Introduction – Starting a Talent Development Program


Have you just been asked to start a talent development effort in an organization? Perhaps the company that employs you offered you an opportunity to start a new department. Or maybe you are a consultant who has had success with employee development in the past, and one of your clients has asked you to provide support for a larger effort. Or perhaps you’ve been hired as the first employee of a new department or direction for an organization that has never had an employee development initiative.

Whatever the situation, you’ve come to the right place to get started. If you are responsible for or helping to start an organizational talent development program, this is a good place to begin your journey. What can you expect? This book provides answers to many of your questions, but possibly more important, it poses additional questions that only you and your organization can answer. Answering them as you begin is crucial to ensure success.

Why Is Starting an Organizational Talent Development Program Important?

Today’s organizations face challenges on multiple fronts. Many of you have heard of the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment in which organizations operate. Your organization faces many challenges related to the uncertainty of the future and the changes required to address them. The best organizations recognize that no single leader or employee can be an expert in everything. Organizations need all their employees to be the best that they can to:

• Stay ahead of the competition.

• Use global expansion as an advantage.

• Tap into advanced technology.

• Use data.

• Be competitive when attracting, retaining, and engaging talent.

• Ensure that employees are best prepared to spark innovation.

• Create an agile, capable workforce that is responsive to change.

• Build a competent workforce and fill a leadership pipeline.

• Enhance individual and team performance and productivity across the organization.

Every organization faces its own challenges, but ensuring that the workforce is skilled and knowledgeable about how to approach those challenges is a critical step to reaching success. Developing talent and starting an organizational talent development program is the best way to stay a step ahead of the competition and the challenges of the VUCA world.

What Does the Organization Need?

A 2017 research report, Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age: 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, shows the big-picture reason an organization needs to have a coordinated talent development strategy and focus on employees. The research was extensive, including data from more than 10,000 business and HR leaders in 140 countries. More than half of the top 10 trends related directly developing employees to create a high-performing workforce and talented leaders for a successful future. Here are the top six trends, with the percentage of respondents reporting “important” or “very important” (Schwartz et al. 2017):

• organization of the future (88 percent)

• careers and learning (83 percent)

• talent acquisition (81 percent)

• employee experience (79 percent)

• performance management (78 percent)

• leadership (78 percent).

Without going into any extensive detail, note that these six trends relate to learning in one form or another. Even the top trend addresses networks of teams that are knowledgeable and empowered to take action. Organizations are hoping to reorganize for speed, agility, and adaptability. Do your employees understand how to be agile and flexible when the need arises? Defining the organization of the future means that continuous learning is critical for business success—always on and always available.

How Can Learning Be Delivered?

The same Deloitte research shows that new methods are overtaking workplace talent development. For example, video and mobile comprise the majority of Internet traffic, at about 55 and 60 percent, respectively. Mobile phones are used by more than 60 percent of the world’s population, so it is natural to expect mobile to be a key learning delivery system (Hootsuite 2017). Thirty-five million people have enrolled in massive open online courses, or MOOCs, in the last four years, and 50 percent of learners use mobile for more than a third of their learning. Learning must be delivered faster. Software engineers report that they must redevelop skills every 12 to 18 months (Schwartz et al. 2017). Almost all professions echo a similar message.

When starting a talent development program, it’s critical for you to think speed, agility, and mobility. Learning is constant across the entire organization, and the role of the learning professional is changing rapidly. We need to be prepared to lead these changes and focus not only on content, but also how to curate the content and bring people together for learning. We need to help our leaders understand what is required and help our supervisors understand their important role in developing their employees.

What Do Employees Want?

All employees want to learn and develop their skills. Development has become key to retaining employees. Because Millennials make up a large portion of the workplace, a number of studies focus on how development relates to retaining this group. For example, Gallup research found that 87 percent of Millennials value development in a job (Adkins and Rigioni 2016). Yet the majority also say they are not receiving as much development and learning opportunities as they would like (Gallup 2016). Millennials want development to be easily accessible and available constantly. Whether employees want development or not and how it is presented to them, it is clear that developing talent is crucial for organizational growth.

About This Book

The chapters in this book first define what a talent development program is and then explain why it’s important, how to design one, how to implement one, how to determine the outcome, and finally what you can do to prepare for the next iteration and for the future. Each chapter ends with a list of thought-provoking questions, which serve to summarize the chapter’s content and guide topics of discussion that you and your organization should consider as you begin your talent development planning. You will also find job aids, templates, and checklists to support your effort. A list of additional resources is provided so that you can continue to address your specific needs.

Chapter 1: Getting Started: What Is Talent Development? This chapter offers an overview of the many facets that can be incorporated into your program and urges you to sort through all your options. Considering what is possible in your organization is as critical as knowing how and where to start. Crucial to your first steps is involvement throughout your organization: How do you rate the organization’s readiness? Who needs to know? Who needs to approve the effort? And who needs to support the effort? How do you prepare leadership? What role will supervisors play?

Equally critical is assessing the needs in your organization: What is lacking in your organization that a talent development program could address? What employee learning and performance gaps need filling? What policies, systems, structures, technology, and equipment are in place to support implementing a talent development program? The chapter offers ideas and recommendations that will help you answer these questions.

You may be thinking, “There are lots of questions that need answering,” and you are right; however, none is more important than the decision about how you tie training to the corporate strategy. You can’t wait until the end to determine success. You need to determine in advance what you will measure and how to evaluate it.

Chapter 2: Shaping the Future: Why Start a Talent Development Program? This chapter focuses on why starting a talent development program for your organization is critical, and presents reasons for you to consider starting your program sooner rather than later. It addresses the benefits to the organization and employees. Research and examples from several sources provide data to demonstrate the impact the effort can have on your organization’s goals and employee engagement. This chapter discusses how an organization with a learning culture supports a talent development program, and suggests what you can do early to ensure a successful impact for your organization. Staying current with the changes in the industry is also addressed.

Chapter 3: Designing Your Talent Development Program: How Do You Start? This chapter explores how you begin designing a talent development program for your organization. There are many things to consider as you begin your design, such as your organization’s rationale, what will be included, and identifying a business case. Tapping into what you learned in chapter 2, this chapter provides guidance for what needs to be in place prior to implementing a talent development effort. The most important lesson in this chapter is making sure your strategy matches your organization’s strategy. You’ll gain practical suggestions to ensure ease, clarity, good communication, budgeting, and other things important to your talent development program. The chapter is lengthy and comprehensive; however, that does not mean it incorporates everything that you need to consider for your organization. Pay attention to the needs assessment discussion and to the follow-up guidance about required mindsets.

Chapter 4: Implementing the Plan: How Do You Execute an Effective Talent Development Program? This chapter guides your implementation. You might consider this “how, part 2,” because it is an extension of the pre-implementation “how” in chapter 3. You will consider what works best in your organization, what implementation decisions you will make, and how to incorporate the effort into your organization’s current business practices. Of course, the meat of this chapter is the execution process. The chapter is long, but it still does not include everything you should consider.

Chapter 5: Transferring Learning and Evaluating Results: How Do You Demonstrate Success? This chapter takes you through a process to determine the level of success for implementing your talent development program. Can you demonstrate organizational success? Can you validate individual learner success? Can you determine whether the effort has improved employee engagement? Included are best practices and evaluation methods for the various ways employees learn and develop. The chapter also discusses the impact of talent development on learners and the organization.

Chapter 6: Planning Next Steps: Where Do You Go From Here? This chapter provides closure and includes topics that address the question, “Now what?” It includes recommendations for taking your organization to the next level and expanding your talent development program. The chapter also offers suggestions for how to stay ahead of the changes in the world, technology, your organization, and the talent development industry. Probably one of the greatest concerns is ensuring continued accountability for the effort—especially when the world continues to move faster and become more complex. How do you keep everyone in your organization focused on continuous learning?

How to Get the Most Out of This Book

This book sets you on the path to creating a talent development program for your organization. It is meant as a guide and overview for the topic, not an all-encompassing reference to deliver a detailed assessment, implementation, and evaluation plan. You’ll gain enough information to get started, as well as a few tools and tips to point you in the right direction. However, to be successful you’ll need to keep in mind the nuances of your organization and its needs. Because the book cannot cover every possible option, be sure to tap into the resources provided to take your exploration and deliberation to the next level.

Given the brevity of this book, paired with the comprehensive topic, we’ve had to assume your experience covers certain fundamentals:

• You have some background in the knowledge and jargon of talent development, such as instruction systems design, the ADDIE model, 70-20-10, andragogy, and adult learning principles, as well as some basic design elements, such as writing objectives and developing surveys.

• You understand strategy and talent development’s role in organizational success.

• You understand the concept of learning organizations and practices that sustain a learning organization.

• You have some history of the profession and ATD, and know how the association supports talent development.

• You understand how we, as a profession, evolved from training to training and development to learning to workplace learning and performance to employee development and now to talent development, as well as the nuances of each.

Icons Used in This Book

Throughout this book, you’ll find icons highlighting concepts and ideas introduced in the text.

Icon What It Means
Tips from professionals will make your job easier and give you ideas to help apply the techniques and approaches discussed.
Tools identify templates, checklists, worksheets, models, outlines, examples, illustrations, and other prototypes that can be a useful place to start.
Resources are the books, blogs, articles, or even people that you can access to add to the information you’ve gained already and take your learning deeper.


Adkins, A., and B. Rigoni. 2016. “Millennials Want Jobs to Be Development Opportunities.” Gallup Business Journal, June 30.

Gallup. 2016. “How Millennials Want to Work and Live.” Gallup News.

Hootsuite. 2017. “Digital in 2017 Global Overview.”

Schwartz, J., L. Collins, H. Stockton, D. Wagner, B. Walsh. 2017. Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age: 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends. Westlake, TX: Deloitte University Press.