by people and you want the best people to run that system. On the balance of probabilities, people want to be better. They want to do better at work and in life and those two things are more intertwined than we would like to admit. Investing in your employees is ultimately investing in the business. The better the tools and parts in the business the better the performance. Yes, people may leave for many different reasons but that’s no reason to pay good money to substandard performers.