Talent Development: 7 Steps to Develop Top Talent

Your business is ultimately successful—or not—because of your employees. Retaining your top employees lets you to come up with innovative ideas. It also helps you maintain a more positive company culture and achieve your goals. Talent development is one of the best ways to make sure your best employees stick around.

With talent development training, you can create a highly skilled workforce while reducing stagnation. Resignations stifle innovation and come with steep hiring costs and decreased morale. 

Plus, employees want training. Over 75% of the employees polled in one survey stated that they are looking for opportunities to expand their careers. Many say they would stay at a company longer if that company invested in their learning and development.

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So what does talent development in HR look like? What’s the difference between talent development vs talent management? What steps can you take to start developing skills among your most talented employees?

This article will answer those questions and provide you with talent development tools. We’ll also share talent development examples that will help you cultivate your employees’ talents.

What Is Talent Development?

Talent development focuses on learning that aligns employee development with organizational performance. It creates systems that motivate and engage employees in ways that are aligned with their professional goals.

It’s important to focus on employee goals and organizational goals. Helping your top employees reach their individual professional goals is a great retention strategy. Employees who feel supported to achieve their own learning and development goals less likely to leave for another company.

Talent development can include training. It should also include goal setting, alternative learning experiences, and more, which we'll talk about later on in this article.

What’s the Difference Between Employee Development and Talent Development?

Employee development and talent development are terms that can be used interchangeably because they mean the same thing. The only difference is whether you’re referring to your workforce as employees or talent.

There is a difference between talent development vs talent management that’s important to understand. While talent development includes all of the strategies that are used to actively support the development of talent, talent management involves the process of managing existing talent to meet organizational needs. It's about getting the right talent in the right positions, while talent development is about supporting employees to learn and grow once they’re in those positions.

It’s not about whether one is better than the other. Instead, it’s about doing both so you hire the right people for the right jobs and support them to learn and grow with your company.

What Are the Benefits of Talent Development?

Talent development isn’t easy. It takes time and resources to run an effective talent development training program. It’s well worth the effort because it comes with some serious benefits:

  • Increased employee retention
  • Promote from within
  • Attracting future employees
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Increased sense of purpose
  • Reduce skill gaps
  • Future-proof your organization 

Increased employee retention

One of the most convincing talent development examples involves employee retention because it can be costly to lose your best employees. Replacing employees can cost anywhere between one and two times their annual salary, with an increase in both time and money spent on recruitment and training, while customer service, employee morale, and productivity take a huge hit.

A whopping 63% of employees who quit a job in 2021 cited the fact that there were no advancement opportunities as the reason why they quit, with some quitting because they didn’t feel challenged or inspired. A talent development program can take care of all of these issues so employees want to stick around.

Promote from within

Hiring new employees is costly, but how much it ultimately costs depends on their role. Technical positions can be especially costly, while C-suite positions can end up costing even more than twice that position's annual salary.

If you have an effective talent development program, you can essentially train your best and brightest employees to take over these roles. Not only are they more likely to be effective because you’ve groomed them for the position, but you’ll save time and money too. You may still have to hire for an entry-level role, but that’s a lot less costly in both time and money compared to hiring for a higher-level role within your company.

Attracting future employees

When you do hire for those lower-level roles, you’ll find that you’ll attract higher-quality candidates when you have a talent development program.

When looking for a job, 58% of job seekers are looking for opportunities to do whatever it is they do best. They want to find their work stimulating and fulfilling. If you can demonstrate that your company has a talent development program that will enable them to build on their skills, evolve in their role, and potentially transition into other roles with increased income and benefits, your company will attract better-fit candidates.

Increased employee engagement

Employee engagement has a huge impact on your company’s bottom line. Companies that have the highest levels of engagement also happen to be 21% more profitable than their less-engaged competitors.

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Talent development is a great way to increase engagement because it focuses on the individual. It identifies individual strengths so that personalized development plans can be created, outlining clear career pathways and highlighting advancement opportunities that will encourage them to continue engaging with their work in deep, meaningful ways.

Increased sense of purpose

Employees are increasingly searching for a sense of purpose at work, with 70% of employees in one survey saying that their sense of purpose is defined by what they do professionally.

Most employees aren’t going to feel that sense of purpose by showing up and doing the same thing every single day for years on end. They want to feel like they’re learning and evolving right along with your company. You can give them the feeling of growth and purpose they’re seeking with a talent development program.

Reduce skill gaps 

There's no such thing as a perfect-fit employee. There is always likely to be a little bit of a gap between the skills that are needed for a particular role and the actual skills the employee has. That’s especially true if you’re focusing your hiring efforts on personality and cultural fit more than skill set.

You can shrink the gap between the skills your employees have and the skills they need with talent development training. Not only will they develop the skills their role requires, but you can personalize the training your employees receive, ultimately molding them into the perfect fit for their position, boosting confidence, and encouraging risk-taking along the way.

Future-proof your organization 

Things in the business world are changing faster than ever. A company in 1964 would stay on the S&P 500 for an average of 33 years. By the year 2027, that number is forecasted to shrink to just 12 years.

To increase your chances of being ready for the future, you have to run a system of talent development. When done the right way, you can anticipate the changes your business needs to make to keep up with the ever-evolving global economy. Then, you can deploy the appropriate training and development opportunities to make sure your company aligns with the times.

What Are the Risks of Not Focusing on Talent Development?

It’s true that in the short run, it’s a lot easier to let talent development fall by the wayside in favor of just buckling down and getting the work done. After all, training and other talent development activities take your employees away from their regular workload. Although it may save you a little bit of time and money upfront, it will end up costing you big time in these ways:

  • Increased employee turnover
  • Reduced employee engagement
  • Lower employee trust
  • Decreased productivity
  • Company-wide stagnation

Increased employee turnover

Employees who feel like they are stagnating in their roles won’t waste any time searching for another job that will provide them with the stimulation, sense of purpose, and pride they are looking for at work. Even if finding a new job elsewhere starts as a daydream, eventually it will become a reality when they find a role at another company they think is a better fit.

With a talent development program, you can better align employee talents with their roles while allowing them to learn and contribute in new ways, which means they’re less likely to go somewhere else.

Reduced employee engagement

Employee engagement has reached its lowest level since 2015, with an average of 18% of workers actively disengaged. And the more your workplace fails to meet the needs of your employees through learning and development, the more disengaged they will become.

Talent development takes individual wants and needs into account. It allows HR, managers, and employees to create a unique development plan that helps employees tackle the professional goals that matter to them, making it a great way to fight back against low engagement.

Lower employee trust

Trust is extremely important in the workplace, as trusting employees are 260% more motivated to work and are 50% less likely to look for another job. But if employees have doubts about the organization's commitment to support its employees' growth, or if they don't feel like they can rely on managers and HR to help them achieve their goals, trust is eroded, employees don’t feel valued, and they aren’t going to be engaged.

Having a talent development program can help build trust. It gives employees, managers, and HR the ability to align expectations and goals while giving everyone a chance to have meaningful conversations that lead to greater feelings of trust.

Decreased productivity

Talent development training can increase productivity, but not focusing on training doesn’t just bring employee productivity down to baseline levels. It can decrease productivity. When employees aren’t motivated to do their best work, the entire organization suffers, and you could ultimately end up shutting your doors for good.

Engaged employees are productive, and one of the best ways to engage them is to help them learn and grow on the job with a well-defined talent development program.

Company-wide stagnation

Stagnation happens when a business stops growing and evolving. It is also usually accompanied by a lack of excitement and motivation among employees. We all need the opportunity to face new challenges and engage in growth opportunities, otherwise we get stuck in a rut. And that can be very bad for business, especially if the entire organization as a whole feels stagnant.

Talent development is a great way to shake things up. As employees learn new skills, they are likely to come up with new ideas that can propel the organization to new heights.

Seven Steps to Develop Top Talent

Now that you understand what’s at stake, you might be wondering how to create a talent development training program or which talent development tools you might need to be successful.

Here are the seven steps to creating a successful talent development program at your organization:

  • Decide on your company’s vision
  • Use goal-setting to align employee growth and company development
  • Provide upskilling and reskilling training
  • Start mentorship programs
  • Provide experiential opportunities
  • Offer continuous education opportunities
  • Solicit feedback

Decide on your company’s vision

Talent development indeed focuses on learning and development at the individual level, but for it to be truly successful, you also have to think about the organization as a whole. Goals for learning and development must be aligned according to the overarching vision you have for your business.

Take the time to develop a five-year plan so you can break down the steps it takes for you and your workforce to achieve your goals. Create a clear and compelling BHAG—Big Hairy Audacious Goal—that everyone at the company knows and is inspired to reach. Or dive into your mission and values so you can figure out which learning and development programs best align with your vision. Then you can use a talent development program to make your vision a reality.

Use goal-setting to align employee growth and company development

Having a clear goal-setting strategy is the best way to make sure you're able to align employee goals with corporate objectives. One of the best ways to do that is to create cascading goals.

Cascading goals are a set of goals that start at the organizational level before getting broken down into departmental goals, team goals, and individual goals. It’s the best way to get the full picture of exactly how each individual and department will contribute to reaching larger company-wide goals.

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This strategy should include personal development goals as well. Reaching personal development goals provides employees with a sense of fulfillment, but setting and achieving personal goals can also contribute to greater organizational success.

Talent development training

Talent development training is arguably the most obvious aspect of talent development, but only by getting into the details can you make sure your strategies are effective.

Your strategies should always look toward the future. That might mean providing upskill training so employees can learn new skills that enable them to do their jobs even better. Or it could mean reskill training that enables them to learn what they need to know to transition into a different role within the company.

It should also include organization-wide training. You can offer insights and skills training that enable everyone to get on the same page, in addition to teaching strategies that enable workers to compete more aggressively with the competition.

Start mentorship programs 

HR is uniquely positioned to provide support in the area of talent development, especially when it comes to running mentorship programs.

Talent development in HR should include developing a formal mentorship program that enables junior employees to learn from those who know the ropes. Being mentored by a more senior member of the team is a great way to build trust, and it’s a great way for employees to brainstorm how best to contribute where they are, as well as where they might want to go.

A formal mentorship program also enables HR to help junior members of the team get more management experience by matching them up with the right mentors. That way, when the time comes to hire for those higher-level positions, there’s already a trusted and skilled employee who can step into the role.

Provide experiential opportunities

Employees need to be able to apply what they have learned, and when they do, you want them to hit the ground running. Stretch goals are a great way to do that.

Stretch goals are meant to be ambitious. Instead of creating incremental goals to improve by ten percent, try a stretch goal that focuses on improving something by ten times. It’s kind of like that adage that says if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land among the stars. Although, indeed, you might not completely accomplish the goal you were reaching, you will ultimately make greater strides than if you created and achieved smaller goals instead.

The trick is to create an atmosphere of trust where risk-taking is not only allowed—it’s encouraged. That way, when employees get the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned, they don’t play it safe.

Offer continuous education opportunities 

Clear goals that directly impact the company’s bottom line are important, but you never know exactly how a new piece of knowledge could impact your business in a big way. That’s why it’s important to offer continuous education opportunities as part of your talent development program.

Continuing education opportunities include things like seminars, retreats, conferences, and anything else an employee can do to increase their knowledge. The topics don’t have to coincide with their current role or any future roles either. For example, a seminar on gratitude could help an employee experience greater feelings of purpose on the job, while a breathwork retreat could help employees manage stress better, which in turn has the potential to make them more productive at work.

Solicit feedback 

Feedback is a sometimes overlooked aspect of a talent development program, but it is extremely important because it’s one of the best ways to determine whether your strategy is effective or not.

Employee engagement surveys are a great way to learn directly from the employees themselves about whether they feel the current talent development program is helpful or not. They can provide you with advice on how to make it better, and they can share which aspects of the program they’re most excited about so you can lean into what’s working.

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Surveys don't have to be long and complicated either. A pulse survey can include just a few key questions that are sent out regularly as a way to gather real-time feedback about how the talent development program is working.

Conclusion: Talent Development Is Critical for Your Company’s Future

Not only is talent development something you should be thinking about, but it is also something that you should actively nurture if you want to experience organization-wide success. When mindfully developed, a talent development program can increase productivity, create a greater sense of purpose, increase retention, and future-proof your organization.

Talent development tools, like PerformYard’s performance management software, can help you get there. With the ability to create cascading goals, deploy employee feedback surveys, and manage both company-wide and individual goals over the long run, it can help guide talent development decisions that will positively impact the success of your business, both now and in the future.