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ATD Blog

Winning Talent Development Firms Define Their Purpose

Friday, September 23, 2022

Up until now, setting the foundation for determining how to establish and grow your talent development business has included both understanding the industry’s dynamics and figuring out what you really want and need, both of which are discussed in my two previous blog posts. Maybe you already understand the industry’s dynamics and have clarity on what you want and need from it as a supplier—but are you equally clear on what you are doing and why? Part of figuring out what you want and need is defining your purpose. These questions need answered:

  • Why have you created the consulting entity you have, or why are you about to create it?
  • What is driving and motivating you?
  • Why does your business exist in the first place?
  • Do you have a vision of where you want to go and when you will get there?
  • How will your internal ethical and moral compass translate to the behavior necessary to grow a firm?

This third winning strategy in building a successful talent development firm is intended to help you clarify your business purpose and its potential impact on growing and enjoying your venture.

Mission, Vision, and Values (MVV)

The bedrock for any strategic planning effort is to align with your company’s overall MVV. The business exists for a reason, and any plan that doesn’t support that tenet is bound to fail. This doesn’t mean the purpose of your business can’t change over time, but when it does, so must your strategy. Often, however, mission, vision, and values get confused, overly complicated, and hard to track. As you build your firm, you must first clarify for yourself and then with those who work with you, the MVV of your firm. Here’s a simple explanation of MVV and, importantly, how they are different from each other:





The guiding reason for doing what the firm does

What the firm wants to achieve at the end of the day

The parameters describing how the firm behaves

Answers the Question

Why does it exist?

Where does it want to be?

What does it stand for?

A mission statement is based in the present and designed to convey a sense of why the company exists to both its employees and the external community. On the other hand, a vision statement focuses on the potential inherent in the company’s future or on what you expect it to be. It is future based and meant to inspire and give direction to the company’s employees rather than to customers. Values represent the way employees will show up in their day-to-day work.

Addressing Ethical Dilemmas Through MVV

Perhaps the most important reason for getting clarity on your MVV is that it will help you navigate what often becomes a challenging path to making everyday decisions in your business. And one of the biggest, and sometimes most perplexing, challenges of any business to address revolves around the ethical dilemmas that may surface during everyday operations. This goes right to your purpose for being: to serve your customers’ needs as best and honestly as possible.

The high-level categories of these potential situations are probably not that different from one industry to another—for example, financial misdoings, false information, or unfair treatment of employees, among others. But it’s also likely each industry has its own specific ethical challenges it regularly faces. So what are those major occasions when you might face ethical problems in the talent development industry?

Let’s understand what ethical behavior means. Ethics are the rules or standards of conduct governing members of a profession, or the principles of good and right behavior. Minor ethical violations could lead to only a proverbial slap on the wrist, but serious ethical violations can lead to criminal behavior. In either case, ethical standards go beyond just being an honest, authentic, and forthright businessperson who commits to your clients’ well-being. Interestingly, these standards may be both an antecedent and a consequence of defining your purpose. But keep in mind that ethics are different from morals. Ethics represent accepted standards or practice guidelines often interpreted as right or wrong behavior, while morals tend to be defined based on exhibited personal behaviors, which often can be interpreted as value judgments.

Having clarity about your mission, vision, and values for your business will go a long way to helping you manage any of the ethical dilemmas that emerge.

About the Author

Steve Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His first book, The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm, was published by ATD in 2017. His recent follow-up, 12 Winning Strategies for Building a Talent Development Firm is now available on Amazon.

He can be reached at: 952.942.7291 or [email protected].

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