A Talent Development Cri de Coeur

“We need to demonstrate our value, before we’re asked to defend it.”

This statement has been my cri de coeur – my battle cry – for over a year, even before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we all work, learn and collaborate. In fact, I’ve said it so many times over the past several months that I’m nearing broken-record status and my team is probably really tired of hearing it – but as our work has shifted – across the entire Talent Development profession, not just my organization – this mantra has become more meaningful than ever.

Talent Development initiatives should clearly align to business goals, drivers, priorities and objectives. There needs to be a clear link between the work we contribute and the success of the organization. I’ve seen a lot of Talent Development teams “measure” the success of learning/talent initiatives through a mix of gut feelings and smile sheets, with a sprinkle of anecdotal evidence. Unfortunately, when these programs inevitably go under the microscope when the financial belt tightens, it’s really hard to defend that investment when “impact” consists of employees enjoying the snacks, being frustrated with the room temperature or, at best, claiming that they learned something…sans performance evidence.

I realize that I’m not saying anything new here, friends, and I certainly don’t mean to sound preachy. There are thousands of resources on this very topic (a few of my favorites are linked at the end of this post).

However, it’s crucial that we all get better (myself included!) at telling our story with data if we want to continue moving forward, both collectively as a profession and in the companies we support.

In a recent post, I shared that my goal for “phase(2.0)learning” (as I’m jokingly calling the blog these days) is, “that we, as Talent/Organizational Development leaders, practitioners and advocates, can ensure our voice is heard and our value is undeniable.”

This starts by asking ourselves why we do what we do:

WHAT do we contribute to the organization?

WHY does it matter?

WHO does it impact?

HOW does it add value?

Or, speaking the langugage of our leaders…how do we MAKE the company money, or how do we SAVE the company money?

Depending on your company, industry or workforce, your answers might be quite different than others, but possibly:

  • Reducing employee turnover
  • Increasing the number of internal promotions
  • Improving customer satisfaction scores
  • Meeting or exceeding sales/revenue goals
  • Reducing errors, accidents or policy infractions
  • Improving job performance and productivity
  • Increasing system, process or procedure adoption
  • Improving employee engagement or morale

At the day job, I’m currently waist-deep in the annual Training magazine Top 125 application process. This process takes months (the application is due in September) and is one of the most challenging projects I work on each year. This application requires that you analyze all aspects of training and employee development AND prove that it aligns to key business goals AND demonstrates results. While it is a beast of an application (last year’s application was 60 pages long), it is incredibly valuable to take this annual inventory of our work to ensure that it is meaningful, relevant and impactful. Placing on this list for the past several years is a big deal – it validates that we can demonstrate the value of what we do; it has been reviewed both quantitatively and qualitatively by a panel of proven industry experts.

And I’m not gonna lie…it’s pretty awesome to reflect on our Top 125 journey – our first ranking on the list was #113…then we jumped up to #56…and then up to #36…to this year, where we ranked #16!

(Seriously…how do we top that?! No pressure!)

Are you just getting started? Even without a grueling-yet-satisfying award application, you can still take stock of your Talent Development programs and initiatives and make sure they are well-aligned to your business. Try these strategies:

  • Review your organization’s business plan, strategic goals and priorities. Can you link training or development strategies to those priorities?
  • What are your company’s vision/mission/values? Are your offerings well-aligned?
  • How are new employees introduced to the company? Are they set up to be productive, engaged and successful?
  • How are managers and leaders coaching and communicating? What is the impact on the business, employee performance, engagement, retention or succession?
  • What are your customers saying? How are you incorporating the customer experience into your training efforts?

Or, take a look at the Training Top 125 application….even if you have no intention of submitting it. The application document alone is a deep-dive audit of your organization’s training/Talent Development investment…and the return on it.

Your turn: How are you demonstrating the value of Talent Development during these uncertain, unpredictable times?

Resources: Here are a few of my go-to resources for evaluation – these gems are always within my reach and covered in margin scribbles, highlights and sticky notes!

Performance-Focused Smile Sheets (Will Thallheimer)

Training on Trial (Jim and Wendy Kirkpatrick)

Measuring for Success: What CEOs Really Think About Learning Investments (Jack and Patti Phillips)

Center for Talent Reporting

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