ATD Blog

Creating Value with Talent Strategies

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

ATD queried Mary Lyons and Jeff Hesse, advisory principals with PwC, about how learning executives can help create value with talent strategies. Their recommendations are based on a PwC survey of U.S. CEOs, covering such topics as talent strategies and innovation-friendly cultures. 

Q: You’ve noted a shift in the kinds of models CEOs use for creating value. Why do you think this has happened? 

A: Technological breakthroughs, demographic shifts, and shifts in economic power have fundamentally changed the way we do business. These disruptions have forced business leaders to adapt their value models and improve agility in order to remain competitive. 

Leading organizations are not just reacting to change. They are recognizing the need to adapt and reinvent their strategies. These disruptive forces should be viewed as an opportunity for businesses to become more innovative in creating and capturing value. 

For instance, in the talent environment, business innovations far outpace talent innovations. Our research finds that CLOs are rethinking their approach to talent strategy. They are adopting new philosophies, processes, and technologies to align with the core business, and in doing so, they are finding new ways to reduce costs, improve operations, and ultimately create new opportunities for value.   

Strengthening the company’s relationship with its employees directly impacts some of the greatest sources of talent value: innovation, engagement, productivity, creativity, and loyalty. 

Q: What skills do CEOS want to see in their organization’s talent base?   

A: According to PwC’s annual CEO Survey, business leaders recognize the need to increase their organizations’ ability to learn and innovate. The majority (81 percent) are looking for a broader range of skills and seeking talent in more places. They are also investing in continuous learning and mobility programs for employees. 

Top-of-mind for CEOs is technological skill. The digital revolution has elevated the need for talent with digital skills needed to drive value. Seventy-five (75) percent of CEOs we surveyed said hiring and training around specific capabilities would be key to driving the company’s investments in technology, including mobile technologies for customer engagement, data mining and analytics, cybersecurity, and cloud computing. 

Learning executives must understand the technological capabilities needed for future business growth. They can start by identifying existing talent pools or those with aspirations to hone technical skills, and then build a plan to develop future leaders in these growth areas. 

CEOs also are seeking greater creativity from employees. One CEO in our survey described creativity as "a skill that is always in need." Business leaders are fostering creativity in a number of ways—by engaging employees in competitions and giving awards to those who are willing to experiment. Ultimately, organizations should find both traditional and non-traditional approaches to develop and encourage creativity in their people. 

Q: What are some of the channels being used for finding talent? 

A: We found that companies are casting larger nets to identify, attract, and acquire new talent with a broader range of skillsets. Eighty-five (85) percent of the U.S. CEOs we spoke with are actively searching for talent in different geographies, industries, and demographic segments. 


In today’s increasingly digital business environment, it’s no surprise that companies are putting more effort into online platforms, mobile channels, and social media as a means to connect with potential employees and remain competitive in hiring. Meanwhile, companies are also evolving their websites to be more effective information sharing tools and a window into company culture and employee experience.   

Companies rely on their corporate and employee brands to gain access to talent. They are investing more heavily in employee referral programs as a means to find and attract like-minded, capable talent who enjoy working together. This helps reinforce the employee brand and improve employee satisfaction. 

Interestingly, while the majority of companies in our survey say they are widening their search to find talent, only one-quarter cited access to talent as a top-three reason for partnering. In our view, collaborating with a range of organizations—academic, government, and business networks—has proven to be a rich source of talent.  

Q: What kind of talent strategies did you find in the companies you studied? 

A: People want to work the way they live. Leading companies understand that they don’t need just a digital strategy, but rather a business and people strategy for the digital age. 

Using technology to innovate talent operations can help enhance the employee experience and significantly improve the return on talent investment. A modern approach can reduce the process burden, improve connectivity, and drive efficiency and effectiveness.  The key is being able to implement these changes while driving business strategy and keeping costs and maintenance requirements down. 

It’s not just about creating fancy tools, though. Business leaders understand their talent will ultimately dictate the success of digital investments. Using technology-forward recruiting practices, such as online platforms and social networking, helps attract technology-capable talent. Redesigning training programs to take advantage of mobile devices can improve value and effectiveness, and also continue to develop the technical experience and capabilities of employees. 

Q: What are some learning and development strategies these companies used? 

A: More and more, companies are implementing experiential learning concepts to develop their professionals. For some, this includes formal mentoring program, while others use less formal shadowing activities. A combined approach can also be highly effective. 

Another practice includes pairing high-potential employees with top leaders on important projects. These programs can help enhance skills, expand cultural dexterity, identify future leaders, and help develop a more robust succession pipeline. 


Companies also are developing learning strategies focused on cross-pollination to expand the understanding and skills that are essential to the organization. These internal rotational assignments can be part of the onboarding process, as well as part of leadership development programs.  While the focus is primarily on employee development, these assignments also help create connections between employees of different backgrounds, while increasing the opportunity for innovation and creativity. 

External rotational assignments also can be beneficial. With the increase in service-led business models, there is greater need to get the right people on the ground quickly to deliver projects. Short-term assignments (less than one year) are increasingly used as a means to develop emerging, high-potential talent—providing exposure to working in different cultures and countries. Short-term assignments encourage mobility where there is often a reluctance to move far away from extended family members for a longer period of time. 

Q: How do these companies foster innovation-friendly cultures? 

A: Fostering innovation continues to be a top CEO priority. An innovation-friendly culture gives its people the freedom to imagine the unimaginable. The next big idea can come from anyone and anywhere, and failure is considered a learning opportunity. 

An innovation-friendly culture can be developed and nurtured by having a balance of the right people and the right kind of environment. An innovative organization needs people who can think and work in highly different ways—specifically, those who can imagine (producers) and those who can implement (performers). It also needs an environment where diversity of thought is encouraged, everyone feels they can be heard, and communication is frequent and transparent. In an innovation-friendly culture, diversity and inclusion are considered key enablers and become embedded into the operational fabric of the organization. 

Q: How should the learning function help organization adjust to new kinds of talent? What L&D reset is needed to make a successful transition? And how should your talent investments shift, in terms of nature, size, and focus? 

A: The lines between work and life continue to blur. People expect their "working" experience to be as seamless as their "living" experience—mobile, integrated, and agile. The workforce of the future will be more global, will consider flexibility and inclusion to be table stakes, and will include an increasing number of non-traditional workers.  

Leading innovators will focus less on achieving incremental improvements within the historical silos of human capital such as performance management, learning and development, succession planning, and the like. Instead, they will focus on how those silos can be reimagined and reassembled in an efficient way to be a driver and enabler of business strategy. 

As talent is reimagined, the investments also will need to shift. The specifics will be different for every organization. Leading organizations will focus on modernizing and streamlining the employee experience, and treating employees like customers. 

The benefits from such a transformational shift are two-fold. Employee engagement is reinforced and the organizational talent brand is strengthened. At the same time, revenue capture and profitability are affected positively as a result of increased strategic agility. It's a winning scenario for the organization, as well as for employees, customers, and shareholders alike.

About the Author

Ruth Palombo Weiss is a business writer. 

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.