Managing the Impact of Brain Drain in Learning and Development

Brain drain can significantly impact the quality and consistency of learning, innovation, and growth when applied to learning and development.

In corporate America, brain drain occurs when workers choose to move on from their current employer, taking knowledge and expertise with them.

When applied to learning and development, brain drain can have significant impacts on the quality and consistency of learning experiences, innovation, and overall industry growth. Brain drain is also impacted heavily by its sister condition of skills gaps.

Learning and development have been impacted as much if not more, than most other parts of the organization by the explosion of new technology creating new ways of working. In particular, the need for more advanced data and analytics skills, digital media creation and curation, and the development of advanced modalities applied to learning, such as VR/AR and gaming, have put pressure on L&D professionals to advance their digital skills.


When seasoned professionals leave, they take with them years, sometimes decades, of knowledge and expertise. This can lead to a decline in the quality of training and development programs, especially if those left behind are less experienced or less knowledgeable. Many experienced professionals in the L&D field are often responsible for innovating new strategies, methodologies, and technologies for effective learning. Their departure can slow down the pace of innovation within the industry.

An additional aspect of this impact is the rapid transformation of learning technologies, leading to a skill deficit among L&D professionals. Like most aspects of work, learning is evolving rapidly, and skills that were previously reserved for the IT, Marketing, and Data Analysis teams have made their way to the forefront of learning. Between the loss of experienced and skilled learning professionals and the skills deficit in the learning space, the ability to build long-term organizational capability can be slowed way down.

Brandon Hall Group™ research reveals that 92 percent of respondents believe that their top talent is at risk of leaving the organization this year. 


The cost of replacing experienced professionals can be substantial. This includes recruitment costs and the time and resources spent on training new hires.

Brain drain can lead to service disruptions and delays, especially in the short term, as organizations struggle to find suitable replacements for departed employees. In the meantime, the remaining staff must reprioritize work because of diminished capacity to complete it. This can put a strain on employee morale and create quality issues in learning programs.

Brandon Hall Group POV

  1. Make L&D talent retention a strategic priority 

Many L&D leaders mistakenly believe that retention risks in their area are minimal due to the specialized nature of the work. However, any leader who fails to pursue the retention of their key talent intentionally puts their effectiveness at risk. Nothing will short-circuit a winning strategy or critical program faster than losing the primary professional working on it.

  1. Competitive compensation and flexible work 

Are you paying competitively? Has someone progressed significantly in their skills and capabilities to the point that someone else will pay them more? Are you enabling and allowing for a flexible approach to the work environment and processes to the extent possible? L&D professionals are easy targets for the outsourcing industry because of the truly flexible nature of the work and the premium pay. You must shore up your own offerings to guard against that turnover.

  1. Strengthen networks, documentation, and mentoring 

This serves multiple purposes. It demonstrates the value of individual knowledge because you are making an intentional effort to capture what they know that serves the needs of your business. It also sets the stage for ease and speed in onboarding new team members. It further enhances the ability of your team to expand its reach by enabling the replication of effective processes in other parts of the business.

Beyond the basics of knowledge management and onboarding, ensuring that you are intentionally building networks for mentoring and collaboration across your teams to the broader business helps to create a vision of long-term relationships and career success.

  1. Leverage feedback loops to gain insights 

Formulate a listening strategy that includes engagement surveys, but don’t stop there. Avoid depending on surveys alone. How are you actively engaging in conversation with your people? Listen, and most importantly, share what you’ll do with what they’re telling you. Find the right tool and then set the right tone. Identify a means of communication such as Slack, Yammer, or Teams chat. Even use virtual huddles or stand-ups that include a curiosity question for volunteers to answer. Some employers have successfully utilized crowdsourcing groups of employees, teams, or departments. Consider posing a challenge and incentivizing the problem-solving power of multiple employees. Follow through and report which solutions will be implemented. This process fosters storytelling and, therefore, social cohesiveness of team members. Bear in mind the process is a loop and iterative rather than linear. Consistency is key.

Matt Pittman
Principal Analyst is a Principal Analyst at Brandon Hall Group™