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Talent development: Follow this 6-step program for an all-star team

What is talent development and why does it matter?

Talent development is a strategy to provide tools and opportunities for employees to improve their skills, in order to achieve better team performance and retain top talent.

Many companies still hold on to the outdated notion that talent development is merely training staff when the need arises. Never before have businesses been faced with the uncertainty, disruption, need for innovation, and stiff market competition as right now. Yet, according to research, 83% of companies report existing skills gaps, and 78% anticipate skills gaps in the future. Add the fact that 75% of management concede that skills gaps negatively impact business growth, service delivery and competitiveness.

What does that reveal?

Business leaders don’t appreciate the potential of existing employees and therefore overlook their value when it comes to future growth and development. Finding and hiring the right staff is time consuming, costly and risky. 

Although an effective recruitment process appears to meet your needs, it’s much more beneficial to retain existing staff by developing and promoting them. They’ve proven themselves, know your business and are loyal to the brand.

Times of challenge requires a shift in mindset

Old habits die hard and, under pressure, we fall back on what worked in the past. While it’s great to learn from past experience, it’s equally important to adapt to emerging trends of changing times. 

The current global economic crisis has flipped hiring from an employee-driven to an employer-driven market, so many qualified people are looking for a job. Filling gaps by recruiting new employees from a sea of skills seems like a great option.

But the talent surplus comes with a caveat!

Many candidates are functioning in crisis mode because they’ve either lost their job or fear they will. Their selection criteria have become blurred, and they’ll take what they get. That means that they don’t necessarily “want” your offer, but they’ll accept. 

As soon as the economy improves, they’ll be off to someplace they want to work. Facing a high turnover rate just as your business is starting to recover will have a direct impact on your business growth, budget and future planning.    

You want to mitigate future resignations

Whilst you can never totally eliminate resignations and having to recruit new hires, you can reduce the impact unfilled positions have on your business. The solution isn’t new! It’s what organizations should’ve been doing for decades: talent development and succession planning.

By identifying employee potential beyond their current skills and experience early on, you can start developing talent to prepare them for future roles. A well-structured performance management process that’s implemented across the organization and integrated with all HR systems will identify potential. (We’re not talking obsolete annual performance appraisals; we’re speaking of ongoing engagement between employees and management.)

Add to that people analytics that identifies motivations behind behaviors, and you can ascertain where and what talent development will get the best out of your workforce. F4S is a user-friendly platform that provides real-time insight into what motivates someone. A 30-minute online assessment gives both you and your employee insight into their strengths and blind spots. We also offer real-time coaching to understand and improve blind spots. 

In case you’re confused, we know that “weaknesses”, as identified by widely used personality tests, like Myers Briggs, aren’t limiting and cast in stone. With understanding, coaching and insight, any “weakness” can be developed, improved and even converted to a strength.

Implemented in tandem, a performance management process and people analytics form the perfect basis for implementing a successful talent development program.

What is talent development?

Many organizations still use the term to describe essential training that’s required when systems change or new technology is acquired. Training is limited to only the employees affected by the changes, and the training budget usually gets viewed as a departmental expense. The sole purpose is to equip employees with the skills to adapt to the changes in the immediate term. 

For many employees, onboarding is the only training they get. And even then, 88% of organizations don’t onboard well.

So what describes genuine talent development?

Talent development is engaging with employees on an individual basis to establish their level of skill and motivations. It also encompasses understanding an employee’s ambitions and how they envisage their career path. 

In consultation with management, the organization’s immediate and future needs get aligned with the employee’s personal vision. Suitable learning opportunities and tools are made available to the employee, and their progress gets assessed regularly.

This way, you retain top talent because you’re helping them achieve their potential and ambitions. At the same time, the company benefits because employees see a career path for themselves, and know they’re making a contribution. Also, many people will feel a sense of loyalty so they’ll be reluctant to leave. More goal-oriented individuals will want to carve a niche for themselves within the organization – often in a senior management role. Succession planning is taken care of!

How to get serious about talent development?

Talent development was previously mostly a sideline function of HR in conjunction with line managers. Your first step in getting serious about it is to establish a dedicated role (or division) within HR that’s solely responsible for talent development processes and initiatives. Although this requires investment, you’ll reap the rewards in the long run.

The decision to incorporate talent development as one of the core pillars of the company’s culture must be initiated from the top down and written into the mission statement. It’s essential that c-suite executives not only sanction the idea but also actively participate. 

Apart from allowing executives to engage more with staff, it will also give them insight into how their decisions impact the workforce. From an employee’s perspective, getting recognition and guidance from top management and executives is an excellent motivator.

There must be a clear understanding from the boardroom down to supervisor level that talent development isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s an essential to creating a high-performing sustainable business that meets strategic goals and objectives. The intention is to attract, develop, inspire and retain top performers at every level of the organization.

6 steps to implementing a talent development program

Each industry has its own requirements, so build your strategy around that and also utilize every available option. Some ideas include:

  • Contact your trade association and ask for referrals to specific training bodies. 
  • Subscribe to industry publications and pay applicable membership fees for employees. 
  • Offer employees access to books via subscriptions to sites like Amazon Prime. 
  • Allow staff to attend trade shows, lectures and talks by industry experts. 
  • Also, introduce a mentorship program, job shadowing and job rotation. 

Get creative!

There are, however, 6 steps that form the foundation of a successful talent development strategy.

1 - Run it as a fully-fledged department

Depending on the size of your company, it can be the responsibility of a single senior talent development manager, or a fully functional and independent sub-division of HR. Name the department and list it separately on all internal communications. If it’s never mentioned, it’s unlikely that anyone will take it seriously. 

Also, it must have its own budget and full authority to act. If the budget gets included in that of HR, there’s always the temptation to use it up for other expenses, mainly when cash-flow is tight. 

The functions must be outlined clearly and accepted by the board and c-suite executives. The department’s performance needs to be evaluated separately from HR and in the same way all departments get assessed.

2 - Invest in the best systems and equipment

Engagement is critical to the success of a talent development program. Investing in internal communication systems, as well as performance management and people analytics software will ensure sound management and success. 

Ensure that these systems can get integrated with existing systems and that employees have access to company generated info and can actively participate. Transparency is essential to the success of any talent development program. Allow staff to give feedback in private and also in groups or to the broader organization. Honest feedback allows you to identify what works and what doesn’t. 

3 - Cultivate ways of giving recognition

Give recognition where it’s due. We’re not only referring to outstanding achievements or long service awards. Mention small milestones and encourage employees to congratulate one another. 

As an organization, regularly post things that reinforces the fact that every job is vital to business success. Emphasize that each employee is a contributor. Feeling appreciated will encourage people to speak up if they’d like to gain skills, or mention that they have skills that their managers are unaware of.

4 - Accentuate the value of learning

Encourage people to develop themselves, either by gaining or improving work-related skills or through self-development. The more people develop self-awareness, the more they’ll build cognitive diversity

Your workforce will build resilience to changes and challenges faced in the workplace. Also, team work and collaboration will improve, and so will conflict management skills.

5 - Don’t lose touch with HR and line managers

Managing a talent development program involves continuous communication with all staff, including HR and line managers. Monitor the progress of top achievers as much as the slow learners. 

Find out if training interventions have had an impact. Also, identify potential talent for different roles. Whether it’s a promotion or a transfer to another division, don’t overlook anyone.

6 - Assess and audit the success of the program

Use data and analytics monthly to evaluate the success of individuals and the overall impact of the talent development program. It’s much the same as quality control at the end of a production line. 

The ROI must be there in the form of high levels of productivity and retention. Investigate areas of poor performance and implement change right away. As the workplace evolves, so must the program. Also, always stay aware of employee expectations through regular engagement.

Companies that give back will be the leaders of the future

In these trying times, more than ever, people are looking for security and recognition. At the same time, companies need to recover, recoup their losses and become profitable once again. Talent development is the way to align these needs.

The last thing an organization operating under financial restraints (or even in the red) needs is high employee churn. Expensive recruitment and re-training costs, loss of productivity and brand damage are avoidable if you lead with emotional intelligence.

Appointing a talent development manager might seem like an unnecessary expense, but the opposite is true. By implementing appropriate training and development strategies and programs, your workforce will feel appreciated, motivated and committed to performing at their best. 

Happy and engaged employees are less likely to leave when the job market improves because they see a future for themselves at your company.

Finally, with social media, employees can play a huge role in a business’s brand reputation. The more brand-love they give, the better your organization looks in the public sphere. Companies who care about their employees and are willing to give back will be the future leaders of their industry pack.

Take a free F4S assessment to see how to get to know what motivates your workforce and where they need development.

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