Is L&D More Important Than Salary?

Didier Elzinga

CEO of Culture Amp, the world’s most powerful employee feedback and analytics platform



August 29, 2017

If you had two job options – one with more money, and one with better learning and development (L&D) opportunities, which would you choose? According to our data, most people would be more likely to choose the latter. Once salaries get to a certain hygiene point – as they are in most of the industries we work with (retail is the only exception), what helps you attract and retain great people isn’t money.

In all the data that we see at Culture Amp, an employee feedback and analytics platform, L&D is one factor that comes up time and time again as a key driver of engagement, retention and productivity. And when we zoom in and look specifically at whether someone chooses to stay or leave a company, L&D is often at the heart of the decision.

So here’s my brief manifesto on what good L&D is (and what it is not), why it matters so much and how it’s changing.

L&D opportunities are one of the biggest consistent drivers of engagement

Our data consistently shows that learning and development opportunities are one of the biggest levers a company has to increase engagement. As a result, L&D contributes directly to just about every aspect of a positive and resilient organisation.

But most importantly, L&D is an amplifier that helps the company to move faster. When it’s done well, L&D accelerates the entire organisation.

So if you have a good manager, it may take them 10 years of experience to become a truly exceptional manager. A company with a strong culture of L&D can accelerate the process so that manager becomes a great leader in a much shorter space of time.

This amplifier effect makes L&D incredibly valuable to a company, but it’s even more valuable to your people because they know that they’ll grow faster with you than anywhere else.

If you don’t invest in L&D, your only tool for improving performance is to replace people

While L&D isn’t the only thing that impacts the growth and culture of a business, there’s a clear impact. After all, L&D focuses on improving people’s performance, and, without it, your only tool to improve performance is to replace people.

It’s a harsh reality, but a lot of management literature really just boils down to this fact. If you want to improve your business you can hire better managers or salespeople (or any other role) or you can help employees grow.

Individual growth is more important now because what we need from people is more complicated. Job roles are changing at an increasing rate. There’s literally no 10-year experts in Snapchat marketing. Or Bitcoin finance. The industries haven’t been around long enough.

Snapchat and Bitcoin might be extreme examples, but the sentiment holds true across many industries and roles. In a fast-moving world, it’s not always possible to find people with deep expertise who are ready to hit the ground running.

Learning and development is more than training

One of the biggest L&D mistakes I see is an overload of training. Training alone is not learning or development.

L&D is about people growing, it’s not about training programs. Harvard Professor David Maister said it best in his book First Among Equals: How to Manage A Group Of Professionals, “The only training worth its salt is the training that an employee will be willing to go up the side of a mountain on a goat for.”

Often in our attempt to create a place where people can grow we foist courses on people. Most people aren’t interested in them, aren’t involved enough in them or simply learn nothing from them. But if someone is willing to chop off their right arm to learn how to do something that’s the time you should give them that opportunity.

This is one of the main principles behind our L&D approach at Culture Amp. As I said in the piece our unique DIY approach to L&D at Culture Amp:

“Anyone in the company can put themselves through any training without having to seek approval. They simply sign up through a shared spreadsheet, and then pay a co-contribution (Culture Amp pays 90 cents in the dollar for work related learning, or 50 cents in the dollar for personal learning).

The reason for the co-contribution is it changes how people think. Whilst for work-related learning this is only a small amount, you still have to invest your own money. This personal contribution reinforces the idea that training is inherently valuable — and not just a free perk of working at Culture Amp.”

For the best people, incremental growth matters more than compensation

I see many organisations that fall into the trap of thinking they have to keep paying high-performing people more to retain them. While it’s necessary to compensate people well, it’s not enough to keep them motivated. Eventually they’ll reach a point where they’re paid enough and they can see that there are things that are much more valuable.

At this point, L&D becomes an opportunity cost for people to consider when they’re thinking of leaving your business. The thinking process often runs along the lines of, “I’m happy to earn the same or even less somewhere else if I’m given greater growth opportunities because I want to be better tomorrow not just today.”

When you look at exit data you can see that L&D is a key driver of retention. In research for our whitepaper How learning and development opportunities impact retention, we were able to combine engagement survey data with exit data and we discovered that people who leave an organisation are 38% more likely to feel there was not a career opportunity for them at the company. People who stayed were 24% more likely to say they had access to the learning and development opportunities that they needed.

It all comes down to growth

From time to time, every person, in every organization asks themselves “Is this company investing in my growth?” If that question can’t be answered strongly in the affirmative, there are consequences for engagement, retention and productivity. This isn’t rocket science – most of us have experienced at some stage how demoralising it is to work in an organisation that’s not investing in the growth of its people.

Ultimately no company can grow or change at a rate faster than its people. This is the guiding principle for any successful approach to L&D. It is not about training for the sake of training. It is about growing people to ensure that you can compete and win.

Didier Elzinga is the CEO and co-founder at Culture Amp, the world’s most powerful employee feedback and analytics platform. With over 1,000 customers and a rapidly growing community of over 40,000 People Geeks globally, Culture Amp is making the world a better place to work.

This blog was originally published on the Culture Amp blog.

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at

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