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ATD Blog

Growing Talent Development: Program Development Made Simple?

Thursday, October 31, 2019

My previous two posts tried to help you clarify the type of talent development business you have by examining your offer’s content, delivery mode, and expected learning outcomes. But, regardless of your self-assessment, the need for a systematic development process remains. As a talent development supplier, your success will be represented by the types of programs, products, tools, and consulting services you provide to your customers. To the extent you can employ a reasonably scalable, efficient, and cost-effective process, you will be able to control building and growing a sustainably profitable business. Those of us who have been intimately involved in training programs and product development know that sustainable growth is anything but a simple proposition. However, we do have numerous models and tools aimed at accomplishing this, which tend to work if executed properly. For example, long synonymous with instructional systems design (ISD), which could be said to represent the foundation of the learning industry, the ADDIE model (assess, design, develop, implement, and evaluate) is an excellent guide to follow when creating learning experiences. On another note, the somewhat competing SAM (successive approximations model) approach, brought to our attention by instructional luminary Michael Allen, offers an even more robust solution that calls for a more iterative design and development approach.

Yet, even these models may be too complex for the lay line manager or newbie L&D representative to fully comprehend. I recently was speaking with a relatively new L&D manager who had no background in the discipline. I thought explaining ADDIE and SAM may cause more confusion than necessary, so I tried the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) approach and devised what appeared to make sense to him by starting with the end in mind. My approach was simple: outcomes, content, design. Yes, I know the acronym is OCD, which is neither a joke nor politically correct. But there is some relevant overlap that makes sense in that creating learning programs requires a good degree of obsessive-compulsive focus, discipline, and commitment to achieve the desired quality that will result in the learning “stickiness” to which we all ascribe.

I look at the creation of a learning program as first requiring its expected outcomes. This could be a certain amount of knowledge acquisition, skill development, or attitude change. In other words, a learning program should deliver what you want the learner to know, do, and believe to be an effective performer in their prescribed role. Once you have delineated these performance outcomes, the next step is to determine the type and level of content that will provide relevance to on-the-job performance. This could include specific required information about the role, particular skill sets necessary to perform it, and almost always mindsets that enable excellence and productivity. At this point, you are positioned to design the program or product—that is, to match the intended learner outcomes with the relevant content to provide a learning experience that achieves the desired knowledge, skill, and attitude change required for effective performance.

One other element is necessary to put these three together so that the result is greater than the sum of its parts, and that is context. By context, I mean the internal and external influencers who could affect the overall success of the program. For example, internal factors can range from organizational culture, talent demographics, business goals, to strategic plans. External factors could include things like the competitive landscape, customer profiles, legislation, and talent availability. Each of these alone, not to mention their interaction, will undoubtedly affect how your program is designed, developed, and, most importantly, received.


The figure below helps illustrate the iterative approach advocated by SAM and the ISD model from ADDIE. While I am not trying to bring yet another acronym to an already overcrowded talent development field, perhaps this model will enable more concrete thinking about how to create winning and sticky talent development programs and products for your business.


Figure 1. The OCD Model for Instructional Design

Cohen_The OCD Model for Instructional Design.png
How is your program development approach working in creating a winning offer? What could you do differently to enhance its effectiveness and therefore sales? What process are you using that yields efficient, systematic, consistent, and replicable solutions for your clients, ultimately saving them time and money?

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

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 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:

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