Talent Development

Talent Development is the practice, within talent management, of providing new skills and learning opportunities for an organization and people across its hierarchy with a threefold goal:

  1. to increase the competitiveness of the organization and maintain a competitive advantage;
  2. to increase and maintain the efficiency and pace of work within teams;
  3. to provide growth opportunities to team members and provide an incentive to stay within the organization.

Talent development also goes under different names, for example training and development or learning and development (L&D) but broadly speaking there is little difference between the actual processes and results involved.

Talent Development in Practice

There are at least two relevant aspects when it comes to setting up and implementing a programme:

  1. Choosing or designing appropriate learning methods and contents
  2. Delivering those contents and measuring results

Choosing or learning methodologies and methods

This is probably the most flexible component of talent development – and possibly of talent management as a whole as well. There are countless skills that can be taught and trained, and each one with a few different training methods, for example: frontal lectures, learning on-the-job, shadowing… The choice of what to implement and how needs of course to be tailored to each organization, but there are at least some considerations to make.

In this sense, you can look at three different approaches, each one with its pros and cons:

  1. Spot learning events
  2. Event series / learning programmes
  3. Academies

Spot learning events

Using this approach means providing targeted training to a specific group, with a precise learning goal to be reached within a specific time, usually less than two days.

This approach to can be extremely effective and cost-effective when planned and applied correctly. It is best suited for developing hard skills, whereas soft skills would need a longer time to be developed. Applying this approach correctly, however, is subject to one condition: knowing your organization’s specific needs extremely well.

If that is case, you can trust that the content you will deliver will be in fact used and applied. If that is not the case, instead, you risk going into a situation where training becomes the “random teambuilding event” and there is little effect left to be seen in practice.

Learning programmes

Learning programmes take a similar approach to spot learning events in, but instead of having a time frame of less than 2 days, they are usually stretched over a few months for the same group of people.

Delivering and designing these programmes requires more intense work, but because of their stretch over time, they can be steered and geared to the specific need and culture of the trainees. Furthermore, also because of them being structured over time, different type of skills can be developed – as such these are optimal choices for talent development when it comes to leadership training or soft skills. Trainees, in fact, are not only given content in regular installments, but are asked to work on it between trainings, keeping them engaged and focused on the topic.

Academies

Academies within talent development are comprehensive offers of training options within a company. Their focus is primarily skill development, but because of their presence and comprehensiveness, they serve a strong engagement purpose and highly contribute to showing how much the organization cares about their people’s well-being and personal / professional development. This, in turn, contributes to talent acquisition and retention within the organization’s talent management strategy.

Developing an internal academy is a massive endeavour. It requires awareness on all three goals as well as a sufficiently wide network of trusted trainers (internal or external) that can deliver on said goals. In addition, setting up a measuring system becomes much more relevant than the other two options.

Given the complexity of an academy per se – think even just 10 different courses offered to the company, with a maximum of three per team – you need to be able to keep track of what teams choose to do, what their feedback is and how effective each trainer is in practice. While that can be done be hand in the two previous options for talent development offers, it requires an integrated system in this case, which of course adds to the complexity and cost of the whole operation.

Bottom line: this is a much more costly option (time-wise and money-wise) but with exponentially more intense effects for the organization. Choosing to go this way requires a higher level of expertise and maturity, but if done right it can generate strong competitive advantages for an organization.

Measuring effects

Measuring the effectiveness of your talent development efforts is fundamental, regardless of the approach you use. Most importantly, putting numbers onto outcomes and effects is hard, as no numbers are technically involved and you need to rely on different indicators.

Specifically you need to look at at least two dimensions to measure the effects of your work:

  1. Direct feedback on training delivery and contents
  2. Impact of training on the organization

Obviously, measuring the satisfaction of each training is straightforward: ask participants what they thought of a trainer or a workshop and decide what to do based on results.

Measuring the impact of talent development, however, is a whole different league. In this sense you need to look at how much your efforts have contributed to company growth, turnover, talent retention – and of course creating a cause-and-effect link between any of these factors is close to impossible, therefore you need to accept a certain amount of uncertainty. In addition, you need to consider how different the effect of each training type are (say sales vs. leadership) and how different each organization is from others.

That said, you could still reach interesting results by comparing a few metrics for talent development. For a team involved in teambuilding or leadership development, for example you could look at how much team members like or dislike working with each other over time, and compare it to the financial performance of the team. If you have the chance, you could also compare it to another year in which no programme was put in place and compare the two results. It’s not free of uncertainty and bias, but it’s a quick way to measure and compare how successful your efforts have been that you can apply for little to no investment. Whatever you choose to do, however, do not forget that you are not just tracking performance, but also potential – that’s one of the key aspects of talent development and talent management as a whole!