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A Practical approach to Leveraging Talent Development


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In 2014, we provided a framework for establishing a Talent Management Program — the key to creating sustainable advantage within an organization. This framework consisted of five pillars with corresponding questions to assist organizational leaders in creating their personal roadmaps. In 2015, Lauren Wild and Melissa Long built on this framework, providing some tips for success. This year, Kristin Green, our in-house expert on program design and curriculum development, has framed a practical approach to understanding and leveraging talent development practices to yield results.

Talent development is the all-encompassing pursuit of cultivating and investing in intellectual capital. It serves as a platform to develop, engage and retain talent, which directly impacts a company’s ability to have a sustainable advantage in the marketplace.

In an environment where 70 percent of organizations cite “capability gaps” as one of their top five challenges, the case for investing in human capital is clear (Bersin by Deloitte). The question then becomes, how do we invest in meaningful ways to yield results? This article outlines practical tips and ideas to consider when designing learning programs in your organization.

Understand Your Audience

Your ability to genuinely understand your audience will set you up for success in creating and delivering targeted content.

• Through focus groups, informational interviews, and surveys, assess the current learning culture, define and segment your audience, discover what has and has not been successful in the past and create a plan rooted in employee needs.

• Find your highest-performing employees, and ask them how they learned the skills that make them successful. Strive to formally make those opportunities available at your organization.

• Identify who your employees trust to deliver content. Do internal subject matter experts hold enough credibility?

• Determine the best day, time, and venue to accommodate your staff, and purposefully make any learning opportunity convenient for them.

Align Training Initiatives with Organizational Priorities

As a business owner, manager, human resources director or training specialist, your role is to further the mission of your company. All learning opportunities for employees must do the same.

• Identify and understand competency (knowledge, skill or ability) gaps that hinder organizational performance. Ask senior management what competencies need improvement to reach and exceed organizational goals.

• Long-term and sustainable talent development initiatives must be seen as the strategic vehicle to further organizational success. Executive buy-in and unwavering support on all learning opportunities is the key to success.

• Building programs internally will engage and celebrate your subject matter experts, allow your unique culture to shine, and give you the ability to easily repeat the offering with new employees or a different target audience.

• Inviting external speakers or subject matter experts will reduce production time and bring external credibility to a topic. Just ensure the large upfront cost is part of a sustainable initiative so the knowledge is not lost as quickly as it came.

• Utilize formal training as a communication channel to ensure understanding and employee alignment to the company vision, mission and goals.

• Identify measures of success in the infancy of all programs to objectively show results as they become available.

Seek to Inspire and Engage the Audience

By developing targeted content delivered strategically, you will inspire your audience to continue learning after the conclusion of your session.

• In marketing your opportunity, clearly communicate the purpose and the practical application of the training.

• To assist with comprehension and retention, weave storytelling into presentations and give your audience a platform to share their life experiences that relate to the lessons.

• Respect your audience.

• Utilize multiple learning formats including classroom training, workshops, roundtable discussions, formal mentor programs and cohort learning.

• Incorporate relevant activities into your classroom or lecture trainings to give participants a hands-on workshop. Activities like small group discussion, group brainstorm, role play and case studies provide strategic breaks in lectures, involve the audience, solidify a concept and can create tangible takeaways.

• Reinforce key concepts in multiple learning environments and clearly communicate action items to ensure lessons learned in the classroom translate to the daily work environment.

Create and Support a Culture of Learning

Irish poet William Butler Yeats describes education as “not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” The role of talent development is not simply to develop a course catalog and base curriculum with relevant trainings but also to inspire an organization to seek and pursue opportunities that enrich the intellect.

• Empower and encourage managers to recommend and fund (when necessary) individualized learning opportunities that are tailored specifically to their employees’ learning styles and based on mutually identified skill gaps.

• Celebrate and allow time for employee-led affinity groups, mentor relationships, and lunch and learns.

• Clearly communicate expectations and maintain peripheral control of all initiatives to ensure that company time is used productively, skill building is taking place and results aligned with the company mission are achieved through these vehicles.

Attend to the Details

Employees will notice and appreciate your attention to detail, and they will see it as a tribute to your investment in them.

• Ensure high-quality, branded and eloquently communicated materials. This may include invitations, PowerPoints, handouts and additional materials when appropriate.

• Warmly welcome your guests into a pre-set learning environment, and be available for questions or comments after the conclusion of the session.

• Respect the time of all participants. Only in extreme circumstances should sessions end late. Strive to end five minutes early and give the gift of time.

All programs that are designed and executed well take significant time but have an exponential reward realized in the enhanced intellectual capital, engagement and retention of your workforce.

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