It’s not about training: thinking strategically about talent development

Insurance training involves learning knowledge and skills, while talent development is broader and focused on the long-term, says Dr. Kirk D. Fleming

It’s not about training: thinking strategically about talent development
Training is focused on learning the knowledge and skills associated with a particular task or role. Talent development is broader and focused on long-term needs. It develops the capacity, capability and confidence needed to turn innate strengths into an effective leadership style that can be successful in (and better influence) the future of the business. Most companies incorrectly equate talent development with training, and that can be an expensive mistake.

In this latest installment in my series on the integrated talent excellence model, I will discuss why and how talent development can be used to build the skills, knowledge and performance of employees, helping talent at all levels turn potential into organizational results.
Investment in talent creates value
Every year, employers in the United States spend approximately between $1,300 and $2,700 per employee on development (and upwards of $7,000 on executives). These costs are expected to increase 10 to 15 percent each year.

It sounds like talent development is expensive, and it can be if you don’t take steps to connect investments with returns. Connecting data from a variety of respected sources, I found that strategically spending…
  • more than the average on development per employee can generate up to 40 percent higher employee engagement scores.
  • 34 percent more per employee than competitors can lead to three times better performance than those competitors.
  • more to develop current talent is actually cheaper than recruiting a new employee (attrition can cost as much as 150 percent of the employee’s salary).
Great talent development programs are both sturdy and flexible. They start with a theoretical framework that is aligned with the strategic vision of the company, grounded in best-practice fundamental skills, and include an evolving set of activities that help employees and managers continually adapt to the changing environment. In practice, the best place to start is identifying critical competencies and developing a talent bench.
Developing a competency model
Tying development to an effective competency model is still the most reliable approach to prioritizing and measuring its impact. The key is to adopt the right kind of competency model, one that allows both managers and employees to:
  • Connect specifically with the daily work they are performing (not generic)
  • Differentiate outstanding organizational, team and individual performance from adequate performance
  • Discuss feedback and performance evaluation in ways that are behavioral and clear
  • Balance and prioritize feedback (not too much; not too broad)
  • Adjust as the organization changes.
Do not simply adopt someone else’s competency model. Instead, study your top and bottom performers and identify the five to eight skill areas you see as critical differentiators to the work you are doing. Then, gather models from different companies representing those skill areas, and assemble a custom model. Spend time observing top performers, modifying the behavioral statements to show clear differentiation within each skill area.
Building a talent pipeline
Use this competency model as a tool to create a pipeline of talent ready to move into essential positions when necessary. To create a more effective talent plan:
  1. Identify roles critical to the business strategy and key levels of skill needed in each competency to be successful in each role.
  2. Conduct a nine-box assessment to identify two to three people you want to develop for each critical role; assess each person on the competency model.
  3. Compare the role assessment with the person assessment to identify and prioritize gaps, and create a targeted development plan for the year.
  4. Develop SMART objectives for one to two key skill areas. Before creating new opportunities, look at the person’s business goals for the year and try to identify projects that can achieve those goals while providing explicit stretch and reflection opportunities.
  5. Monitor progress at the senior level at least twice a year. Managers must discuss development plans as rigorously as performance objectives.
Metrics to monitor talent development
Effective talent development decisions produce value for the business as a whole. The best way to ensure that is to measure your outcomes. I recommend these metrics as a starting point:
  • Development spend per employee (aggregated by competency)
  • Percent of key roles with an identified successor
  • Number of employees in pipeline for each key role
  • Percent of employees who have at least 80 percent of competency readiness for next role
Many people ask: what happens if you develop employees and they leave? I like to answer with another question: What happens if you don’t—and they stay? Talent works harder for and stays longer with organizations that show genuine interest in building their careers.

Dr. Kirk D. Fleming, MBA, is the Assistant Vice President of Global Talent Development at ReSource Pro. He has more than 20 years of experience in learning and development across a variety of industries. Since 2010, he has led ReSource Pro’s Learning & Development department where he and his team have been recognized with several international and national awards for excellence. Dr. Fleming can be reached at [email protected]

Related stories:
4 ways to harness talent management for profitability
Former Navy SEAL to offer leadership training at insurance summit

Keep up with the latest news and events

Join our mailing list, it’s free!