Few business leaders would deny the importance of talent development to a company’s future. Through talent development, companies invest in their employees and their own future by helping people who already have a vested interest in the organization to become more valuable to it. While almost all business leaders understand the importance of talent development, not all of them understand how to make it a central part of an organization’s culture. In the book Developing Leaders and Organizations Through Action Learning, Cori Hill points to a lack of a development culture as one of the major issues resulting in a lack of talent development at modern companies.
Hill’s research revealed that lower-level leaders who emphasized the importance of talent development became less preoccupied with it as they climbed the ranks into senior-level positions. When people reach these ranks, they often turn primarily to one-on-one coaching for talent development since this approach is intrinsically fulfilling. Leaders would often set aside time for one-on-one mentorship, but rarely did they make organizational coaching a priority. As a result, the organizational climate reflects individual advancement over collaborative development.
Many different approaches to talent development exist, but most professionals in the field would agree that it cannot occur without a culture that values open communication and collaboration. Through this sort of culture, employees can collaborate with their managers to figure out the best path to follow for development that interests employees and benefits the company. When development decisions are made by managers alone, they do not reflect the passions, ideas, and interests of the employees. The resulting policies may fall flat if they are not well received. Better development plans result from open communication and knowledge sharing.
The culture of openness and collaboration required for optimal talent development results from bottom-up communication opportunities, managers who listen, and an environment that embraces outside-of-the-box thinking.
The Importance of Bottom-Up Communication
Top-down communication is not missing at any company. However, this communication pathway should work both ways. Managers have recognized the importance of two-way communication for a millennium, yet the practice is still not ubiquitous. The culture of silence that persists in American companies is caused by the willful withholding of information, which can slow or completely stop the flow of knowledge within an organization. Managers who believe that that they know what is best for their employees and the company can also create a culture of silence. While managers may indeed know what is best, they can still learn from listening to their employees and should strive to create a culture of voice.
Bottom-up communication encourages employees to come to their managers with concerns or ideas that apply to their future, as well as to the development of the company. Speaking with employees is the only way for managers to learn what their development goals are and to then fit those goals into the needs of the company.
Determining Who Gets Heard at a Company
Sometimes, it is physically impossible for managers to listen to each and every employee who has something to say. For this reason, managers tend to create “inner circles,” which become dangerous if members of that circle begin to feel exhausted, or other employees start to feel resentful. The goal of any development plan should be to impact the entirety of the employee body, not just a select few people who make it to the inner circle. In many ways, the inner circle structure can start to resemble the one-on-one mentorship system, which neglects broader organizational talent development.
Ideally, managers should create a feeling of safety among employees so that even when those who are not in the inner circle have something to say, they feel comfortable expressing that information. Managers should keep in mind that the majority of their time should be spent listening rather than speaking. Some managers feel that they spend too much time listening, while in reality they should spend up to 80 percent of their time processing the opinions of other people who work at the company.
Listening is not a passive activity. Humans can process language must faster than they can speak, so it is easy for minds to wander when listening. Managers need to listen closely to the opinions of their employees and think critically about what they hear. Common opinions are not always the best ones, which makes it extremely important that mangers carefully consider the information that they receive.
Instilling Openness in the Group Setting
Openness is not something that occurs between a manager and employee. In a group setting, executives should encourage people to share their opinions by directly asking for different views on the same issue and then taking the time to contemplate each outlook expressed. The practice signals to the group that the company values different viewpoints and that it wants to have a view of the issues that that is as comprehensive as possible. Consistency is critical in these situations. Executives need to ask for input at every meeting, especially if it is a new practice. Employees may not have the boldness to speak openly until a manager has asked for opinions a handful of times. When managers track the input received in these settings, they signal to employees that their opinions are valued. Importantly, by signaling this to the group, managers also encourage employees who are less outspoken to come to them in private with important insights, ideas, and concerns.