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How to Build a Game-Changing Talent Development Strategy

What exactly is talent? Employees who can juggle? Managers with a great singing voice? The CEO with an impressive line in impersonations of American presidents?

The definition of company talent depends to an extent on how generous your organization is. For some companies, every single employee is a talent. For the less kumbaya-around-the-campfire companies, talent is defined as those high-potential employees – of all levels, experience and ages – who have the potential to contribute significantly toward the goal of taking the company to the next level. So, while all talent are employees, not all employees are talent. The more robust and dynamic your talent management strategy is, the more likely you will move toward that dream 1:1 employee to talent ratio.

It’s also vital that we establish straight out the gate that HR and talent development are not the same and are not interchangeable terms. HR tends to be operational and transactional, such as payroll or rewards. Talent development is more strategic and future-focused. In essence, talent development is how you bring your company strategy to life through your people. HR plays a part in that, of course. But so do many other things.

The benefits of a top-class talent development strategy are compelling:

  • Being able to attract and retain top talent
  • Reducing organizational skills gaps
  • Increasing employee engagement and performance
  • Building a more robust company culture
  • Identifying managers more quickly and easily and promoting fluidly
  • Boosting customer satisfaction

These incredible outcomes inevitably result in companies that outperform their competition, often by double-digit percentages. This leads to the conclusion that a game-changing talent development strategy isn’t important; it’s vital. If your company doesn’t have a talent development strategy or you think your existing approach towards talent could be improved, we have some suggestions for tackling this project.

The Five Stages of Talent Management

Like all corporate strategies, there are a multitude of models you can use – often based on which approach is currently flavor-of-the-month with the big consulting firms. However, one of the easiest ways to approach a talent management strategy is by breaking it down into the following five phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Attracting
  3. Developing
  4. Retaining 
  5. Transitioning

Like any strategy, the job is never complete. Think of this as a continuous cycle rather than a linear plan. We’ll dive deeper into each of these phases, explain what each involves, explain why they’re each important and provide talking points you could use to answer when creating your company talent strategy.

Planning

As we said earlier, a talent development strategy is how you bring to life your business strategy through your people. So, first thing’s first, let’s hope there’s a robust company strategy available. If not, frankly, the organization doesn’t have any bigger fish to fry than this one. Schedule a group meeting for your leadership and don’t let them leave the room or the call till there’s a company strategy that they’ve all signed off. 

Assuming there is a company strategy, the first step is to extrapolate exactly what that strategy means in terms of people and roles. To do this accurately, you may need to schedule meetings with all department heads to discuss what resources are required to achieve the company’s overarching goals.

For example, if your company foresees an increased reliance on software development to support its broader business strategy in the future, your planning might look something like this:

RoleCurrent #Location# in 12 monthsLocation# in 3 yearsLocation
Product owner3Berlin6Berlin, London10Remote
Project manager6Berlin10Berlin, London14Remote
Technical lead3Remote12Remote14Remote
Software developer8Delhi15Delhi, UK, Remote20Remote
Software tester2Delhi5Delhi, UK, Remote7Remote
User acceptance tester2London, SF4Remote6Remote

This is overly-simplified, of course. You might also want to include the seniority level here, as well as which roles require full-time employees, contractors and freelancers. However, once you’ve completed this for the whole organization – and bear in mind that may involve going through the same process for teams or even entire departments that don’t yet exist – you can start to answer the key questions that will determine how you proceed as a talent-based company.

  • How many of these roles could be filled internally?
  • What skill gaps are on the horizon and how could your people be developed to address these? For example, if you find it easier to recruit software developers than technical leads or product owners, do some of your existing developers show an interest in and proclivity for moving in that direction? If your business strategy pivots and you have too many project managers, could you train them for the systems architect roles that other teams are struggling to fill rather than having to make them redundant?
  • How many of your current employees can you reasonably expect to retain? Does the turnover rate need to reduce for you to meet these numbers?
  • How many roles need to be recruited and what does the timeline look like?
  • How many people in this list show management potential? What do they need to step up and when are they likely to be ready?

Attracting

Attracting employees can be broken down into three parts:

  • Employer value proposition (EVP)
  • Recruitment marketing
  • Acquiring talent 

Entire books and university courses have been dedicated to the subject of employer value propositions, so we won’t get into the topic’s nitty-gritty. To summarize, what your brand is to potential customers, your EVP is to potential (and actual) employees. It’s a statement of what you have to offer employees beyond a stable job and a paycheck. However, a clear EVP also ensures that you attract candidates who complement your corporate culture and objectives.

EVPs typically start with a bold statement and then explain what that statement means to you and your company. Examples of well-known EVP statements include:

  • “Do cool things that matter.” Google
  • “We lead. We invent. We deliver. We use the power of sport to move the world.” – Nike
  • “Lead the future of Beauty. When you love your work and the people you work with, amazing things can happen.” – L’Oreal

As the name suggests, recruitment marketing has a lot in common with typical marketing. However, where marketing is concerned with getting your products, services and brand in front of the people whom you’ve identified as potential customers, recruitment marketing is the practice of putting your EVP in front of potential employees. That’s why it’s important to have already established your key skills gaps in the previous step.

Recruitment marketing could mean attending university fairs if you’ve established interns, trainees and graduates as a target persona. It could be a wide-ranging tactic like attending career fairs, or it could be using finely-tuned LinkedIn advertising to target sales managers in Spain, for example. 

Bear in mind that recruitment marketing is not about advertising specific jobs and job descriptions but, instead, increasing awareness of your employer brand, who you are as a company and the types of opportunities within your organization.

Finally, talent acquisition is where the rubber hits the road. This is the process of actually recruiting fresh talent for critical roles. That could be done by advertising on job sites, posting vacancies on your company social channels, encouraging referrals from employees, or even having recruiters headhunt employees with the right profile.

Remember, this stage is also where the candidate experience begins. Whether they get the job or not, a good experience here is beneficial to both candidates and recruiters. Interviewing also falls into this area. Interviewing is another expertise that has inspired bestsellers, but we would add one word of advice. If you truly want to recruit a diverse workforce, make sure your interview panel is also diverse.

Developing

Your development strategy is a central pillar of any talent management strategy you develop. Without dedication to learning and development, the whole talent structure falls. By far the most important players here are your people managers. Managers are responsible for identifying development opportunities within any organization and so buy-in from all managers is critical.

That doesn’t mean that managers need to deliver all learning and development opportunities – far from it. But, in tandem with employees, they should help identify opportunities, areas for improvement, and organizational need areas. To do this, all people managers must schedule regular 1:1 meetings with all their direct reports.

However, learning and development (L&D) start long before employees and managers hit their regular 1:1 stride. The first impactful learning and development opportunities occur on day one with onboarding. Done well, successful onboarding makes an enormous difference to the future performance and loyalty of employees. So, how do you do onboarding right?

A good onboarding process should include:

  • Training about the contents and responsibilities of the job
  • Practical training about the location itself
  • Quality 1:1 time with the manager to explain expectations for the role
  • Training about the company culture
  • Time spent meeting other team members and key stakeholders

Once the employee has settled in, in their regular meetings, the manager should provide support, guidance and advice for the employee, while also identifying growth opportunities. A good manager helps to align the needs of the employee with the needs of the employer. This could mean looking to increase the employee’s knowledge and experience in an area where there will be future skill shortages, or finding internal resources for providing the employee with coaching, mentorship, or even membership of a professional association. Anything that helps the employee fulfill their potential as part of a high-performing organization.

L&D isn’t the sole responsibility of the manager. Employees should take responsibility for their development and the company can help them do so by promoting fundamental courses or programs internally.

Retaining

Bad news, people managers. You’re on the hook for this one too. It’s become a well-worn cliche but for a good reason: people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers. Again, the answer is a relatively simple one from an organizational perspective. Your talent development strategy must ensure that managers schedule one-on-one time with their direct reports on a weekly or, at the very least, biweekly basis. Time with your manager makes employees feel heard, understood and taken seriously, and allows them to be brought up-to-speed on company updates.

Beyond that, there are a few other areas that a talent development strategy should take into consideration:

  • Company Culture: If your EVP is talking the talk, your culture is where you walk the walk. If you claim to be an entrepreneurial place to work, how do you bring that to life? If you are committed to high performance, where does that come across in the daily grind? Say you’re a fun company to work for and you need to make sure there are manifestations of that beyond a foosball table in the lunchroom. Examples of ways to create a strong company culture could mean generous parental leave for new parents, a flexible work-from-anywhere approach, encouraging walking meetings to highlight the need for exercise and fresh air, or providing employees with paid days off each year to volunteer at local charities.
  • Perks: Perks don’t make culture, but they are fun ways to cheer up employees with a little superficial love. Perks include fruit or snacks available in the kitchen, healthy lunches provided, beers at the end of the day on a Friday, or access to nearby health facilities so employees can hit the gym if they have downtime over lunch.
  • Rewards: Creating a rewarding and recognizing culture is extremely important to retain your best talent and highly individual to each organization. It can be simple: managers who thank employees regularly, and employees receiving increased remuneration consistently as recognition for their hard work. Some organizations take it further with peer-recognition programs or offering special recognition, such as lunch with the CEO or extra time off for teams who overperform. Decide what works for your company and make it a non-optional part of your talent development strategy.

Transitioning

Creating a culture in which employees feel values, understood and able to develop is half the battle, but the struggle will still be lost without an organizational commitment to transitions. This is where the real benefit is felt by both the company and the employee.

For the employee comes the promise of working their way up through the company or retrain and redirect their efforts into a new area of interest. There is the promise of smooth growth and evolution for the company, limited productivity losses due to lack of skills or leadership, and having a workforce of engaged, motivated employees.

Succession Planning: This is the most obvious example of transitioning and, in its most simple instance, is where you match the need for a role (established in the planning stage) with a slightly more junior employee who can grow to take that position in the desired timeline. It occurs throughout the whole organization and at all levels of seniority. 

Internal Mobility: Sideways growth might sound a little less sexy than succession planning, but the ability to develop and move into new teams or areas of the business is just as crucial in creating a dynamic and highly-motivated workforce. Creating opportunities to learn and a culture of trying new things will help you attract and retain top talent. 

Exit Procedure: The moment an employee leaves your company is an enormous opportunity and game-changing talent development strategies take this into account. Exit interviews will provide considerable insight into ways the company can improve – every employee who leaves for another company is a lesson in increasing retention. Meanwhile, a well-managed exit experience makes that employee a potential ambassador for your company. It leaves the door open should that employee, replete with new knowledge and experience, ever wish to rejoin.

Retirement: Often overlooked, it’s also essential you consider retirement in your strategy. In some cases, an employee reaches retirement age. Like exiting a younger employee, it’s an opportunity to show just how valued they were and leave the employee with a retirement of good memories and opinions about your organization. In other cases, based on your workforce planning, an aging workforce can provide the opportunity to offer early retirement packages. In both cases, retirement is a time of significant transition and should be managed discretely and tactfully.

So that’s it: your guide to creating a talent development strategy that will support your company’s goals over the upcoming years. It’s certainly not simple, but it will be worth every painstaking moment spent on strategizing your future as a group of interdependent people and teams. Now, over to you.

To learn about how talent development is faring during the coronavirus pandemic – and how employees and managers are interacting with one another – download our research study,”Career Development in a Pandemic.”

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