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The Infinite Value of Talent Development, Part 2

Considering a variety of employee training formats

General News

As we detailed in Part 1 of this article series about talent development, retaining quality employees should be a key business objective and one that provides immeasurable return-on-investment.

But what types of training programs can help your business grow and retain its top talent?  In this second part of the article series, we will consider different forms and formats for these programs.

Forms and Formats

Many small and medium sized companies do not have the resources to build a department dedicated to overseeing internships or formal mentorship programs. “But you don’t have to build a department or structure,” asserts Rex Lawrence, president of an online job center and executive search firm based in Granite Bay, CA. “It doesn’t have to be big to be successful.”

Strong talent development often incorporates formal training or coaching programs as well as informal daily mentoring. “When we have new people come on, we have structured training plans we slowly work them through,” explains Kevin Small, founder and CEO of a transportation firm in Lockport, Manitoba. “But I also encourage everyone from the very top through all management levels to always support employees,” he notes, emphasizing the importance of proactively removing barriers to help associates be successful.

Even if talent development is informal, it’s important to have a plan. ““This component of business is simply too important to be left to chance; talent development should be part of at least one person’s job description, even in the smallest companies,” points out Wendy McManus, leadership coach with Connect 2 Potential, based in Orlando, FL. “Everyone in the organization who manages people should have some basic training in how to use a coach approach with their direct reports.”

It is also important for talent development to be aligned with a company’s corporate mission or vision. “One of the most important exercises is identifying the company’s core values,” says Mike Chirveno, founder of ClearVision Consulting in Kansas City, MO. “Align the interests of the company and the interests of the employees.”

To keep employees over the long haul, McManus believes a company must be “intentional” about creating and maintaining its culture, “and give leaders and managers the tools and training they need to effectively lead their teams. People want to be valued—they want to make an impact; they want opportunities to grow.”

One Size Does Not Fit All

There is no cookie-cutter path to successful talent development, though it generally has three components: training, which involves acquiring specific skills or knowledge, usually either in a course or through self-study; coaching, an individualized teaching method with the goal of improving an employee’s skills or knowledge; and mentorship, a more flexible, two-way relationship where an experienced employee guides a mentee.

To retain happy and productive employees, talent development should be paired with career advancement. “If you have a development program for your team, but no place for them to use their skills, they may look for a place where they can,” contends D.J. Stornetta, director of recruiting operations at an executive recruiting firm in Arroyo Grande, CA.

“It could be more formal, where mentors and mentees are matched and relationships have more structure, or more informal where mentoring is promoted and relationships develop organically,” explains McManus. “What’s important is for mentoring to be talked about, supported, and encouraged throughout the organization.”

Kristen Reid, executive vice president at Mixtec Group in La Crescenta, CA, reports that formal mentoring programs often fail due to unclear expectations. “Without a development plan, a mentoring program can be rudderless,” she says. Further, there must be a good fit between mentor and mentee as well as trust.

Lawrence points out that Baby Boomers can play a pivotal role: “Society in general needs to value experience.” He cites an example where a client with a young CEO hired a 60-year-old veteran for a planned transition period. “A year and a half later, it’s working,” Lawrence says, noting that the older hire, the CEO, and the company all benefited. “The opportunity is twofold: it helps those at the twilight of a career as well as the dawn.”

A Long-Term Commitment

No matter what form a talent development program takes, a commitment from the top is essential. “Buy-in from leadership is key; it’s a mistake to not be fully committed to the process,” insists Todd Linsky, principal and owner of Todd Linsky Consulting in Bakersfield, CA.

“You have to step back and say, ‘this is important,’” Chirveno agrees. Leaders should be committed to their workers and helping them realize their goals, both personal and professional.

“The biggest mistake I see is companies get excited and make big plans, but they don’t dedicate the resources to keeping the program alive and flourishing,” adds McManus. “I’ve heard too many tales of well-intentioned programs that fizzled, leaving the team feeling even more disconnected than before the program started. If you start something, dedicate the resources to keeping it going.”

While there is no single right way to launch, implement, and maintain a talent development program, experts all agree having some sort of effective program is key. “Start by thinking more creatively and strategically about succession, mentorship, and training,” advises Lawrence.

Linsky puts it a different way: “If you’re not investing inside of your walls, over time those walls will crumble.”

Karen Raugust is a freelance writer who covers business topics ranging from retailing to the food industry.