Skills  Oxygen Mask

Talent Development Leaders: Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’ve heard the phrase, “Put your oxygen mask on first before attempting to help others.” The reason for this is because if you don’t get oxygen, you won’t be able to help yourself, let alone anyone else. This same principle applies to the talent development community. 

The federal government is focused on improving workforce performance and accountability. Training departments need to be at the decision-making table in order for agencies to be able to improve organizational efficiency and effectiveness. We are in the performance improvement business and should be a leader in this effort. 

In times when the federal government has less money to spend on learning and development, more emphasis should be placed on the workforce that is responsible for ensuring that employees and leaders have the knowledge and skills to perform at their best. Unfortunately, the opposite historically occurs. During lean times, training budgets and staff are the first to be cut, which reduces the ability for our workforce to enhance skills required do more with less. 

Two things occur when organizations cut training budgets. First, developmental opportunities tend to shrink for employees and leaders. Second, the talent development community seems to feel powerless and unable to address organizational learning needs. The first circumstance is strongly correlated with the second circumstance. In fact, the lack of opportunities for employees and leaders is caused by insufficient knowledge and skills of the talent development community to be able to do more with less. 


Before the talent development community can help organizations do more with less, we must first have the skills to design, develop, deliver, and evaluate learning solutions regardless of the current state of the budget. We need to “put on our oxygen masks first” before helping others improve. This requires an increased skillset and reduced reliance on contractor support. 

When budgets are cut, the talent development community should be able to make its most valuable organizational contributions. We are, in fact, the professionals who are experts in building skills, developing talent, and ensuring organizations and individuals perform at optimal levels. If this is the desired state of the talent community, then why is it that we feel powerless—and become nervous and fearful—when the training budget is cut? 

Instead, we should seize the opportunity to thrive and show how we add value. We have to be strategic in developing our skills and not become limited by unstable budgets. What’s more, we have to have the “right” skills and continuously improve our capabilities to become a true business partner. 

Is your training department ready to help your agency improve its performance? What are you doing to improve your competence in workplace learning and performance that are identified in the ATD Competency Model? How are you improving the effectiveness and efficiency of your training department? Does your training department need an oxygen mask?

About the Author
ASTD Field Editor Deadra Welcome, CPLP, currently works as a senior learning and development strategist in the federal government and is the president and CEO of Concerning Learning. She has more than 22 years of learning and development experience as a strategist, business partner, program manager, instructional designer, and facilitator. In 2011, Welcome wrote Using Passion to Become a True Business Partner for the July 2011 edition of T+D magazine. In March, 2012, she successfully completed the President’s Management Council Interagency Rotational Program as an inaugural participant. Welcome has been a guest presenter for Bowie State University, ISPI-Potomac Chapter, and CBODN Government SIG as well as a guest blogger for the ASTD Government Community of Practice;
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