By Wes Siegal
The opinions expressed are his own.
In too many organizations today, talent development programs are being cut. And it makes sense: hiring has literally ground to a halt as shown by today’s jobs numbers; cash is tight; and activities that are not perceived as adding direct value to customers and shareholders cannot be funded.
But managers who blindly decrease their investment in talent development are shooting themselves in the foot. They are gambling that their best people – who are also the most mobile – will choose to stay. More importantly they are missing the opportunity to use the development process itself to address critical organizational challenges and improve performance today.
Turning talent development into an engine for results requires a radical rethinking of how to develop people. Programs that take people away from the job and are built around assessment, coaching and training are not only financially unsustainable, they also don’t work. Everything we know about adult learning says that we learn the most when we are forced to tackle real life problems, not sit in a classroom or attend off-site workshops.
Organizations need to provide development programs that require their highest potential managers to deliver real results in critical areas: to solve persistent problems, reduce expenses, free up capacity, or generate revenue.
Here are a few examples:
At a global financial services company, “high potentials” helped local Asian managers grow product sales in recently acquired retail banks. In each country, they worked with these managers for 100 days to generate new revenue and find ways to sustain it. The high potentials then shared their learning with participants in other countries, generating a snowball effect that increased the value of acquisitions throughout the region.
A leading industrial manufacturing company realized hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and profit through a long-running program where teams of high potentials would identify opportunities, recruit senior management sponsors, and go after the benefits in rapid-cycle efforts. The teams accelerated or boosted product launches, drove growth, installed standard processes or reduced costs, all by choosing a focused opportunity and committing to realize measurable value in that area.
A major pharmaceutical company is deploying high potentials on initiatives that eliminate complexity from the way work is done. One team found ways to reduce requests from headquarters by 50 percent, freeing up time for customer contact. Another focused on eliminating unprofitable products from the portfolio. In the process, these managers are learning how to work across functions, accelerate decisions, and improve execution – developing the leadership behaviors that will be key to the company’s future success.
Development programs that put talent to work on real problems deliver measurable benefits that are far greater than their costs. They also produce tangible examples of what the company’s desired leadership competencies look like in practice. They expose talents to new functions and businesses, preparing participants to move into more challenging organizational roles. And they create networks and connections that last long beyond the term of a program.