Cultivating a smarter workforce through talent development and leadership training

By Maretha Prinsloo on November 16, 2015


“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage in the future.”Arie De Geus, former Head of Planning, RoyalDutch Shell

In order to implement effective talent development and leadership training, the organization should identify it as a strategic priority which is anchored in organizational strategy. The aim is to integrate developmental and other organisational goals, and to ensure a common understanding and commitment amongst all employees to walk the talk of personal, team and organizational development. An awareness of learning and development is meant to permeate the organizational culture. In fact, learning should be regarded as equally as important as performance. If not, everyday time pressures are bound to derail developmental initiatives.

A road map for the identification and development of specific capabilities, talents, skills and attitudes as well as the retention of talent is required. The planning and structuring of learning opportunities as well as the measurement of the quality and impact of these undertakings are prerequisites for the implementation of a learning and development culture. All initiatives need to be embedded within the context of a broader conceptual framework of people development which aims to create the competence to enhance job satisfaction, organizational integration, empowerment, collaboration, and goal achievement.

A talent audit may be a useful first step towards identifying required talent development. This should, on the one hand, include the evaluation of business functions or strategic areas as well as the assessment of all staff in terms of multiple criteria, preferences and capabilities. This is best achieved via an automated volume assessment tool that has access to biographical, educational, career history, job interests and preferences as well as psychological characteristics related to personality, motivation and cognition. Such a system should ideally also provide automated search functions to enhance accuracy and limit the administrative burden that is usually required by such endeavours.

Those showing certain capabilities and interests, can be further assessed to determine the most appropriate developmental solutions. Such in-depth assessment may include the use of tools that evaluate cognitive functioning, values and motivational drivers. Assessment can be followed up by individualized feedback and the design of talent development plans and career paths.

Formal training, mentoring, contextual and experiential learning exposures may be incorporated in tailored employee development plans. Learning which results from everyday work experience has been found to be much more powerful than classroom learning and should ideally be capitalized on as part of an organizational development approach. In fact, the skills in greatest demand, namely technical, sales and executive skills, are acquired almost entirely on the job.

“Learning is an experience. Everything else is just information.”Albert Einstein

Research indicates feedback from a manager in particular, as one of the most effective developmental experiences for any employee. This may be related to the motivational value of encouragement as well as assistance and empowerment by someone who is respected and has positional power.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.Benjamin Franklin

The competency of “people development” should therefore ideally be regarded as a key performance indicator for all managers and supervisors and form part of their performance appraisals. Talent development or people development may entail mentoring, modelling and training of skills.

“The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.”Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sustainable processes and structures can also be created to ensure knowledge transfer and cross-functional integration. Included may be post mortems of failed projects as well as strategy discussions.

The development and investment in competence should be spread to ensure sustainability over time. Certain core competencies should not only be held by single individuals that may leave the organization.  The idea is rather to build broader leadership capacity and a deeper leadership pipeline of people who show the required cognitive capability and value orientation. Vertical task migration, from higher to lower level leadership, as well as horizontal task migration, or decentralization of work responsibilities, are useful in broadening the talent pool and capacity.  

Both individual and group differences can also be capitalized on to develop certain skills. This can only take place in a context of openness and acceptance of others who may differ from oneself. The most effective manner in achieving interpersonal acceptance is probably training aimed at understanding the value orientations of others. This will enable the understanding and acceptance of others and their ideas and most likely result in collaboration and a cross-pollination of ideas and approaches.

Another powerful stimulus for development is to redefine problems as opportunities, as such an approach tends to trigger competitive energy and therefore often results in innovative ideas. This is best achieved within the context of a culture of accountability and personal responsibility.

These and other approaches may result in the cultivation of a learning culture and aid leadership training within the organisation – as well described in Peter Senge’s book ”The Learning Organisation”. Measurement to demonstrate the impact and value add of developmental initiatives is as important as the development programmes themselves to ensure long term sustainability. For more on how assessment tools can aid your organisation’s talent, download our eBook “Choosing the right people for the changing world of work.”

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”. – Margaret Mead

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