In today’s knowledge economy, talent is not only critical, it’s also scarce. Although many executives say finding and retaining talent is a top priority, companies still struggle to fill skilled positions. Management should consider that an effective way to attract and retain talent is to create an environment where talented people can develop.
Talented people seek out opportunities to grow, and they will flock to organizations that provide ample opportunities to do so. Retention also becomes a non-issue; if people are developing more rapidly than they could anywhere else, why would they leave? If companies are truly serious about attracting, retaining, and developing high-quality talent, they need to view themselves as growth platforms for talent where people can develop themselves faster than they could elsewhere. This, in turn, can create a self-reinforcing cycle as talent creates more opportunities for growth.
To become a platform for talent development, companies should think holistically about the integration of physical and virtual environments as well as the management systems that help to motivate, measure, and develop talent. Many people assume talent development is only about training programs. Training programs are a good way to help people develop a specific skill or knowledge set, but as the pace of change increases, it can become increasingly difficult to predict what skills people will need, and the half-life of trainings may get shorter and shorter. No matter how effective training programs are, imagine the added benefit that comes from finding ways to help people learn faster every day in their work environments.
Growth opportunities should occur on the job where employees can learn from coworkers and associates. This on-the-job model of learning can enable people to continually acquire relevant skills and tacit knowledge in their domain. Letting employees work on projects that stretch their abilities can be risky, but it’s critical for growth. This is particularly true for top talent. The people who are the most skilled in their fields generally achieve that stature by doing things no one else has done before. By definition, this kind of top talent cannot be trained in the traditional sense. However, organizations can attract and foster top talent by providing relevant infrastructure and ample room for experimentation and growth.
Talent development is essential at all levels and in all domains of your organization. Too often, when executives talk about talent, they limit the discussion to executives or knowledge workers. But in a global economy characterized by increasing performance pressure in various domains, we cannot afford to be so restrictive in our discussion of talent development. To continue to build operational excellence, focus should be placed on designing work environments that help employees improve their performance on a daily basis.
And one final point. When executives think about talent development, they tend to restrict their focus to employees within the four walls of their own enterprise. But as Bill Joy famously observed, “No matter how many smart people you have within your organization, there are far more smart people outside your organization.” Using the increasing power of digital technology infrastructures, there are growing opportunities to connect with talented people outside our organizations—whether they are in the supply chain, distribution channels, or deeply savvy with the technologies and processes required to deliver more value to customers. Companies that can find ways to build relationships with this external talent in ways that help both their own employees and external talent to accelerate their development by working together can build significant competitive advantage relative to companies that remain narrowly focused on the talent within their organizations.
The need for self-improvement is deeply satisfying to people of many skill levels and positions, and becoming a platform for talent can help you attract and retain highly skilled people. Leaders who understand the importance of creating systems where employees at many levels have opportunities for growth may find that they have tapped into the fundamental human motivation for progress, and they may see significant progress in innovation, productivity, and efficiency.