Talent Management: A Training Strategy

Talent Management: A Training Strategy

Key Areas Where Training Professionals Need to Focus Its Energies.

One of the most important trends in corporate learning and development today is the integration of learning with talent management. In our 2008 research into high-impact learning organizations, we found that more than 45 percent of learning executives rate integration with talent management as one of their top training strategies.

Integrated talent management encompasses processes for performance management, compensation reviews, succession management, leadership development and recruiting. These core processes span an employee’s lifecycle — from recruiting and on-boarding to establishing goals, from managing current performance to career development.

As our “High-Impact Talent Management” framework shows, learning and development is the foundation for all of these processes. As companies focus more and more on effective talent management, training professionals need to understand their role in developing and executing an integrated talent management strategy. This article points to the key areas where L&D should focus its energies. (See Fig. 1.)

1. Developing competency models for talent management

One of the key ingredients for an integrated talent management strategy is competency management.  As Fig. 2 shows, all organizations need four tiers of competencies. Recruiters and staffing analysts use core competencies, common to all employees, in their recruiting and evaluation processes. Managers must have job-level competencies to assess an employee’s current performance, as well as his/her potential for other roles. And finally, leadership competencies define the unique characteristics for leadership within the organization and are used to assess and develop leaders at all levels of the organization.

L&D professionals usually have a deep understanding of the core competencies that make a company work. Most likely, you have the background in organizational development to build competency models, and you likely have experience using competency models to build training programs and interventions.

2. Creating demand for talent-driven learning

The second major role for L&D in an integrated talent management strategy is the creation of strategic development programs, most of which are focused on talent-driven learning. (See Fig. 3.)

Too many training organizations focus — sometimes exclusively — on performance-driven programs. Performance-driven learning is important, to be sure. These are the programs that teach people how to use systems, adopt processes, comply with regulations, and run the company.

But such programs don’t address a company’s strategic talent needs. Talent-driven programs are usually complex and long-lasting. They often must be multi-tiered to encompass employees at all levels, blended with coaching and other forms of training, and potentially continue throughout an employee’s tenure.

In most companies we’ve analyzed, leadership development is highest priority for talent-driven learning. Most companies have a dearth of manager- and supervisor-level candidates. But we’ve seen other critical talent needs. Companies such as Caterpillar, Textron and The Boeing Co. require engineering and manufacturing excellence; Edward Jones and Cisco demand sales expertise; and at EDS and Deloitte, project leadership is critical to business success.

When an organization embarks on integrated talent management, L&D must create the career learning tracks and other development programs to support the company’s overall talent strategy.

3. Adoption of informal or on-demand learning

The third major role for training professionals in an integrated talent management strategy is the development and support of e-learning, informal learning, and on-demand learning programs.

For example, consider what must happen when a company starts refining its performance management and appraisal processes. In order to accomplish such a goal, it’s imperative to teach managers how to coach employees, how to evaluate and assess people, and how to help employees develop skills and capabilities.

Where will they go to get this help? In today’s world, formal training is becoming less and less important — and less cost efficient. The broad availability of corporate portals, wikis and social networks has made it possible for employees at any level to learn on-demand.

Your job as a training professional is to build and facilitate an informal, on-demand learning environment. Some of the important tools you should consider include expert directories, communities of practice, rapid e-learning (in which content developed and published by experts), and wikis.

Informal learning content should be organized around the competencies and development goals established as part of your company’s integrated talent management strategy. While the talent management team will likely focus on establishing key new career paths and capability models, you should be spending your time building and promoting the informal learning systems, content and communities to support the talents and skills required.


 4. Designing and supporting the career development process

One of the most immature parts of integrated talent management is the process of development planning. As Fig. 4 shows, development planning is the merger between an individual’s career goals and an organization’s business goals.

This process is complex. Managers must gain a clear understanding of the organization’s needs as well as an individual’s capabilities and desires. Training professionals should participate in the development of this process and help make sure tools and programs are available to make this process easier for managers and employees.

For example, at British American Tobacco, a very successful global marketing company with a wide range of consumer products, the training organization developed an integrated career development program for marketing managers. This program takes young marketing trainees and develops them into senior marketing managers over a three-year period.

Data shows that organizations which develop people at the manager or business unit level have far greater outcomes than those which leave career development up to the employee. The “manage your own career” model works only in fast-growing companies where opportunities abound. Most companies have very strategic talent needs. They are transforming their organizations to move into new products and services and they need people to develop along specific career paths. Your job as an L&D professional is to understand these development needs, build the career paths, and work with the talent management team to make sure they are embedded in the talent management process.

5. Coaching and supporting the talent management team

People engaged in talent management are often given very broad responsibilities and must create and implement processes that impact all levels of the company. You, as a training professional, have the skills in change management, communications, and program design and delivery that are critical to the initiative. When the talent management team is ready to roll out a new performance management or succession process, you should be there to help. If you can use your skills and expertise in e-learning and training to help these programs succeed, you will be playing a vital role in your organization.


To summarize, here’s what you can do to help your organization achieve integrated talent management:

>> Help drive the development of competency models.

>> Build a strategic learning program(s) to develop organizational capabilities.

>> Provide an informal, on-demand learning environment.

>> Participate in the career development process.

>> Use the collective skills of the L&D organization to help drive the adoption of talent management programs.

Certainly, training’s traditional strengths in skills analysis, competency management, instructional design and performance consulting are still important.  On the other hand, L&D must also cultivate knowledge and experience in developmental assignments, coaching, social networking and on-demand learning.  It’s a tall order, particularly in these difficult economic times. But learning organizations that can successfully support talent initiatives and even assume leadership in related projects will position themselves — and their companies — for the future.

Josh Bersin is president and CEO of Bersin & Associates. He has worked with hundreds of companies to help them deliver high-impact employee learning, leadership development and talent management. In 2001, he founded Bersin & Associates to provide research and advisory services focused on corporate learning. For more information, visit the Website www.bersin.com. 

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