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Growing Talent Development Firms: Are You Relevant?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

During a recent discussion with colleagues, one of them revealed she had left her successful corporate human resources position about a year ago and was on the private consulting journey. She was doing reasonably well but was legitimately concerned about where her next job was going to come from. The other colleague was thinking about leaving his also-successful corporate business consulting position and was somewhat nervous about going out on his own. Both of them qualify by AARP criteria as seniors, and the conversation soon moved to the obvious age issue—that is, other than their wisdom earned from years of experience, how could they possibly be effective in advising clients whose workforce was largely the ages of their children? So, I asked them if they thought they were current—in other words, relevant—to which one responded, “What do you mean?”

What I meant is that clients buy services because they are relatively contemporary and fit with the way work is being done today and will be tomorrow; whether it is how employees learn new skills, how a culture becomes more productive, or how organizational performance is improved. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, age is simply mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. And the only way your clients won’t mind is if you matter. So, how do you stay relevant regardless of your age and experience?

A recent article in my local paper addressed this challenge with the headline “How to Extend Your Work Life.” It offered three overall strategies: stay engaged (actively participate); keep learning (continually absorb); and keep looking (enhance connections).

How does this transfer to the talent development industry? What are some things you can do to abreast of trends so you are regarded as relevant to your clients? In most professional industries—ours included—it is relatively easy to stay engaged, keep learning, and seek connections. But you must be motivated to even though the opportunities to do so are right in front of you. Here’s a brief list of what this may look like, most of which assume professional relevance or at a minimum some relationship to your work.

Stay engaged.

This refers to being “in the game” by actively participating in your professional role and bringing that to others.

  • Volunteer for local community projects.
  • Talk to younger workers.
  • Entertain different perspectives.
  • Write articles, book chapters, or even a book.
  • Speak at conferences.
  • Create a blog or podcast.
  • Teach a course at a local college.
  • Conduct a workshop at your local high school.
  • Offer educational services at your local community center.
  • Become an officer of your professional societies and associations.

Keep learning.

This refers to becoming a lifelong learner by continually absorbing all the most relevant content and context you can.

  • Take courses at your local college.
  • Sign up for online courseware.
  • Read journals, magazines, and news feeds.
  • Devour books.
  • Attend local and national conferences.
  • Sign up for webinars.
  • Listen to podcasts.
  • Create a personal growth plan.

Keep looking.

This refers to constantly networking to enhance your personal and professional connections.

  • Create a LinkedIn profile.
  • Set up a Twitter or Instagram account.
  • Periodically post updates on your social media platforms.
  • Put your business on Facebook.
  • Diversify your network by joining local clubs and professional organizations.
  • Develop and continually update your website.
  • Seek out younger mentors.

The suggestions may seem obvious, but are you making time for them? How many of these things are you doing or even planning on doing? What are the topic areas about which you would most benefit from learning? What does your personal growth plan look like?

For more insight, check out my book The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

About the Author

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 latest book is The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

He can be reached at: 952-942-7291 or [email protected] or at his website:

1 Comment
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This is a very refreshing article. While I am early in my career path. I know that consulting is my long term goal. As such, I have already, or a in the process of integrating these activities into my life. And have majority of these things on my progressive 5 year plan. I loved "devour books" because I adore reading and learning anf its exactly what I. Thank you for the article! I am going to print this and check it often to ensure im on track with my goals in these areas.
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