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ATD Blog

COVID-19 Era Talent Development: From A to Z


So much change. Indeed, the changes that businesses have endured during the last year are too many to enumerate. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have altered how organizations operate, interact with customers, and collaborate with co-workers. To respond the accelerated pace of change, employees are finding new ways to work.

But what’s a talent development (TD) leader to do?

It’s the job of these professionals to make sure the workforce is prepared to meet evolving demands. Are you ready to recommend to your CEO or C-suite new directions for your organization’s talent development programs? How will you make the case for the skills, knowledge, and capabilities that your employees will need to gain a strategic and competitive advantage in a COVID-era business? Do you have all the facts required to move forward? What’s more, can you support your arguments with likely measurable results?

With insights from Ed Fitzelle and Anver Suleiman, partners with Luntz, Suleiman & Associates and consultants and M&A advisors to the training, education, and media industries, here’s a breakdown of several factors—from A to Z—that TD pros need to keep in mind as they respond to the evolving workplace. If they aren’t on your radar already, the rest of 2021 may be even more difficult than the last year has been.

AI and analytics

Artificial intelligence (AI) is defined as the ability of a machine to simulate human cognitive processes. In the world of talent development, this comes into play in everything from delivering personalized learning experiences, to simulations and gamification, to mining data to calculate ROI of learning program. Meanwhile, the ability to glean insights from analytics—by connecting data and AI—about things like employee performance, retention, engagement, and learning enables the talent development function to be leveraged as a strategic partner. In 2021 and beyond, you need to be able to analyze and interpret the results of data analyses to identify patterns, trends, and relationships among variables.


Many companies needed to adjust their budgets during the pandemic. Make sure your budgeting acumen is up-to-par so you can defend your spending. Likewise, don’t forget about amortization and depreciation. Have your previous investments in training, training programs, equipment, and sunk costs been fully depreciated or amortized? Is your CFO onboard for new investments? Are you ready to campaign for reinvestment in training as things return to full capacity?

Credentials and Certification

Do you know the difference between certificates, certification, micro-credentials, badging, and so on? How important are the different types of credentials for your employees, for your compliance needs, for your clients? For example, perhaps certifications paid for by the company can be used to enhance recruitment and retention. You need to have clear roadmap that company leaders can consult as they plan investments and requirements, and a clear path that guides employees through the credentialing process for their personal career growth.

DEI—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

From Me Too to Black Lives Matter to other social justice movements, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts have become top of mind for business leaders. The talent development function has a role to play in how organizations respond. Whether it’s to ensure diversity from a racial, ethnic, cultural, or an accessibility standpoint, the need to consider DE&I in what we do every day as learning professionals is becoming more important.

Evaluating Impact

How are you at measuring the effectiveness of your training programs? How are you demonstrating results to senior managers? You need to know qualitative and quantitative data collection methods, techniques, and tools (for example, observations, interviews, focus groups, surveys, and assessments) so you can measure the effectiveness and impact of your development programs. There’s no question that during times of uncertainty, you’re going to need to be able to demonstrate training’s ROI if you want management buy-in and approval.

Free, Free, Free!

There is so much content, and there are so many tools available free of charge. To make the most of free content, you job turns to curation. Also, it’s worth your time to do some research and find out what free and open-source tools you can use to support your employees learning efforts, including authoring tools, web conferencing, survey and polling, to name a few. To add even more value, make this listing available to your organization’s employees and managers, as some of the tools can perform double duty.

Generational Differences and Similarities

It’s a multigenerational workplace, and many generalities are made about each age bracket—whether that’s baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, or Generation Z. How well do you know each group, and what’s the implication for talent development? For instance, as boomers move out of the workforce, millennials are moving into management ranks. Do millennials have the training they need to step up? Gen X seems forgotten altogether, and how does that effect your success planning and leadership development efforts? Or do generational differences affect issues like collaboration and communication? There’s a lot to consider here; one thing to remember, though, is that every generation needs learning.



Many offices have already implemented or are planning to pursue a hybrid approach, a busines model that combines remote work and workers with employees who go into the office to perform their duties. Talent development is primed to prepare support and guidelines on how teams can leverage these new arrangements. TD pros can also help leaders embrace and rollout communication and collaboration best practices as well as advise on new performance management guidelines for hybrid teams. Also, just as offices have gone hybrid, so too will most employee development programs. In the realm of learning, the more common term is blended learning, but that may be changing too. TD practitioners need to study what other organizations are doing in this space and explore on their own which blends lead to maximum effectiveness for their learners and courses.


Many businesses have the spent the last year focusing on helping their organizations and employees survive. Companies that want to emerge the economic downturn successfully will need to shine a light once again on innovation. The TD function can help lead the way with big-picture issues like how to rebuild a culture that fosters creativity as well as practical application factors like how to manage brainstorming meetings online.

Just-in-Time, On-Demand, and Self-Directed

People are busy and must find ways to fit learning into competing priorities. They also sometimes just need quick access to small bits of information. Just-in-time, on-demand, and self-directed learning answers that call while providing employees with greater autonomy over their own development. This is a perfect opportunity to embed performance support and knowledge into the flow of work, especially for people who are new to a role. Are you working with a line of business leaders to find ways to embed just-in-time access to knowledge? Are you thinking about how to use mobile and other technologies to ease access? Are you helping employees select what, how, where, and when to learn? If not, you should be.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is a systematic approach to achieving organizational goals by creating, capturing, curating, sharing, and managing the organization’s knowledge to ensure the right information and knowledge flow to the right people at the right time. With more employees working remotely, the importance of knowledge management is increasing. Although TD pros say that a knowledge management process can improve employee productivity or lead to faster time to productivity, improve quality, reduce errors, and decrease rework or duplication of effort, many organizations don’t treat it as a priority. Will you?


Do you know the different between a learning management system (LMS), learning experience portal, learning record store (LRS), and other items in the learning technology alphabet soup? If your answer is no, you’re not alone. But with a little study, you can learn what you need to know about these tools. What’s more, whatever learning management tools you use, you need to make sure they are agile. Are you able to add, improve, and shift content? Are you able to pull the reports and data you need? How long has it been since you assessed the functionality of your learning tech? Have you done a market survey to see what is out there that might be a cost-effective upgrade?


Are you still trying to deliver training in large chunks and convening folks at specific times? If so, you’re probably meeting a bit of resistance. As people participate in more learning online, they’re also going to want it in short, focused, easy-to-digest bits. This can be applied to really any asynchronous learning—such as e-learning, videos, and infographics—that is offered in short duration. The idea is really about meeting a specific need as quickly as possible in an engaging way. Consider it akin to a YouTube approach to learning.

Needs Analysis

Not everyone comes prepared to work with the same level of knowledge. You need to diagnose what they already know, what they need to know, how best they learn, and how to assess their knowledge following any training. Enter needs analysis—a systemic process of collecting and synthesizing data and information to determine the difference between the current condition and the desired future condition.



Sometimes it seems like technology changes daily. If not producing best results, it may be time to evaluate whether your training is becoming obsolete. Don’t forget to identify whether it’s the content or the technology. The point: Stop wasting time, money, and effort, and focus only on the good stuff.

Performance Management

Remote work has shined a light on the notion that current performance management systems need to change. Some complain that the annual traditional review process is antiquated; others that it is simply time-consuming, overly administrative, and full of cookie-cutter feedback. Instead, flexible work arrangements call for more ongoing communication and feedback between managers and employees to clarify expectations, set objectives, provide feedback and coaching, and review results. And beyond one-on-one feedback, consider implementing a weekly or monthly “Report From . . . ” for your employees or managers. Staying in touch is always a smart way to be more effective, get fresh thinking, reinforce learning, and so on.

Qualifying Partners, Suppliers, and Vendors

Working with outside suppliers to develop content and manage technology is becoming common place. After you’ve gone through the hard work of evaluating potential partners, make a list of approved resources and share it. Include details about the criteria you used to qualify them, how they rank in the approval process, and any references you used to make your decision. Also, when working with training providers, especially during times of market instability, make sure any contracts are cancelable. Technology and methodologies evolve rapidly, so you want to make sure you can cancel arrangements penalty-free and without cause.

Reskilling and Upskilling

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many business’s plans for transitioning to a more digital workplace. Simply defined, reskilling refers to staff learning new skills to take on different roles, and upskilling relates to individuals gaining capabilities to help them perform in their current roles. Reskilling and upskilling can take the form of formal training, mentoring, and coaching. And don’t stop with your organization’s workforce; look for any skills gaps in your own expertise. Are you skilled and confident in using the remote, digital technologies that are quickly becoming a huge part of the training delivery mix?

Science-Backed Learning

Learning sciences, a capability in the Talent Development Capability Model, is an interdisciplinary research-based field that furthers the understanding of learning and instructional methodologies and is continually changing as new information is added and old ways of thinking are improved. It’s a growing area in our field, as more institutions study how the brain works and how people learn. TD professionals would be wise to familiarize themselves with the work of experts like Lozanov, Knowles, Kidd, Ebbinghaus, and even Aristotle and Plato.

UX—User Experience

Over the last year, many organizations were scrambling to move their learning online. But learners expect a consumer-grade training. That means the user experience (UX), which refers to the interaction between the user and the device, needs to look good. And from an instructional design perspective, learning needs to be intuitive and not distract from or interfere with the transfer of knowledge. Make sure everyone on your learning design time is well-versed in the principles of UX.


Thanks to stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, virtual classrooms and webinars, which were already gaining momentum, became the go-to delivery model. Instructional designers and training facilitators and producers have had to up their game to make virtual learning more engaging and effective. And as options open to return to more in-person training, TD pros will need to weigh the pros and cons of both modalities and pinpoint which mode is more time-, cost-, and results effective. During this process, you may also want to assess your in-person training facilities. You may learn that those options also need a tech upgrade, or they may be obsolete altogether. If so, you can say goodbye to real estate that is no longer needed and use the cost savings to say hello to virtual reality simulations.

Wellness and Work-Life Balance

Remote work arrangements seem to be here for the long-term. While some are embracing the flexibility, others are experiencing heightened levels of stress from a lack of work-life balance. TD pros have a prime opportunity to step in. They can work with HR and managers to assess how people are feeling and what they need. Based on the findings, they can offer training and support to employees on time management, project management, and collaboration skills as well as play a role in developing and distributing new guidelines for teams and managers regarding communication practices and meeting management. They can also work with HR and managers to find ways to embrace wellness, mental health, and stress management initiatives.


The pandemic has revolutionized people’s perceptions about meeting online. The benefits are many, but there are cons too (recall the cat filter). To leverage the benefits and avoid any mishaps, perfect your own skills for using Zoom, LoopUp, Microsoft Teams, and so forth. Be able to demonstrate model behavior without any goof-ups that have the potential to go viral. Additionally, once you identify the best sources of information on how to use these tools, make the resource available to peers.

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