Talent Development: Are You Doing It Wrong?

Each passing week seems to bring more alarming statistics about employee engagement, or the lack of it, in American workplaces. The current consensus is that somewhere around half of all employees are ready to move on from their current jobs. 

Countless surveys have attempted to discern the reasons for this widespread dissatisfaction. One common thread from those surveyed has been the absence of opportunities to grow in their jobs and advance within their organization, which is why many companies are taking a renewed look at talent development (TD).  

Defining Talent Development 

According to training provider Chronus, talent development is “the organizational process of positioning employees for career advancement in a way that aligns with the company’s mission.”  

Within that definition are two clues to where TD often goes wrong. First, a process that doesn’t align with the company’s mission is unlikely to be helpful, and second the word ‘process’ itself is vital. TD is not an event, yet we see many organizations who’ll ship team members off to an annual one-day event where the training may or may not have much to do with their specific roles. That may check a box somewhere, but it doesn’t fulfill the mission of TD. 

Benefits of Talent Development 

Done properly, TD should be a net positive for employees and organizations alike. Employees gain clarity on their career paths and the knowledge that they’re being supported in tangible ways on their journey. Employers who embrace TD take a huge step in the right direction with their organizational culture. Current employees become better at what they do, more motivated and less likely to leave, and the company becomes more attractive to new candidates as well. Specific training in HR-related or legal areas can also improve organizational compliance. 

Where TD Goes Wrong 

Talent development missteps begin at the top, in a couple of ways: Programs must be championed and actively supported by the C-suite. And as noted above, a TD strategy must be aligned with the organization’s needs and mission. A TD program should begin by identifying and addressing company needs, not just appeasing employees with random training programs. 

While a TD program should be actively supported from the top, it’s not exclusively a top-down endeavor. A program that originates from the C-suite, or even from HR, makes the critical mistake of leaving managers out of the process, demotivating managers and employees alike. Managers typically will have the best understanding of what their direct reports need, and should be involved in the planning and implementation of TD. Otherwise, TD becomes just another distraction on their already-crowded plates. 

Without that involvement of managers, employees are likely to feel that they’ve been left on their own. They need to be both supported and held accountable for their progress, and no one is better positioned to do that than a manager who’s been in the loop from the start. Managers also can offer vital feedback in the upward direction, identifying those who are excelling and those who might do better on a different path. 

Getting TD Right 

Having identified an organization’s needs and shortcomings, your TD program should be designed to directly address those needs, and to earmark candidates to address them. Are there opportunities to cross-train existing high-potential team members instead of bringing in new ones? 

Next come the details: What specific skill development activities will get those team members from Point A to Point B? These could range from an online course for a new IT certification to ongoing management skills training for certain candidates. Not all TD happens outside the organization: an employee might spend one day a week in a different department or shadowing a salesperson. 

Finally, a reminder to look back at that initial definition of talent development and the word ‘process.’ TD isn’t a one-and-done activity, but an ongoing part of a company’s DNA. Goals and progress made should be reviewed regularly and adjusted as necessary.