As small- and medium-sized businesses grow, they must recognize the importance of investing in their talent, or risk losing a priceless resource. Organizations may overlook talent development for a number of reasons. Typically, priorities shift as companies begin to grow, and leaders may ignore talent development as they look for new opportunities for expansion. In other cases, business leaders may simply not be aware of the importance of talent development. In any case, failing to pay attention to talent development can cause problems with retention, and a company’s workforce may fail to develop the skills the company needs to grow.
According to a study released by Forbes Insights and BMO Harris, the damage of failing to develop a workforce is often invisible at first, especially if the company is seeing overwhelming success in other areas of business. The company may be so successful that it has no problem attracting top talent, but as its momentum slows, leaders realize that they’re missing much of the support that they need to stay afloat. Even when leaders recognize the importance of talent development and implement ad hoc programs, the results can be mixed. To maintain the momentum, companies need to adopt a strategic talent management program that takes into account the interests of employees and their own future needs.
The Key Elements of a Strategic Talent Management Program
A company’s talent management program should be designed to its employees’ particular needs, but a few common elements are important for increasing the likelihood of success. For one, it’s important to use objective metrics to assess job performance. As companies grow, it is common for new jobs to suddenly become available and for job descriptions to change rapidly. Despite the challenges inherent in instituting objective metrics in such an environment, it is critical that all employees understand how success is measured in their respective positions and that they be held responsible for their performance.
These metrics can help keep track of the impact that talent development initiatives have on productivity. While they may not tell the whole story of whether the initiative is having a positive impact, they can give some great evidence in some cases. Perhaps even more important is the fact that setting metrics helps employees understand what is expected of them and how their work fits into the organization as a whole.
The other key element of any talent development program is targeted training. As companies grow, they usually get a better sense of the talent challenges that they face, and they can design their strategy to address shortcomings before they become a real problem. Targeted training should also take into account what employees are interested in and what education they think will help them perform better in the workplace. Often, employees see a potential shortcoming before organizational leaders do, so it’s essential that managers listen to their suggestions.
Ultimately, a company’s talent acquisition strategy must align with its strategic planning, because it is the employees who will carry out the plan. If the company does not have the skills or knowledge necessary to achieve its goals, talent development is the primary tool for keeping the organization moving forward.
Jumpstarting a Strategic Talent Development Program
While implementing a strategic talent development program is a major undertaking, companies can take a few easy steps toward this goal. One of the simplest ways to jumpstart a program is to create a mentoring initiative that pairs high-level executives with high-potential employees. These mentoring relationships can help employees learn a great deal about the company, the industry, and career development in general. Mentoring programs can also help ensure that the company’s institutional knowledge and wisdom is transferred to the next generation of leaders. In addition, being singled out for such a program often gives people the motivation they need to become much more productive and set their sights on more challenging goals. Some organizations may want to make the mentor program rotational, so that high-potential employees get exposure to many different aspects of the business. That way, the employee can choose the path that best aligns with his or her personal strengths and goals.
Another way that companies can encourage talent development is by partnering with local colleges and universities to create campus recruiting programs. For an even more cost-effective solution, companies can approach some of their most skilled and knowledgeable employees to develop videos and other training materials for other employees at the company.
Whatever talent management programs a company decides to institute, leadership should recognize the importance of engaging employees, especially the most talented ones. Engaged employees are more productive and more likely to stay at a company. Talent development programs show employees that the company is willing to invest in them and reinforces the idea that they have a future at the company. When companies focus more on developing the talent they have and promoting from within rather than hiring externally, they create a workforce that is highly motivated and dedicated to the future of the company.