The first four articles in our series on strategic talent management have focused on executing a fully integrated process that fuels strategy and growth.  Areas covered include considering the talent implications of that strategy, selecting for talent, activating performance and accountability, and implementing a discipline around a regular talent review.  At each step in the process, we’ve noted critical firm actions and how it connects to the individual performers.  The final piece of the process is no different. While it centers on the performer, the company investment can make a significant difference in the outcomes.  It’s all about supporting the Right Development by establishing individual development plans and creating an environment that supports execution and learning.

The idea that the “right development” includes an individualized approach within a supportive culture is not new, especially if we look to education.  Author and educator Sir Ken Robinson is most famous for his 2006 TED Talk called, “Do schools kill creativity?”  It’s the most-viewed talk of all time with more than 65 million views. Part of his legacy, though, is being an advocate for development, and especially creating an environment for individualized development – for natural talents to flourish. In fact, he lobbied for education to “move to a model that is based more on the principles of agriculture… We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.” While his focus was education, businesses who capitalize on these core concepts as a part of development will see their talent flourish. 

Individualized Approach

Although the talent management process overall focuses on the stewardship of all of the firm’s talent, the final piece of the process comes back to the individual.  How do they want to grow in their career? How do we see them growing within the organization? What are their short and long-term goals?  What are their unique talents and how can they invest in those to turn them into strengths?  There is no “one-size-fits-all” development plan.  The best development plan is created through conversation and in collaboration with the performer. And, in the end, it must be their plan. While the results aren’t guaranteed, the greatest chances of success occur when a performer creates and owns their plan.   

Nourishing Environment and Resources

While the performer owns the plan, that doesn’t mean the company is off the hook.  The company’s responsibility for development is to create the environment that brings the best out of people and supports them through resources.  The best organizations embed development into their culture and recognize it is a highly valued part of the employee value proposition.  They invest in an effective coaching program and resources (whether internal or external). Coaches not only help support development plan creation, they serve as a critical strategic link between the company and the performer throughout the year to support execution.  These companies also have a curriculum of suggested development activities and offerings for different advancement paths. The curriculum is dynamic and includes future skills, not just skills needed within the organization now. Finally, these organizations encourage and prioritize time for skill building, learning, and ongoing developmental conversations, and they hold leaders accountable for focusing on employee growth. 

Organic Learning

In a prior blog post we discussed Development by Design, in which we highlighted that 70% of leadership development comes from challenging assignments and experiential learning.  Companies can and should be intentional in providing these opportunities. One method of doing so is identifying activities and events that have shaped your most successful leaders and orchestrating similar experiences for emerging leaders.  Organic learning happens as the performer executes the project, but it is also deepened in the piece that most organizations leave out – the “harvesting” of the lessons in post-experience conversations.  This means intentionally working with the performer to ask questions such as, “What did you learn about yourself throughout this experience?” “How did you feel about what you achieved?” “If you were to do it again, is there anything you might try or do differently?” and “What will you take from this experience to apply in future activities or roles?”

Owning Talent Management 

We started this series by highlighting the way talent is strategically managed in the professional sports arena and putting a focus on the process.  The final key to success is not about the process. Instead it is about ownership.  In a professional sports team, the General Manager is accountable for talent management.  They “own” the process and ensure it is strategically executed with rigor, excellence, and discipline.  Talent management is most effective when there is an “owner” who advocates for and shepherds the process, and continuously evaluates the effectiveness of each element. 

Ultimately, talent management is about having the Right People in the Right Roles at the Right Times with the Right Development to drive your strategy and fuel your growth.  If you aren’t satisfied that you and your company are reaching your potential in each of these areas, use this series to examine the steps in your talent management process.  Explore opportunities in each area.  Challenge yourself to strengthen the integration of the steps to one another.  Most importantly, make sure someone owns the process so it has the level of intentionality the organization needs to produce results.