Talent Development is a Perpetual Strategic Priority

We share the latest talent development research on how to create a culture that develops, nurtures and retains your company’s most valued employees.

By Tulika C Sarkar

Plenty of theories abound on the origin of talent. Award winning journalist Daniel Coyle says that ‘talent is not born, it is grown’. Traditionally, talent is described as a special ability or aptitude. Cambridge scholar Marcus Buckingham argues that, “talent is any recurrent pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied. So if one is competitive this is a talent or if one is inquisitive, this is talent”.

If we look to the story of US Prosecutor David Boeis’s famous anti-trust suit against software giant Microsoft as an example, Boeis’ persistently articulate and polite questioning style wore down Bill Gates. Boeis is dyslexic. In an interview, Boeis admitted that he avoids using long complicated words for the fear of mispronouncing them. So he uses simple words which make his arguments easy to follow. For Boeis, dyslexia is a talent because he figured out a way to join this recurrent pattern with his knowledge and skills and turn it into a strength.

According to research from The Hackett Group, a strategic advisory firm and an Answerthink company, when organisations excel in talent management, the average Fortune 500 company can generate a nearly 15 percent improvement in EBITDA annually.

“The best companies treat employees the same way they treat their business lines, as something to be carefully analysed and strategically developed in support of their business goals. They determine the skills, competencies, and experiences needed to run their company over the next few years, quantify the gap between their needs and their current resources, then acquire the expertise they need through a combination of staff development and hiring. As a result, they are more competitive in the marketplace, and this is reflected in improved earnings,” says Hackett HR Practice Leader Stephen Joyce.

Ten years after publishing its research on the War for Talent, McKinsey produced its follow-on work re-emphasising the need to make talent a strategic priority.

Despite launching expensive programs to attract and retain talented employees, many senior executives remain frustrated with the results and admit their own failure to pay close enough attention to these issues.

Simply put, leaders are responsible for developing talent. while many acknowledge its importance, few meet the level of personal investment needs to coach and train direct reports.

Global Lead for High-Potential Leadership Development Cori Hill, says maintaining an invulnerable perception among leaders is a major stumbling block for organisations.

“Power messes up our ability to learn. Leaders set the example of learning, which sometimes requires the admission, ‘I don’t know’,” says Hill.

To overcome this, Hill suggests senior leaders who want to create a culture developing talent should consider the following:

  • Act as a role model. Be transparent about your own need to learn and develop and share how you’re able to do it. Embrace vulnerability. Leaders are never more powerful than when they show they can learn.
  • Reinforce the value of learning. Go beyond the baseline conversation about goals. Ask about what they want to accomplish and what they feel their gaps are.  When someone completes an assignment, celebrate both the outcome and the learning, especially if the assignment wasn’t completed as smoothly as everyone would have liked.
  • Build sustainable processes to support development. Managers should be expected to coach and develop their people. At a minimum, everyone knows what areas they need to improve, and for those with particularly high potential, career tracks are developed that give them a sense of where they can go inside the organisation.
  • Reinforce shared values. Employees should be able to link their everyday tasks and responsibilities to the values of the organisation. People need to understand why what they do is important.
  • Leverage problems as opportunities for real world learning and development. What is an acceptable failure needs to be clarified. By incorporating stretch assignments, employees can seek out challenges where they can develop without feeling like mistakes will set them back in their career or jeopardise their job. Learning organisations see problems as opportunities.

According to Gallup, most of these talents can be learned or strengthened.  It is therefore critical that an organisation have a plan in place that focuses on developing effective managers. The process of developing employees for greater roles and responsibilities accomplishes two goals: keeping employees engaged and energised about their future with the company and ensuring the organisation has a new generation of managers who are prepared to inspire and lead, which in turn increases levels of employee engagement.

Here are eight ways to develop employees, keep them engaged, and increase the probability they will remain with the organisation:

Create Individual Development Plans:  Sit down with the employee and discuss individual interests and career goals. This conversation will help identify the development activities that individual should be undertaking. The development plan should provide a roadmap for the employee that includes measurable goals and a realistic timeframe for achieving each goal.

Provide Performance Metrics: It is essential to set specific quantitative metrics to help an employee understand where they need to be or what they can realistically achieve. Then, as these performance metrics are met, the bar can be raised so the employee feels a continued sense of accomplishment. Measuring progress also provides evidence of how these activities are working. Performance metrics help drive accountability when paired with effective leadership.

Provide Opportunities Outside of Job Function:  Some organisations are too compartmentalised so employees believe they can only operate within their department or function. However, to truly develop an employee for a larger role in the company, they need to understand how all aspects of the organisation works. Cross-training will increase awareness and knowledge and help them work more effectively with others because they have a new understanding of other employees’ contributions to the company.

Give Constructive Feedback: Feedback does not mean criticising, chiding, or disapproving. Instead, it should be constructive in nature and include specific recommendations for further improvement and development. Feedback should also be delivered regularly and tied to data or examples such as the performance metrics or the individual development plan. Employees want to know how they are doing. If feedback is used as a tool for growth and recognition, and not a tool to knock the employee down, it will make a measurable difference.

Remove Barriers: Many organisations are rigid in their organisational structure and processes, which can make it challenging to implement some cross-functional development and facilitate dynamic growth and high-performance training. It’s up to leadership to bridge silos, knock down walls, and design a system that encourages a fluid approach to learning and working. Today’s generation of workers are used to change and enjoy open work environments that let them explore. Take the barriers away and watch people flourish.

Link to a Professional Network: Help employees access additional contacts that can help them grow. Introduce them to other professionals that can serve as mentors or coaches, sign them up for professional industry associations, send them to training courses and workshops, and create and attend networking events.

Outlay Resources: From day one, an employee is an investment, and an organisation expects a return. To get the most out of employees requires making further investments along the way. Although many of the tactics on this list do not necessarily require dollars to implement, resources are still being used in the form of time and engagement. Other employee development activities, including training, online learning programs, and coaching are well worth the monetary resource investment dollar. Whatever the resource, this additional investment is necessary and valuable when it is thoughtfully aligned with the organisation’s strategic goals and the individual development plans designed around key talent.

Set the Example: An employee will experience the value of the development process when they see their current leadership continue to develop personally and professionally. By modeling this behaviour, leaders build credibility and the trust necessary to encourage employees to participate in development-building activities. If organisations want to compete with big brands, one has to emulate big brands.

Any of these development tactics can be implemented no matter what the size of organisation, as long as each is applied consistently, communicated clearly, and championed by leadership.

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