Talent Development: What Managers Need to Know

Sam Cook
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The battle for talent is raging right now. Although AI solutions promise to solve some labor market shortages, real human professionals are still necessary — and increasingly difficult to find. Offering better compensation and benefits is one strategy companies are using to attract talent, but their other secret is more robust talent development for everyone, from new hires to leaders.

Companies with a stronger internal talent development strategy are freeing two birds with one key. (That’s a friendlier play on the “killing two birds with one stone” idiom.) Not only is skill development something that employees want more of, but it also significantly reduces the need for companies to cast wide nets externally for sometimes distinct and hard-to-find skillsets.

Still, the term “talent development” can be a bit…broad, to say the least. New and experienced managers alike will understandably see this concept as a moving target. There are varying definitions and approaches that can complicate the topic. In this article, we’ll walk you through how to develop a talent development strategy within your organization and what benefits you can expect to see after it’s been implemented.

What Does Talent Development Mean?

Talent development refers to the process of nurturing and enhancing the skills, abilities, and potential of your employees. It involves providing them with opportunities, skills, and guidance to achieve their full potential in your business.

A women taking notes during in a notebook with a purple pen during a talent development session.

Think of it this way: Any area where your people need to grow professionally — and where you choose to invest resources to grow them — will fall under talent development. Consequently, talent development can encompass a range of activities aimed at:

  • Honing the existing skills and practices of your teams
  • Helping team members acquire new skills
  • Creating a culture that fosters continuous learning and improvement

By cultivating a culture of talent development in your workplace, you recognize that employees can possess abilities and aptitudes that can be further developed. This goes beyond recognizing individuals’ natural skills, which are still undeniably important. Organizations with a talent development strategy take things to the next level and create a structured pathway that helps employees progress within their careers by expanding on and adding to those abilities.

Additionally, the more visual you are about your talent development strategy, the better. MentorcliQ client KeyBank is a great example of this. The company offers details about its career development strategy on its website. That strategy includes:

  • Classroom learning
  • Self-paced learning
  • On-the-job training
  • A strong feedback culture
  • Leadership development programs

This development process is boosted by different engagement and learning strategies, including formal and informal mentoring (powered by MentorcliQ’s leading mentoring software), a leadership development curriculum, and dedicated professional development hours available to every employee.

The goal of talent development programs like the one available at KeyBank is to create an environment that supports and nurtures talents, allowing them to excel and make significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Talent Development vs Talent Management

Talent development and talent management are two interconnected concepts that play crucial roles in optimizing the potential of employees within an organization.

Talent development focuses on nurturing and enhancing the skills, abilities, and potential of employees through continuous learning and growth opportunities. 

It involves providing employees with the necessary resources, training, and guidance to develop their skills, expand their knowledge, and achieve their career goals. Talent development aims to unlock individuals’ full potential, foster their professional growth, and enable them to make meaningful contributions to the organization.

On the other hand, talent management involves the strategic processes and practices employed to attract, identify, retain, and deploy talent within the organization. 

It encompasses activities such as talent acquisition, performance management, succession planning, and career pathing. Talent management focuses on aligning the right individuals with the right roles, ensuring their engagement and satisfaction, and maximizing their impact on organizational success.

While talent development emphasizes individuals’ continuous learning and growth, talent management takes a broader perspective by encompassing talent acquisition, retention, and deployment strategies to meet organizational needs. Both talent development and talent management are essential for creating a high-performing workforce and driving organizational success.

What Does Talent Development Actually Look Like in the Workplace?

KeyBank, which we mentioned earlier, is just one example of talent development in real-world practice. It’s not the only model.

Talent development can take many forms throughout the workplace. Some of the most effective include talent development programs and initiatives designed specifically for employee career pathing. Those programs establish exactly how an employee can go from a new hire in their role to a management-level position, as well as the different branches that that path could take.

These programs and initiatives can include mentorship, coaching, specialized training, workshops and educational programs. It can also take the form of trusting employees with new, more challenging responsibilities to give real-world experience and back up newly-acquired skills.

There’s plenty of data to back up the positive impact of an effective talent development strategy, especially one that involves mentoring. Our 2023 Mentoring Impact Report found that companies with mentoring programs had a net gain of employees during The Great Resignation. And according to Gallup’s American Upskilling study, 61% of workers said skill development was “very” or “extremely” important to their decision to stay at their current job.

By providing access to these opportunities, organizations empower individuals to explore and refine their talents, broaden their skill sets, and stay ahead in their respective industries. And as a primary benefit, companies that offer talent development improve their employee retention and attract more highly-talented workers to open positions.

Why Talent Development Matters in the Workplace

Talent development in the workplace is crucial for organizations’ sustained success and growth. In today’s competitive business landscape, where finding and retaining top talent can make or break businesses, talent development programs not only make your current employees more motivated to continue their career goals at your company, but it has been shown to attract, retain, and promote a higher volume of candidates.

Why? 

A woman and two men from diverse backgrounds engaging in collaborative talent development.

Talent development programs demonstrate a commitment to employee growth and improvement. When candidates consider potential employers, they are drawn to organizations that offer opportunities for skill development and career advancement. Similarly, current employees are more likely to stay with an organization that invests in their personal and professional growth.

Talent development fosters loyalty, commitment, and a sense of belonging. It also reduces turnover rates and decreases the costs of hiring and training new employees.

Moreover, talent development cultivates a high-performance culture. When employees are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and tools to excel in their roles, they become more engaged, productive, and innovative. Talent development encourages individuals to reach their full potential, unlocking their creativity and contributing to the organization’s success.

Talent development in the workplace is a strategic investment that yields significant benefits for organizations. By prioritizing talent development, organizations create a competitive advantage, ensuring they have a skilled and motivated workforce capable of adapting to the ever-changing business environment and driving long-term success.

6 Key Benefits of Talent Development

The benefits of talent development are immense, but here are six that we believe are the most important.

1. Talent development can be used to achieve personal and career goals

Yes, your talent development program will primarily focus on giving new skills or experience to achieve career goals. However, for employees, this can also lead to a massive boost to their personal growth, increased self-confidence, and a sense of fulfillment. It opens doors to new opportunities and career advancement, allowing them to reach their full potential.

2. Talent development attracts the best candidates.

Talent development is a magnet for top candidates. Job seekers are drawn to companies that value their employees’ growth and offer opportunities for advancement. Hence, organizations prioritizing target development and nurturing talent will naturally attract more qualified individuals.

That’s why our 2023 Mentoring Impact Report found that companies with mentoring programs grew their headcounts during The Great Resignation compared to those without (where there was a net loss of employees). While mentoring is not the only development strategy tied to better retention, it’s a key part of a large talent development strategy that companies use to win and retain talent in tight labor markets.

When a company is known for its commitment to talent development, it becomes an attractive destination for talented individuals seeking personal and professional growth. By focusing on developing talent, organizations strengthen their ability to attract and retain the best candidates, setting themselves up for success in the competitive job market.

3. Talent development can increase employee retention rates

An employee who feels their employer appreciates their work is more likely to remain loyal and stay longer. A 2023 Workplace Learning Report by LinkedIn shows 94% of employees who quit would have stayed in their job if it invested in their development.

This speaks volumes about how important talent development is to employee retention and how quickly an employee can look for new opportunities if their current job doesn’t offer clear routes for progression.

4. Talent development fosters continuous learning

good talent development program is not a quick fix but a long-term solution that encourages continuous learning and employee development. Over time, this can affect your organizational culture to be one where everyone is continuously developing their skills and knowledge.

Continuous learning is the process of learning new skills and experiences on an ongoing basis. This is essential in the modern workforce as the business landscape, technology, and customer needs are constantly changing. Businesses of course need to change to adapt, but so do employees.

This kind of culture can be a game changer for businesses and the reason why many successful companies remain successful. As industries evolve and new technologies emerge, there is a growing demand for individuals with up-to-date skills and knowledge. Continuous learning ensures that individuals can adapt and acquire the necessary competencies to meet these evolving needs.

5. Talent development can bridge future skill gaps

Changes to the business landscape can bring a skills gap within your organization. A 2023 Wiley’s market insights survey shows that 69% of US HR professionals believe their organization has a skills gap, up from 55% in 2021.

When skill gaps are identified, organizations may consider outsourcing or bringing in talent with the necessary skills to the workforce. However, as we now know, a talent development program can prepare your current employees for such necessary skills, and internal talent development takes less time and costs less money than hiring and re-training new employees.

Individuals can acquire new skills and knowledge in high demand by engaging in ongoing talent development initiatives. This enables them to bridge the gap between their existing skill set and the job market requirements. Whether it’s acquiring technical skills, staying updated on industry trends, or developing soft skills like communication and problem-solving, continuous learning empowers individuals to remain relevant and competitive.

6. Talent development benefits everyone

It’s not just employees who benefit. Organizations can also reap the rewards from a culture of continuous learning and talent development. Engaging employees makes the entire workforce agile, innovative, and adaptable. Continuous learning initiatives contribute to increased employee engagement, job satisfaction, and retention.

Organizations that prioritize continuous learning are better equipped to address skill gaps within their workforce, ensuring that they have the necessary talent to drive success and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving business landscape.

4 Actionable Talent Development Activities You Can Try

1. Mentorship Programs

Two women talking earnestly at a computer engaging in development

Mentorship programs are invaluable in talent development. By pairing employees with experienced mentors, organizations foster a culture of learning and knowledge exchange. Mentors provide guidance, share their expertise, and offer valuable insights to help mentees enhance their skills and navigate their careers.

A major advantage of mentorship for talent development is that it facilitates the transfer of tacit knowledge within the organization. Mentors can impart industry-specific knowledge, organizational insights, and skills that are not easily learned through formal training programs. This knowledge transfer helps mentees gain a better and deeper understanding of their roles, the organizational culture, and the broader industry landscape.

Implementing a mentorship program requires careful planning and execution. It’s essential to establish clear program objectives, define roles and responsibilities for mentors and mentees, and provide necessary resources and support for program participants. We created a detailed guide on how to start a mentoring program in 2023 here.

2. Training and Development Initiatives

Training and development initiatives are key to talent development. These programs provide targeted learning opportunities to enhance skills, knowledge, and competencies. As a business, you can offer a range of talent development-inspired training options, including workshops, seminars, online courses, or certifications. These initiatives may cover technical skills, leadership development, communication, problem-solving, or other areas relevant to the talent’s career path.

Speaking of leadership development, are you using mentoring to develop leaders? Check out our Mentoring Soundbites video on How to Use Mentoring in Your Leadership Development Plan. Be sure to like and subscribe to get notified when we add new content!

3. Job Rotation and Cross-Functional Assignments

Job rotation and cross-functional assignments are effective talent development strategies. By exposing talented individuals to various roles and responsibilities, organizations broaden their skill sets and provide them with a well-rounded understanding of the business. Job rotation allows individuals to gain diverse experiences, expand their perspectives, and develop versatility.

Additionally, cross-functional assignments enable them to collaborate with different teams, learn from experts in various areas, and build strong networks. These experiences foster adaptability, innovation, and a holistic understanding of organizational operations. Job rotation and cross-functional assignments not only develop talent but also contribute to succession planning by identifying individuals with potential for leadership roles.

4. Recognition and Rewards Programs

When organizations acknowledge and appreciate exceptional talent, it reinforces their value and motivates them to excel. Recognition can take various forms, such as public appreciation, awards, or written acknowledgments. Rewards may include financial incentives, promotions, career advancement opportunities, or challenging projects aligned with their talents.

These programs create a positive work environment, boost morale, and enhance employee engagement. Recognizing and rewarding talent fosters a culture of high performance, encourages others to strive for excellence, and helps retain top talent within the organization.

Your Next Steps for Talent Development

Talent development is a strategic investment that not only benefits individuals but also strengthens the Organization’s ability to thrive in a dynamic business environment. By prioritizing talent development, organizations create a pathway for growth, innovation, and long-term success.

But your next steps might not be entirely clear. We recommend you do the following:

  • Audit your internal talent development landscape. Determine what structures and practices exist right now, whether they’re visible to employees, and whether they’re being effectively tracked.
  • Survey employees on their perspective. There’s often a huge mismatch between what HR thinks is a good strategy and what employees think. If you do have a strategy in place, see if employees think it’s working. Quite often, companies have talent development practices that aren’t working well for employees or are completely invisible to the employees who need or want development the most.
  • Begin planning a strategy upgrade. Once you know what development strategies exist and whether or not they’re visible and effective from an employee perspective.

Make sure mentoring is a key part of your talent development strategy. MentorcliQ’s leading mentoring platform helps companies launch programs of all types, match participants, measure program success, and continually engage participants throughout the life of the engagement.  

Book a demo today and see how mentoring can supercharge your talent development strategy!

Sam Cook