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Talent Development Leader

The Role of Talent Development in the Employee Experience

The TD function can play a leading role in creating a positive employee experience, through the obvious moments, the opaque moments, and the invisible moments.

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Tue Dec 19 2023

The Role of Talent Development in the Employee Experience
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Creating an optimal employee experience is not just a matter of moral and ethical responsibility. It is a strategic imperative for any organization. It has a direct impact on virtually every aspect of the business, from retention and productivity to innovation and organizational culture, ultimately contributing to long-term success and sustainability. It’s no wonder it is the subject of so much concern in companies around the world.

Commonly, discussion of the talent development (TD) role in optimizing the employee experience has been limited to “providing opportunities for professional development.” ATD’s CTDO Next consortium of top TD leaders (otherwise known as “Nexters”) believes the employee experience is about much more than whether an organization offers training opportunities. The TD function can play a leading role in creating a positive employee experience, through the obvious moments, the opaque moments, and the invisible moments.

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Obvious Moments

The most obvious experience-shaping moments for employees are encounters with the systems of the company. TD typically owns one of the first: onboarding. At the foundation, we design comprehensive programs that provide a smooth transition into the company, familiarize employees with the organization’s culture, and equip new hires with the necessary knowledge to perform their jobs effectively.

But whether it is onboarding or any other process we support, we can’t stop at simply, “Did we offer programs?” Interrogate the variety of options that you make available (workshops, seminars, online courses, coaching, and mentorship programs).

How intuitive is it for employees to find and access desired resources? How easy do we make scheduling in-person sessions? Do learners find themselves in a comfortable setting that connects them with one another? Is the experience engaging, personal, and customizable? Does everyone have equal access to the programs you provide?

If the training an employee chooses is not relevant to their role or lacks proper design, it can result in a waste of time and resources. Poorly designed training can lead to frustration, disengagement, and a perception that the company does not value employee development.

CTDO Next members report taking actions such as updating their onboarding to include more cohorts, closer process monitoring, and increased manager and executive involvement. They now approach training programs with an eye toward how attendees feel, not just what they learn, and focus more on careers than on jobs. They use conversational language rather than corporate-speak, personalize the training, and use design thinking to elevate employee agency. Don’t underestimate the impact the TD function has on other processes influencing the employee experience. We teach the organization how to conduct job interviews, provide coaching, and hold performance reviews. We teach skills such as effective communication, decision making, and delegation. Our work can effect change and improve the employee experience.

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Opaque Moments

Some aspects of the employee experience are less obvious, such as dress codes that don’t consider cultural norms or attendance policies that fail to account for life circumstances. We need to look at the impact of our own policies as well. For instance, some companies may offer training opportunities that are contingent on employees signing agreements to stay with the company for a certain period. If an employee leaves early, they may be required to repay the training costs. This limits an employee’s mobility and discourages them from seeking better opportunities.

Policies that restrict access to training programs based on arbitrary criteria, such as rank or tenure, harm the employee experience. This can create an unfair advantage for some while limiting the growth opportunities of others.

Similarly, if training programs are restricted based on factors such as personal characteristics, the result is a sense of inequality that hinders a company’s ability to tap into the diverse talents of its workforce.

An employee-friendly approach involves making training programs accessible for the entire workforce and ensuring the eligibility criteria is transparent. This creates a more inclusive and supportive learning environment.

Nexters said they updated policies to better reflect company values. One suggested starting by identifying where existing policies create friction, while another noted that greater transparency into policies improves employee satisfaction.

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Some expanded training metrics to include measures of satisfaction with the TD function and others paid attention to ensuring all offerings positively affected the employee experience.

Invisible Moments

We know company culture drives employee experience, but culture was often accepted as the inevitable product of a company’s purpose and values. Now, Nexters see culture as something that can be influenced at the micro level.

Some of our members are working to imbed “radical simplicity” into the culture to increase the visibility of the culture and make intentionality a key cultural concept. These actions actively foster a culture of learning by promoting continuous education as a valued behavior. Quality initiatives include knowledge-sharing platforms, lunch & learn sessions, and book clubs. Creating a learning culture encourages employee ownership of their development and helps people feel supported in their growth.

Our role is critical. A recent ATD Research report on culture, TD, and organizational change found that:

  1. Top companies tap TD for their change management teams. High-performance firms are nearly twice as likely to include the TD leader or a representative among those implementing change.

  2. When major change occurs, culture alignment is a priority for TD in top companies. TD functions in high-performing organizations make it step one to re-evaluate their learning strategies and delivery methods to align with the post-change culture.

  3. In most organizations, the TD function is directly involved in shaping culture. Sixty percent of companies overall—and about three of four high-performance organizations—include TD at the strategic level in defining culture and in planning for change.

  4. High-performance organizations leverage L&D to protect their cultures. In market-leading companies, TD functions are nearly two times more likely to be highly effective at helping maintain the existing culture during major changes.

  5. During changes, most TD functions add communication responsibilities. In high-performing companies, culture communications are about two times more likely to be a primary TD responsibility—one often done in partnership with other business units and delivered within the context of learning.

The TD function always needs a clear view of how learning happens in the organization. This can be a major benefactor in the employee experience. Ultimately, we must create an ecosystem that allows employes to learn on their own terms.

By implementing practices focused on moments that matter to employees, the training department can contribute to employee growth, engagement, and overall satisfaction within the company.

The goal is not just loyalty, engagement, or enthusiasm. We will have succeeded when employees love their work and who they work for. They will not consider working with or for anyone else.

Read more from Talent Development Leader.


Sidebar One: Working Definition of the Employee Experience and the Moments That Matter

By employee experience, we mean the sum of all experiences an employee has with an employer over the duration of their time with that employer, the employee’s individual, rational, and emotional reactions to these myriad elements, and their personal judgement regarding their ability to accomplish their goals and satisfy needs important to them.

A common phrase used in conversations about the employee experience is moments that matter. For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll look at three types of moments.

The Obvious Moments: Obvious moments are the ones most often addressed, because they can be mitigated through process changes. These are typically part of the HR life cycle, such as onboarding, performance reviews, and training programs. Traditional employee surveys identify process-level issues, like lack of transparency in selection for training programs. The organization can then implement changes to clear up misperceptions.

The Opaque Moments: These are moments that aren’t noticed unless you look for them, such as when a bad people-manager gets promoted or when you find yourself the only one working from the office on a Friday. Clues to opaque moments are often identified via surveys when the company receives low marks with no indication as to why. Companies respond with focus groups to address the questions, but too often the focus group process remains at a very general level.

Remember, the moments that truly matter are individual and personal. The focus group setting is not a comfortable one for employees to express concerns. Employee suggestion boxes have the same problem. One effective way to get at policy changes is a cultural audit. In that process, the organization starts with its culture and systematically reviews company practices for consistency.

The Invisible Moments: These are impossible to see because they are personal and emotional, such as when an employee reaches a professional milestone and no one notices or when someone is ignored in a virtual meeting. Negative invisible moments can only be avoided by making changes to the cultural expectations and norms. That’s tough, but the companies lauded for managing the moments that matter are typically those with an employee-centric culture.

Unless an organization works actively on all three types of moments, their attempts to improve the employee experience may be futile.


Sidebar Two: Your Personal Contribution to the Employee Experience

Whatever your role in TD, make it your personal passion to optimize the employee experience. Consider these behaviors:

Put the customer in control.

Give them plenty of choices and lots of information about how to make the best ones.

Be available.

You need to be mentally, not just physically, available.

Listen.

In one study, about 49 percent of people said disinterest from staff was the biggest cause of a bad experience. Listen to the employees’ requirements with an open mind.

Be fast and easy to do business with.

Do what you say you are going to do.

Keep your employees informed.

No news is not good news. Past experiences will have taught your employees that 98 percent of all surprises in business are bad.

Know your stuff.

If you don’t know, admit it.

Deliver the solution.

At the end of the day, the employee wants a solution to their problem. They do not want excuses or explanations. They want results.

Be adaptable and flexible.

No two employees are the same, and your customers need you to change according to their needs, preferences, and situation.

Take responsibility.

Be genuine and honest.

Tell no lies—big or small. Be transparent and open or you will destroy trust.

Be polite and respectful.

Be friendly, caring, and enthusiastic.

Pay attention to detail.

Go the extra mile.

Follow up.

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