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Talent Strategy and Management Is a Vital Capability for TD Professionals


Wed Feb 19 2020

Talent Strategy and Management Is a Vital Capability for TD Professionals

With the release of its new Talent Development Capability Model, the Association for Talent Development serves TD professionals with the most comprehensive compilation of skills, concepts, and strategies necessary to fulfill their roles. It is important to emphasize that those efforts can achieve maximum impact only when guided by a comprehensive talent management (TM) strategy.

ATD’s new model groups capabilities into three domains: building personal capability, developing professional capability, and impacting organizational capability. Talent strategy and management is one of the model’s 23 capabilities and resides in the impacting organizational capability domain.


A TD professional with capability in talent strategy and management will need knowledge of:

  • talent management functions (for example, workforce planning, acquisition, employee development, performance management, and compensation and rewards)

  • succession planning and talent review processes (for example, assessment, scenario planning, talent mobility, and critical roles identification)

  • methods to identify the critical requirements of tasks, jobs, and roles (for example, job analysis, competency modeling, and leadership competency development),

  • talent acquisition strategies and concepts (for example, talent mobility, employment branding, sourcing, passive and active recruiting, and onboarding), and approaches for identifying and developing high potential talent.

According to Capabilities for Talent Development (ATD Press), to fulfill capability requirements, TD professionals need to be skilled at:

  • creating and aligning the talent development vision and strategy with the organizational and business vision and strategy

  • designing and implementing strategic plans for talent development projects, programs, or functions

  • identifying anticipated constraints or problems affecting talent development initiatives (for example, resource deficiencies or lack of support)

  • establishing and executing a marketing strategy to promote talent development

  • communicating how talent development strategies and solutions support the achievement of targeted business and organizational results

  • communicating the value of learning and professional development

  • developing workforce plans that articulate current and future talent and skill requirements designing and implementing a performance management strategy.

Among TD veterans recognized for leadership in this area is Martha Soehren, who transitioned from CTDO to senior vice president of HR at Comcast in November as she prepares for a July 2020 retirement. Throughout her career, Soehren has appreciated the importance of a multifaceted talent management strategy built on fundamentals.

“For a TM strategy to work effectively, it must be embraced from the top down,” she insists. “Over time, it evolves from the bottom up, especially in the evaluation of talent and the determination of successors for key roles within the organization.” She adds that it’s important to build a “holistic support system” for such activities rather than conduct them on a piecemeal basis.

Those activities must be tightly connected to development, Soehren says. “Regardless of whether that development is formal or informal, internal or external, high potential or broad-based, there must be a way to help build future capabilities so that people can progress and align with both short- and long-term objectives.”


But most importantly, she believes, talent management and development must be rigidly aligned with the business.

“That’s not easy and people don’t always do it,” Soehren observes. “After all, it’s difficult to build those relationships that get you a ‘seat at the table.’ We have to earn that seat by showing that we’re learning the business, that we’re operationally focused, that we ‘get’ L&D, and that we achieve measurable impact to support our initiatives.”

Soehren believes that some TD professionals are often “so tied up with the didactics of L&D that they overlook the connection between learning impact and business impact.” She says some have even abandoned the practice of measuring TD impacts entirely because their companies don’t expect a return-on-investment of training.

“That’s sure not my world,” she muses. Comcast’s senior executives expect to know the precise difference that learning makes for employees and hold her accountable. The scenario includes a heightened priority regarding inclusion of women and people of color in the workforce.

Sometimes that accountability can surface in ways one can’t envision, such as in 2014 when Comcast announced its intent to acquire Time Warner. Comcast University was ordered to identify top talent within Time Warner for possible reassignment to new roles within the combined company. For six months, Soehren and teammates visited Time Warner markets to meet with key talent and high potentials for the proposed new organization.


The merger was ultimately quashed by the U.S. Justice Department but not before Soehren and colleagues learned some valuable lessons. Among them: “When you’re going through that period of analysis, you have to evaluate the best and the weakest of both companies so that you emerge with the best of the best,” she reports.

She says that’s not an easy process because “you must accept that your own team isn’t composed of all A players, and that this is an opportunity to up your game for your organization.”

Soehren also has strategic thoughts about the future of her profession. “In the world of L&D, we haven’t nailed down what it means to work and lead within a global, digital organization. Learning leaders have a great opportunity to define what that looks like and set the stage for success—not just for the learning organization but for business leaders too,” she says.

“Learning leaders, trainers and program managers will all be operating and training differently. They will have to learn a new kind of software set and other technologies. As a result, I believe most L&D professionals will become learning coaches and learning builders.”

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