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Talent development that matters

Strategic talent development is first and foremost about balance. Balance between the desired company impact and the development of the people making that impact happen. Consciously and deliberately balancing those two can lead to real value and impact through any talent initiative.

However, not all forms of talent development are equally relevant for everyone, just as the timing of the talent development should be considered and matched to the reality the company finds itself in. This last point is particularly decisive. Predefined and well-known talent methodologies shouldn’t determine how it should be carried out, but instead it should always be the specific internal situation the company is in, and outside impact you are here to create that sets the agenda and focus for what is relevant.

Most talent development is traditionally about talented people, which is the right thing, isn’t it? The answer to this is that it all depends on what you want to achieve with your talent efforts and if you primarily carry out talent development for your employees’ sake or not.

It is rarely a good business case to implement talent development for 10-20 employees that almost exclusively focuses on their individual development. Talented individuals certainly each get something out of it, but what about your company?

What about the talented individuals’ colleagues and stakeholder? What about your customers? What about the desired impact on the outside of the company?

The implementation of talent development (and all other development activities for that matter) must be justified by impact that go beyond the individuals it involves. It should have a positive effect on the company, the problems the company is there to solve as well as more people than the talented individuals who are typically the main target group.

Where do you begin?

It is always a good beginning to define what good looks like during and after a talent initiative. Not related to activities or methodologies but instead focusing on impact. Take the following steps when you lay out the foundation for talent development in the organisation:

What does good look like?

  • What is the reason we believe talent development is at all relevant for us and why?
  • What problem(s) are we trying to solve with talent development?
  • What impact are we aiming for related to an organizational level, a people level and an individual level?
  • What does our purpose and strategy as a company tell us about what really matters?
  • How should our purpose and strategy guide our talent development?

What needs to be true?

  • Looking at our purpose, strategy and desired impact related to talent development – what must be in place to realize this?
  • How would we describe our current leadership culture and talent development practice, and how should that influence our talent development?
  • How would we describe our current development culture in the organisation?
  • What capabilitities are most important to focus on, so that the desired impact is realized?

What choices do we make?

  • What talent development choices do we make to deliver on the ambitions expressed above?
  • What do we choose not to do and why?
  • Looking at our purpose and strategy – how should we define talent in our company?
  • What talent philosophy and core principles should be the foundation for any talent activity we do going forward?
  • How do we choose to balance our focus between developing individuals, developing teams and culture and developing the company impact?
  • What activities and methodologies should be applied to deliver on all choices above?
  • What are our current in-house capabilities to deliver the talent development as we need?
  • How do we test our assumptions and plan for we get started?

It can certainly pay off to spend time on creating the right foundation before embarking on the more specific planning of your talent development efforts. First of all, it means having the courage to challenge the diagnosis that has already been made, where talent development is thought of as the answer, because it can easily be that there is a need for something else. Therefore, look into the background of why talent development has ended up being the answer and what has led to it.

Next, it can be worthwhile to take an honest look at the current leadership and development culture that is prevalent in the company, as it will be crucial when the talent development effort has to succeed in practice.

  • Do we have leaders who can focus on daily operation and develop at the same time?
  • Do we have a culture of giving space to our employees, even when it goes beyond their organisationally defined role and mandate?
  • Do we have a mindset and a culture to bring out the absolute best in our people?
  • Are we able to have a focus on the present at the future at the same time?

The answers to these questions says something about how you can benefit from starting your effort, what you should not do right now but maybe later and where starting up talent development can achieve the greatest effect.


What does your purpose and strategy tell you about what talent development you need?

Talent development is not about the talent at first

There is a common pitfall in focusing on talent first, because strategic talent development doesn’t start with talented people. It starts with the company’s purpose and strategic objectives, since only very few companies are here to do talent development. You shouldn’t discuss the specific talent development before a very clear business-based foundation is established.

Your talent definition will change over time

As mentioned, the definition of talent is based on company aspirations, and each employee’s potential must be assessed in relation to what is strategically relevant and useful. Because the strategic choices will change over time, the way a company defines talent must also be revisited accordingly. Talent is not static and should always be seen through the lens of what is defined as useful in a company.

It takes talent to develop talent

Regardless of the foundation you lay out in your initial planning, all companies must consider the current leader’s willingness and abilities to develop talent. It is very difficult to see a successful talent initiative without excellent leadership applied.

Start by assessing individual leaders when you select talented people. Use the same structured approach when assessing talented people’s potential to also assess leaders’ potential to develop talent, since cooperation between leaders and talented people is very important for how far you can go with talent development. Leaders must put their leadership skills, commitment and aspiration into play in order to develop themselves, others and the company. If that happens the talent development itself will improve significantly.

Afterwards, make sure that leaders feel prepared and are able to master the elements associated with good talent leadership in your company. Put your leadership foundation, talent philosophy and core principles into play through talent development, so that every leader knows what matters and how they should lead. This is where all the words can turn into actions. Put the task of talent development together with the development that leaders are already focused on so that they incorporate their existing development focus into the talent leadership role and not as two separate things. One of the most satisfying things as a leader is when the development of the company coincides with the development of your employees. It can raise the job of leaders to a new level that reaches beyond oneself and leaves a significant mark on their surroundings. This happens, among other times, when you as a leader see the potential in your people that they haven’t yet discovered.

Talent development is always guided by the end game of the company

When talent development is rooted in what the company is here to do, then opportunities are created that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred. Talent development is not the core of what the company is here to do, but it can be an essential requirement for the desired impact to happen. For that to be true, talent development has to pass the test that no matter how well conceived or how good the methods we use are, reality will always win. We must implement talent development that both fits the current company reality and contribute to creating the reality that you want to be in going forward.

When you succeed in this, the boundaries of the individual and collective capabilities are moved, and thus the company’s impact. It transcends the current reality of what is possible and can open the doors to a new level of performance and commitment, in the same way it can exceed expectations about what you are actually able to realize.

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