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Talent Development Strategies to Boost Employee Experience and Retention

Apply mentorship, upskilling, reskilling,and training to attract and retain high value employees.

Rana Bano
HR Tech and Business Journalist
October 27, 2022
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Amidst the Great Resignation, it’s clear employees have the upper hand in the employer-employee relationship. With remote and hybrid work becoming increasingly popular, workers are no longer constrained by geographical boundaries to find fulfilling professional opportunities. As a result, many workers refuse to settle for bad pay and dead-end jobs.

And why would they? It’s an employee’s labor market. According to 2022 employment statistics, there are more than 1.5 unfilled positions for every unemployed person in the U.S. This is despite hiring freezes and layoffs reported around the same time

Employees stay where they see value. This includes value they bring to the company, and value their time with an employer adds to their overall career growth. Naturally then, talent development plays a major role when high-performing workers decide where to work, and how long they’ll stay.

Talent development gives employees access to career and skills development. It also helps your organization thrive by building a highly skilled employee base and eliminating skill gaps to grow the bottom line.

In this guide, we’ll cover key talent development strategies that help you make the most of talent right under your nose—your employees—instead of recruiting new talent.

In This Article

Employee doing online training for talent development

What Is Talent Development, and Why Should You Care About It?

Talent development is the subset of talent management that involves building upon your current employees’ strengths and capabilities and identifying opportunities to facilitate organizational growth.

Talent development offers overlapping benefits for your recruitment and succession planning strategy. Harnessing an individual's potential to further company goals and outcomes becomes a strategic move towards keeping their legacy insight in the company. Offering an environment where their skills and expertise are honed also boosts employee engagement.

Here’s how:

  • Employees get the chance to learn and expand in their areas of interest. Having targeted talent development programs builds a pool of trained workers to fill in key roles when other employees or leaders are promoted or step down.
  • According to McKinsey, an overly transactional workplace and lack of growth opportunities are key drivers of employee turnover. When you offer employees the opportunity to take on new roles and responsibilities, it promotes employee engagement and retention. This also facilitates a healthier bottom line as the cost of replacing an employee usually amounts to nearly half of their annual salary.
  • Talent development also serves as a powerful recruitment tool, with 90% of job applicants stating they’re likely to apply at companies offering additional growth and employee training opportunities.

What Is a Talent Development Strategy? 

A talent development strategy is an adaptable system of nurturing your company’s human assets. This is achieved through continuous efforts of identifying, training, and advancing suitable employees to achieve organizational goals while helping them advance in their careers.

It also involves analyzing and measuring progress at each step when implementing the strategy to ensure you’re investing your efforts in the right workers to help your business succeed.

The best talent development strategies generally meet the following criteria:

  • It aligns with your overall strategic goals: What you want to achieve through talent development should align with your overall plan for organizational growth. For example, if you plan to promote an individual next year, you can offer employees training to learn the ropes of the individual’s current job.
  • Your strategy is agile: Your talent development strategy should adjust to the current business landscape, the labor market, and your current and future business priorities.
  • It is skills and competency-based: Your talent development strategy should focus on the skills your employees possess and the skills your company needs instead of the jobs they have.
  • Your strategy is performance-based: Your strategy should analyze individual and team performance to identify gaps in, or barriers to achieving goals. Once these success barriers are identified, you can offer the development of the necessary skills to overcome them.
  • Talent development trajectories are individualized: Your strategy understands every employee is unique with different needs, strengths, weaknesses, and future goals. For instance, how you interact with and develop workers in the IT department will be different from the sales team.
  • Your implementations and success are evidence-based: Your strategy should include industry best practices and benchmarking metrics wherever possible.

It’s important to note that a talent development strategy doesn’t occur in a vacuum. If you want your training program to work, you need to ensure it's well-planned and properly executed.

Talent development can take various forms, each working in its own unique way to improve employee engagement, performance, and retention. Here are two recommendations we think work best to foster growth and promote skill development:

Internal Mentoring

Structured internal mentoring is an excellent talent development strategy to drive skill-building and collaboration simultaneously. When you introduce a mentoring program, your employees come under the guidance of knowledgeable professionals within your company who care about their mentees’ career progress.

Talent development quote

With the right approach, you can unlock many benefits that impact everything from revenue growth to employee engagement. In fact, the main reason why mentorship works is that mentors share their direct experience and best practices directly relevant to the job.

“Instead of theoretical knowledge, mentors pass along real-world knowledge that has already been proven to work in the workplace. Also, learning from a peer allows the mentee to ask questions, which they are unable to do when taking an online training course,” explains Logan Mallory, VP at Motivosity.

This on-the-job training setup makes it more likely for employees to learn more about the inner workings of the company — the intricacies that aren’t usually spelled out in an organizational chart, procedures, or policies.

Older employee mentoring younger staff

Implementing an internal mentoring program within your organization is extremely doable. Here are a few ways mentors can help enhance the skills and capabilities of mentees:

Sharing Experiences

Mentors have to be comfortable talking about their failures, successes, missteps, and mistakes to provide mentees with valuable insights and knowledge into their jobs. This insight helps the mentee understand expected outcomes, and what to do instead to get better results.

Witnessing Hard Decisions

The ability to have difficult discussions and reach a productive compromise comes with experience. Have junior mentees sit in on difficult meetings to witness how decision-makers reach difficult conclusions and make the harder calls. Seeing this firsthand offers insight no business school or online course can provide. 

On-the-job Negotiations

Negotiation is an art where the negotiator tries to create a “win-win“ solution for everyone involved. It requires tact and the ability to build a trusting relationship, both of which are important skills that cannot be taught through theoretical training alone. Allow mentees to observe the mentor when negotiating to build these skills.

Insights into the Organizational Structure

Every organization is complex and unique in its own way, making it difficult for new staff members to grasp your company’s big-picture goal. Internal mentorship will help them understand how your organization works by imparting mentees with institutional knowledge about its structure, history, hierarchy, and related operations.

Of course, the above are just a few suggestions, and you can always get more creative when it comes to mentoring.

Group mentoring programs for organizational development.

Experiment with different types of mentoring to help employees build on their skills, including:

  • 1:1 mentoring programs: Match mentors with colleagues looking to gain experience either on their own or through a program following a predetermined structure and time frame.
  • Group mentoring programs: Match a single mentor with a cohort of mentees, creating a structured program that provides each mentee with individualized guidance.
  • Reverse mentoring programs: Have a junior employee exchange knowledge, skills, and technical know-how with a senior colleague looking to develop capabilities in fields the junior employee has more experience or knowledge about.

A Real-life Mentorship Program Example: General Electric

General Electric popularized reverse mentoring 20 years ago. Former CEO Jack Welch famously paired 500 of his top executives with junior associates to help them understand how to use the internet and brush up on their technology skills.

You can also adopt this approach to make your senior employees more tech-savvy and attract and keep younger employees. “Reverse mentoring allows the younger employee to learn how to teach and coach, making them feel like they are a valued part of the team,” adds Logan Mallory.

Upskilling, Reskilling, and Training

The labor shortage of 2021 has carried into 2022. This has made filling positions, especially high-skilled jobs, even more challenging. Finding and hiring the right candidate and then training them has become an excruciatingly long process, slowing down your company’s growth.

But if you take the initiative to upskill or reskill a talented current employee, your organization will stay agile and fully staffed, as well as outperform your competitors. In addition, an employee will be incentivized to stay if they see real potential for promotion — a scenario that isn’t apparent when organization growth happens over them instead of under them.

Upskilling and reskilling are both proven training initiatives that fuel and sustain your organization’s growth, but they are not the same.

What is Upskilling?

Upskilling is a learning and development process that involves teaching existing employees new skills to better perform their current jobs. Note that your focus here isn’t to change the employee’s job function, but give them valuable knowledge to perform their current duties more effectively.

“Upskilling helps employees keep up with the latest changes in their field and provides them with the opportunity to develop new skills that can be applied to their current roles,” explains Harriet Chan, the co-founder and marketing director at CocoFinder. Therefore, it helps retain top talent in your organization and prevents their skills from becoming obsolete.

You can use this talent development strategy to close skill gaps and improve job performance, helping your organization thrive in the long run. Chan also adds that, when employees feel like they are constantly learning and developing, they are more likely to be engaged and loyal to their organization.

A few methods you can implement to upskill your workers are on-the-job training, simulation-based training (where employees perform a task in a simulated learning environment for a real-life learning experience), and microlearning (targeted, modular training simulations that take less than 30 minutes to complete).

What is Reskilling?

Reskilling is the process of helping new employees learn an entirely new set of skills to prepare them to take on a new role within your company.

As your organization changes, its priorities and goals also change. This often results in talent and skill gaps, which leaves you with two options: Either hire an outside candidate or reskill a current employee to close the gap.

While outsourcing and hiring a new employee is in no way a bad alternative, your new hire won’t have the valuable institutional knowledge your existing employees already do. Your current workers know your company’s business processes and already have existing relationships with other workers, which ultimately makes their transition to the new role significantly smoother and easier.

Simulation-based training works particularly well to reskill employees. These methods help your employees learn new skills in a real-world environment without the danger of impacting real-world client work and relationships.

Quote about talent development and employee engagement

Upskilling and Reskilling Strategies to Try

Now that you have a clear understanding of upskilling and reskilling, here are some tips to build on your employees’ skill sets:

  • Create personalized skills development paths. Work with individuals within your organization to identify skills they need and build personalized learning and development paths to plan their professional development. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will give equal value.
  • Ensure easy access to knowledge. Use learning solution apps or a learning management system to provide employees with easy access to digital knowledge. You can also offer them the chance to create customized learning plans and collaborate and share innovative solutions with other team members to grow their skill sets.
  • Learning and career development control. Let employees take control of their learning and career development. Leverage popular learning platforms to offer them a blend of classroom and digital learning experiences. You can also use content from internal and external subject matter experts.

Once you decide to upskill or reskill your workforce, don’t try to dive in headfirst. Instead, do a skills gap analysis to identify weaknesses in your workforce and then build a program according to those talent and skill gaps.

A Real-life Upskilling, Reskilling, and Training Example: AT&T

Upon finding that only half of its employees had the STEM skills it needs to meet its future goals, AT&T realized it had to take urgent measures to remedy this.

Instead of going all out and hiring new software and engineering people (which would also be too expensive), the company focused on reskilling its existing workforce, making them more competent in the technology and skills required to take the business forward. AT&T collaborated with online education platforms to offer employees online learning opportunities in data science, cybersecurity, Agile project management, and computer science. This included personalized learning experiences through a career portal that lets employees identify and learn skills they are missing.

This helped the company save millions of dollars while building a stronger, more skilled workforce that is prepared for the future. According to Bill Blase, the senior executive vice president of human resources at AT&T, “When you have engaged employees, that leads to satisfied customers and increased profits for the company. Having a mantra of continuous learning is all part of that equation.”

3 HR Tech Tools That Help with Talent Development

Your ideal HR Tech stack for talent development includes a solution in each of the following categories

A Learning Management System

A learning management system (LMS) will allow your business to train new and existing employees on a variety of topics and skills. These tools offer customizability in the learning journey. Depending on the solution you choose, you’ll have access to existing courses, resources, and soft-skills training, as well as the functionality to create your own learning material.

Learning management system

To really reap the benefits of e-learning, you can plot the trajectories on your LMS according to an individual’s talent development plan and career goals. We’ve looked at best-in-class learning management solutions and summarized our top picks for you.

A Performance Management System

Plotting an employee’s individual goals against the organizational growth strategy is highly achievable in a performance management tool. These systems supercharge employee performance through mentor 1:1s, OKRs, and goal management - all of which are best practices for effective talent development.

PerformYard’s performance management system

Take a look at our list of top performance management systems to choose one that is right for your team.

Organizational Chart Software

These software tools help you and your workforce visualize the structure of your organization. By creating this visual representation of the positions an individual could hold in the present scenario, and as the organization expands, you can map out a clear career trajectory. This in turn functions as a highly effective motivational tool.

ChartHop’s organizational chart software

For a list of effective tools, consult our organizational chart software buyer guide.

Why Talent Development Matters to Employee Experience

Today, employees don’t want to be reduced to your company’s “capital.“ They want a bigger buy-in, to become their best version, and a part of something substantial. And the easiest way to achieve this is working in a place that helps them grow and learn, which is where talent development comes into the picture.

Talent development is about investing in talent you already have at your company, to make them feel cared about and nurture them in their current environment. Along with better work and pay, it helps you deliver an optimal employee experience. Here’s how:

Talent Development Creates a Sense of Cohesion

Employees often feel a disconnect with team members from different departments, especially if they work in different functional areas.

By launching a talent development program, you give employees a clear path to growth within the company, along with mentorship opportunities from senior executives that offer greater exposure to other functional areas within the company. This enables the mentees to get a better understanding of your organization’s “big picture” and how its current functions fit into its vision for the future.

Clear Career Growth Boosts Morale

Employees don’t want to work a dead-end job. They want to feel challenged, fulfilled, and appreciated, which is exactly what talent management strategies can help with.

Applying the right talent development strategies gives employees the opportunity to discover areas of interest they have an aptitude in, but where they haven’t had the opportunity to shine. Showing them that they are a part of a company that offers unlimited potential for personal growth will also make them stay in the long run.

Woman taking online course for career development

More Growth Opportunities Attract Top Talent

It’s no secret employees value professional and personal growth opportunities. In fact, 86% of professionals say they will change jobs if another company offers them more opportunities for professional development.

Personalized talent development strategies like mentoring, formal training, and solid career goals are excellent for your employer brand. Once hired, these opportunities get employees more engaged in their work, their professional relationships, and their career growth. Ultimately then, your career development strategy, if executed well will boost retention, and your eNPS score.

To Sum Up

Implementing the right talent development strategy will help to build a strong workforce of highly skilled and knowledgeable employees. Improved engagement levels and better retention rates that lead to greater profitability and reduce the burden on recruitment are other significant benefits.

But investing in your employees’ professional growth is more than achieving strategic business goals. It also helps you win your employees’ trust, which is key to achieving long-term organizational growth and sustainability.

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Rana Bano

Rana has been creating expert HR Tech content for SelectSoftware Reviews and other publications for over five years. She uses her platform to help business leaders pick the appropriate tools and apply the right strategies to grow their businesses. When she isn't writing, you'll find her binge-watching or binge-reading.

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