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Talent development is your secret weapon. Here's why

August 26, 2021 - 17 min read


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What is talent development?

What are the main goals of a talent development program?

Why talent development is relevant in today’s workplace

What are the benefits of talent development?

Talent development vs. talent management

What does a talent developer do?

5 talent development myths debunked

7 first steps to start a talent development program

It’s not too late to start your talent development program

Talent development is more important in today’s business landscape than ever before. 

Organizations must pivot in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, they face the challenges posed by the unstoppable march of technology.

Upskilling and reskilling the workforce will be the only option for most companies. So investing in talent development now is bound to pay off in the future.

Let’s take a deep dive into what talent development is. We’ll look at why it matters and some tips for starting your own talent development program.

What is talent development?

Talent development is a series of processes designed to attract high-potential candidates. It also aims to develop, motivate, and retain top talent.

It is an aspect of human resources and performance management. Companies use talent development to uncover hidden talent within an organization.

“Talent” is not to be confused with “skills.” When identifying talent, you’re looking for employees’ untapped potential. You can then teach them the skills necessary to reach that potential.

By teaching high-potential employees new skills, you help them with their career growth. At the same time, you speed up your company's progress toward achieving its goals.

What are the main goals of a talent development program?

Some of the main objectives of a talent development program include:

  • Creating a high-performance workforce that allows the company to achieve its objectives.
  • Reducing the skills gap between employees’ skills and the organization’s business needs.
  • Reskilling employees so the company can continue to be competitive.
  • Retaining and motivating the most talented and ambitious employees.
  • Increasing employee engagement with both learning materials and the company vision.
  • Preparing for succession planning to set up your organization for success


Why talent development is relevant in today’s workplace

Organizations in every industry and sector are noticing a growing skills gap. 87% of companies worldwide are aware that they have a skills gap or expect to have one in the coming years.

That means organizations will need talent development strategies to stay relevant and competitive.

Employee expectations have changed, too. Millennials make up the largest generation in the workforce. Yet, they are also the least engaged and most likely to change jobs.

They are idealists. They favor companies that help them develop their strengths and abilities. They also prefer organizations that align with their personal values.

What are the benefits of talent development?

Talent and organizational development go hand-in-hand. Now you know what talent development is and why it matters. So let’s take a look at five of the ways talent development can benefit your organization.

1. Talent development increases productivity and performance

Through talent development, employees understand their roles and have the skills and tools they need. This helps them commit fewer errors and be more productive.

Relevant training also increases employee engagement, which enhances their performance.

2. Talent development attracts the best candidates

Organizations that invest in talent development are more attractive to talented candidates. People want to work for a company that cares about their growth and helps them develop their careers. If you're looking to provide a first-class candidate experience, consider talent development. 

3. Talent development improves legal compliance

Talent development programs can also contribute to better legal compliance. They help companies create a safe, inclusive, and non-discriminatory working environment.

Investing in training shows that an organization is serious about compliance.

4. Talent development sets the standard

High-performance organizations have high standards that employees must meet. Talent development can help create uniformity among staff knowledge and skill levels. 

It also provides a common approach to working that reduces mistakes and miscommunications.

5. Talent development boosts customer satisfaction

Talent development programs increase employee engagement and subsequently improve performance.

Companies that boast a superior customer experience have employees who are 1.5 times more engaged than the average. Employee engagement is directly linked to customer satisfaction.


Talent development vs. talent management

It’s easy to confuse talent development and talent management. Especially since the two are often used interchangeably.

And while they are complementary, they are distinct from one another. Let’s take a look at four of the main differences between talent development and talent management.

1. They have a different focus

Talent development focuses on developing employee skills and competencies. This is done through individual learning and development plans.

Talent management is an organizational strategy for finding, hiring, and retaining top talent. Talent management strategies include both the recruiting process and succession planning. 

2. Talent development is specific; talent management is strategic

Talent development is about fostering an environment of continuous learning and growth. This boosts employee engagement and increases the retention of top talent.

Talent management is about strategically maximizing individual talent. This creates a talent pipeline so the company can attract and keep top talent.

3. Talent development is tailored to individuals

Talent development is about helping employees advance in their career paths

Talent development professionals ensure employees have the tools and learning opportunities they need. This helps them reach their personal and professional goals.

Talent management is about optimizing talent through reskilling and upskilling. And it’s about identifying and leveraging hidden talents. This contributes to creating a high-performance organization.

4. Talent development goes beyond training

Talent development includes on-the-job learning opportunities. These help employees stretch themselves through practical tasks. 

This may include job shadowing or taking on new responsibilities.

It also helps companies identify talent within their organization. They can then provide the training they need to meet organizational goals.

In summary

Talent development focuses on developing, motivating, and retaining employees.

Talent management focuses on big-picture strategies. These allow companies to recruit top talent. At the same time, they maximize the talent of existing employees.

What does a talent developer do?

A talent development manager plans, implements, and oversees an organization's workforce development strategy. They are also called talent developers.

They help companies address their skills gaps by reskilling existing employees. It’s no wonder Forbes called talent developers the “most important people in your company.”

A talent development professional helps to identify organizational goals. Then, they identify the skills required to achieve them.

They then assess the skill levels of all employees to identify the skill gaps. Based on this assessment, they can draw up a company-wide talent development plan. 

They align this with each employee’s professional goals and aspirations.


5 talent development myths debunked

There are some common misconceptions about what talent development is and isn’t. Let’s take a look at five of the most common talent development myths.

1. Talent development is only for new hires

A common misconception about talent development is that it only applies to new hires. This simply isn’t true.

Training should always be included in the onboarding process. But existing employees can also benefit from an employee development plan.

At the same time, talent development programs should support employee career development. This makes it a win-win for both the employee and the organization.

2. Talent development means face-to-face training

Traditionally, training took place in a classroom-style setting. An instructor delivered theory to unenthusiastic employees. Perhaps there were a few lackluster exercises with Post-it notes.

Learning and development have evolved significantly since then. Trainers understand the importance of interactive lectures and relevant, meaningful exercises.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the way training programs are delivered.

In many instances, virtual classrooms are replacing real ones. And instructors act more as coaches than teachers. They also rely on the support of online materials.

3. Talent development is expensive

Traditional in-person training, as described above, can be expensive. 

But the advent of online training has reduced the cost of talent development. At the same time, it has made training accessible to a greater number of employees.

4. Talent development means digital learning

Some people believe that talent development solely refers to digital-based learning. But this is also false.

The most effective talent development programs take a personalized approach to learning. They combine both asynchronous and synchronous methods of learning.

5. Talent development is self-paced

Many people think of talent development as self-paced learning using computer software.

Many of us have had the experience of receiving training materials to go through in our own time. But self-paced study is unlikely to keep learners motivated for long.

That’s why talent development managers work with individual employees. Together, they set a pace that is both challenging and realistic for each learner.


7 first steps to start a talent development program

If you’re ready to start talent development, follow these seven steps that will set you up for success.

1. Hire a talent development manager

You’ll need at least one full-time employee responsible for talent development.

Larger organizations might want to consider creating a team dedicated to talent development.

2. Define your organizational goals

Work with the talent development manager to identify, refine, clarify, and prioritize your company’s goals

This exercise will underpin the entire talent development strategy. It will also help you communicate the strategy clearly and get employee buy-in.

3. Identify the skills required

Once you’re clear on your company’s mission and objectives, make a list of the skills you will need. Remember to include soft skills as well as technical skills.

4. Assess your employees’ skills

Knowing which skills you need is crucial for matching employees to an appropriate development program.

Use tests, surveys, and interviews to identify employee skills and interests. Align the results with your talent development strategy.

5. Look for hidden talent

Sometimes, talent can be hiding in plain sight. An employee who is mediocre in one role may shine in another. 

Interview employees to discover their hidden talents and interests. Look for ways to match them to your business strategy.

6. Design your training program 

Look for the most relevant materials. Do you need microlearning modules, or is project-based learning more appropriate? 

Do employees need more theory? Or would they learn better through practical, hands-on experience?

Make sure the program instructors are trained to act as coaches rather than teachers in the traditional sense. 

Consider using a learning management system to streamline the talent development processes.

7. Create a company culture of continuous learning

Talent development shouldn’t be limited to formal training. Creating an environment of continuous learning and growth can improve employee performance. It also boosts employee retention. 


It’s not too late to start your talent development program

Leadership and talent development should be a priority for any organization. If you want to not only survive but thrive in the coming years, you'll need a talent development program.

Companies that invest now will reap the rewards in the future. They will have happier and more productive employees, satisfied customers, and increased profits.

And if you haven’t started your talent development program yet, it’s not too late. Discover how BetterUp’s AI-driven coaching programs can make your company more competitive.

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Published August 26, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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