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Training for operational excellence


Matthew Rowland outlines why a well-planned talent development strategy to develop an organisation's richest resource- its people – is crucial for overcoming organisational difficulties.
If there is a silver lining to the recession, it is that companies were forced to focus on the issues that really matter. While some thought this would herald a war on talent, this wasn't the case. Now that economic recovery is underway, businesses have begun investing heavily in long-term strategies to enhance talent and leadership skills.
Investment in human capital is a shrewd business move. Even when a world recession was starting to bite, training investment did not die the death that many expected. Talent – how to attract, retain and develop it – remains a top priority for many C level staff. A recent investigation by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) into whether the economic downturn had affected organisational talent management approaches and strategies, yielded some interesting results. The report, 'The war on talent? - Talent management under threat in uncertain times', interestingly suggests that talent management becomes more, not less, important in an economic downturn.
"Even when a world recession was starting to bite, training investment did not die the death that many expected. Talent – how to attract, retain and develop it – remains a top priority for many C level staff."
On the whole, organisations were found to be adopting a number of positive practices in response to the downturn. Research revealed that 55% of organisations are developing more talent in-house; 43% of organisations are still engaging in recruiting key talent, however, 35% of these are more likely to recruit in-house and there is a greater focus on the retention of existing employees.
Another key finding of the research showed that managers need greater support in spotting and developing talent and engaging and motivating employees in a downturn. Statistics show that while "51% feel that managers are equipped to some extent, only 6% suggest managers are equipped to a great extent and 13% feel they are not at all equipped".

Challenges and concerns for organisations

US based Bersin & Associates, a leading research and advisory services firm in enterprise learning, talent management, talent acquisition and strategic HR solutions, carried out research which revealed that businesses now face new worries regarding turnover and employee engagement. Interviews were conducted with a set of senior business and human resource leaders from a global database of more than 450,000 business HR and training professionals. The results indicated a focus on customer-facing roles, which has highlighted people priorities such as innovation, engagement and first-line leadership.
Their research further identified six key leadership and talent strategies for success: Empowering employees, building trust, enabling knowledge-sharing, encouraging reflection, demonstrating learning's value and formalising learning as a process. While they strongly recommend that these become key focus areas for talent strategies moving forward, there are common challenges that most organisations will recognise.

Implementing talent development systems

Paper-based reviews give an unreliable view of an organisation's talent and make searching for high achieving, internal candidates problematic. A good talent development system can help provide consistent reviews, which then matches skills and potential to internal opportunities. By definition, not everyone is 'above average' and by calibrating performance across organisations, reward systems and budgets can be better targeted.
Once high achievers are identified, the challenge becomes retaining and nurturing this talent. With no career path in place it is quite easy for an organisation to lose their best employees to competitors. Implementing a talent development system has a dual benefit; organisations avoid costly and lengthy recruitment routes, while employees become more loyal as their aspirations are recognised and nurtured within the organisation.
Effective succession planning plays an important role in successful talent development strategies, but sometimes an organisation's plan can be inconclusive, or, more worryingly, omitted completely. Radical changes in direction, whether the retirement of several senior executives or a lack of appropriate cover for specialist roles, can leave organisations in turmoil, particularly if repeated time and again. Building an internal talent pool to become natural, informed and skilled successors provides the path to evolution that is linked to business success rather than continual revolution.
"Incorporating the strategic elements of talent management with learning platforms helps companies manage their training and development."
Developing high performers with the right skills to match future organisational needs and goals becomes the final challenge for companies. Incorporating the strategic elements of talent management with learning platforms helps companies manage their training and development. Occasionally these are linked and we are now beginning to see full integration so that learning development and training is matched directly to desired role competencies and business objectives. The best talent development systems help companies deliver business goals today and secure the long term strategic control of the organisation's talent.

Supporting strategies

Undoubtedly the economic downturn has caused the business world to revaluate and take stock of internal strategies. However, research shows that organisations that implement or maintain their training and talent development commitments are more likely to reap positive returns. Bersin & Associates' Corporate Learning Factbook 2011 states: "Organisations increased their training offerings in 2010. The average number of training hours jumped 13% over 2009 metrics, to an average of 12.8 hours per learner [enabling] employees to enhance their skills and help their organisations meet their goals".
Talent development experts stress that the success of a company depends on the performance of its staff. Frequent communication about the realities of business performance and how individual contribution can make a difference is encouraged. Focus on engagement and retention of current employees should also be a priority. Managers too should be supported to engage, develop and retain employees, particularly in uncertain times through leadership development, coaching, mentoring and practical guidance from HR. Investing in talent development systems and implementing strategies is a crucial activity, and one which the most stable and innovative organisations rarely sacrifice.
Matthew Rowland is senior product manager for MindLeaders ThirdForce 

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