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Ask a Trainer: Proving the Value of Talent Development in a Down Economy

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Hey Tim,

I’ve been working in talent development since I graduated from college five years ago. During that time, the economy has been strong and my employer has really prioritized talent development. They saw talent development as a strategic initiative to help with employee engagement and retention, which was important to them in a low-unemployment economy.

The last few weeks have not been great for the economy, of course, and it feels like we might be entering an economic downturn. My organization hasn’t said anything yet about reducing their commitment to talent development, but some of my colleagues who were in the workforce during the Great Recession are very concerned. They say that talent development programs tend to get cut when the economy is struggling. How can I prove my value—and the value of talent development—if the economy goes south?

First, let me applaud you for asking this question and attempting to be proactive. Like you, I’ve been thinking about the economy and what steps I’ll need to take to insulate myself. And as you mentioned, when the economy takes a turn for the worst, it’s often the talent development and learning programs that take the first hit.

While it’s totally natural for you all of us to feel anxious about the economy, how we choose to react is most important. The truth is there’s little we can do to control the economy. Will there be layoffs within our industry in the future? Probably. However, the worst thing any of us can do is allow the anxiety to paralyze us and pretend it’s not happening.

So, what steps can we take to prove the value of our work and the value of talent development? Here are a few of my thoughts.

Focus on Learning That Actually Moves the Needle

The first and perhaps most important step to proving the value of your work and what you do is to focus on those initiatives and projects that move the needle. While this can be challenging, as much of your work may directed by your stakeholders and those above you, you can help make a difference by conducting a thorough needs analysis to determine:

  • whether or not training is the answer to the performance issues you’re being asked to address
  • what training (and non-training) efforts will have the biggest effects on performance and the bottom line.

If you’re in a position to make recommendations, make sure they’re informed in a way that highlights the need (and your desire) to focus on results-driven efforts first. Rather than just show your value, this will help you deliver value back to your organization.


Measure, Measure, Measure

Along the lines of my previous tip, when it comes to proving your value, there’s no better way than showing some good old numbers. The best way to do this is to measure the results of your work. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, it’s always easy to dedicate the time to measure your work, but it’s essential when trying to quantify your value.

As you take a look at the various initiatives and projects you’re working (or have worked on), try to identify if there are any measurable KPIs (key performance indicators) or metrics that you can correlate it to. If so, see if you can tie back any improvements to your training efforts. You can also try running an A/B test to see what is and is not working with your programs.

Take Action on Your Results

My final tip is a reminder to not let yourself become paralyzed by anxiety. If you measure your work and discover your efforts aren’t moving the needle, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed for failure. It means you have an opportunity to act. And ideally, you’ll have the information necessary to make an informed change to the programs you’re running.

This might mean altering a course or program you’re currently running to focus it on those problems that will have a greater impact on the business. In other situations, it may mean retiring a program that isn’t delivering results, which can free you up to focus on more strategic initiatives.

I hope these tips help as you seek to find ways to prove your value. I’ll close this by saying that the tips I’ve shared are ones we should all be following all the time, not just when we’re facing an economic downturn. If we focus our talent development and learning effort on those programs that move the needle, and if we measure our work, and we act on the results, our work and value will speak for itself.


Best of luck!


Do you have some tips to share about proving the value of talent development? Share them by commenting below!

Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected]. Also, visit the Ask a Trainer hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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