Fall 2020
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CTDO Magazine

Face the Turbulence Head-On

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The work world has changed, and talent development leaders must step up, reassess, and innovate.

Never before have organizations faced this extent of turbulent change at such fierce speed. In a matter of weeks, the world experienced a global pandemic, macroeconomic disruption as governments placed the economy into a medically induced coma, geopolitical polarization, and massive social unrest. Simultaneously, the world is experiencing innovation velocity with science and technology advancements, digital transformations, remote learning, and human-centric worlds of work.


Talent leaders have been debating the future of work for many years. Yet, everything imagined from collaboration that brings diverse perspectives together to accelerated automation has come to fruition in just weeks and months. The lines between work and nonwork are continuously blurring as distributed workers log onto video calls from bedrooms, kitchen tables, and home offices. Those shifts are requiring leaders and employees to lean forward in new and different ways.

As a talent development leader, you are at the forefront of change and innovation in support of this new world order of business and employee growth, innovation, and productivity. These are the seven realities you face with the new work environment:

Change inspires transformation. The pandemic has had tragic consequences for millions of people around the world who have been directly, or indirectly, affected by the pandemic. However, the crisis has also triggered tremendous acceleration in innovation and business transformation.

With accelerated speeds to adoption, progressive CEOs are taking every opportunity to leverage the pandemic crisis to reshape their business vision and organizations through thorough and innovative transformation. Consider telemedicine, grocery delivery, and online shopping. Robotic process automation and touchless automation systems are key examples.

Listening and empathy are business imperatives. Never before have customer and employee needs and fears mattered as much as they do in today’s business, social, and environmental context. Organizations are fast-forwarding opportunities to transform their customer and employee experiences through innovative ways. Listening is the new learning—if you are not listening, likely you are not learning. And if you are not learning, you are not innovating.

Going to the office daily is a thing of the past. Many companies are succeeding, and some are flourishing, with a remote workforce. This current experiment, occurring in real time and at scale, will set new ways of working in motion beyond the pandemic.

Employees will be purposeful and deliberate as to why and when they visit an office: to connect, create, and collaborate. With greater comfort in remote work, employers may borrow talent more readily through freelance and gig arrangements.

And with less need for large office campuses, companies may redirect real estate spending into growth initiatives or bottom-line savings. Those organizations that get remote work right will have a competitive advantage with access to the best talent regardless of location.

People will collaborate with machines in new and different ways. Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, and digital technologies will disrupt how people work in the future. Regardless, you need to quickly and efficiently reskill and redeploy large amounts of the workforce during the next five years at a time when predicting the future is hard, if not impossible.

Talent capability and business productivity remain critical, but the rules are changing quickly. Organizations are not letting up on the need to deliver business results. However, how workers organize, engage, develop, and deliver value is changing fast.

In addition to completing your primary responsibilities, you must reimagine productivity in the workplace. You must consider how companies shift from traditional separation of work and nonwork models toward ways of working that blur boundaries. You must determine how companies deliver on business productivity while fostering innovation and execution and evolving culture—especially with a dispersed workforce where recruitment and progression will look vastly different.

You also must think about how employees manage balance, mindfulness, and resilience with current stress levels and future levels of change. And you must factor in ways to help managers move from the idea that productivity means seeing employees in the office to trusting capable talent to deliver on clear, measurable goals at their discretion.

Employees are resilient. The pandemic has brought with it social, psychological, and financial challenges. However, employees are more resilient than employers may think, and thus they are able to adapt, reskill, and upskill relevant capabilities.

Many talent development leaders are considering employers’ role in fostering employees’ strength and resilience. In doing so, wellness becomes a front and center benefit in progressive organizations to drive belonging and psychosocial engagement and support the whole employee—inside and out. 

Employee inclusivity and advocacy are at all-time highs. Social causes are bleeding into the workplace. CEOs are deciding how best to use corporate branding and market power to effect social change in the communities they serve. And employees are taking a more active stance against company policies and in diversity, equity, and inclusion positions.

Innovative solutions are needed

The above realities require you to reassess core initiatives and innovate today. Here’s how you can keep up with the pace of your challenges.

Performance management. Yes, this is the topic we all love to hate. Business leaders, employees, and HR are not satisfied with previous or current approaches. Talent development leaders have tried to redesign core processes to be nimbler, but some research says they need to do more.

Consider the intentions behind these efforts: to evaluate, provide feedback, and develop talent. Now is the time to shift from performance management to performance development.

That shift ensures that you focus on the process’ output (developing talent) versus the input (evaluation and feedback). Development needs to be frequent; have an allocated budget; have the organization’s, manager’s, and employee’s demonstrated commitment; and focus on experience as the greatest teacher.

Surveys. Talent development leaders value engagement surveys because they provide data they can use to speak the business’ language. Where current surveys miss the mark is in the ability to pinpoint how employees feel.

Yes, you ask standard questions, but empathy, introspection, and isolation are all data points you need to capture to measure the new work realities that individuals face. Many vendors have added separate surveys to address this. However, you need to ensure introspection and extrospection are areas you can measure and then take transparent action to support employees’ needs.


Learning. This is at the core of what you do, but in-person instruction as it once was may be slow to return. Talent development professionals are considering ways to shift to fully remote learning that builds capabilities via cohort groups while focusing on offline experiences that online learning supports. You should consider how to do this in a way that builds inclusion and measurable impact to the business.

Collaboration. More than ever, it’s time to improve how people collaborate. Employees work longer, use tools more, and crave human interaction and collaboration more than they may have when they were on-site with colleagues. What will replace the water cooler?

Talent development professionals are feverishly creating tools that aid and measure the effect of collaboration on productivity, engagement, and results.

Health and wellness. While not your typical domain, you need to integrate health and wellness offerings into your province. Employee assistance program initiatives are not enough. Mental health has taken center stage, with more than 43 million adults in the US are dealing with mental health illnesses, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Financial, physical, and emotional fears that are endemic to society further affect mental health. The pandemic, racial justice and gender diversity efforts, unemployment, and automation are all among the many real fears that weigh on employees every day. Increase your responsibility for providing employees with the tools, resources, and venues to speak candidly and access experts to ensure they are healthy and productive to achieve business objectives.

Talent development's evolving role

While business leaders seek solutions to the new realities, you have the chance to deliver progressive solutions and practices more than ever before—but only if you move away from antiquated, compliance-oriented, risk-averse, and slow-moving approaches to making decisions with data, insight into the business, and workforce economies. You must be open minded and digital first.

The initial step in this journey is to assess your mindset: Where are you, and where do your leaders need you to be? Do you have the team, budget, and willingness to push traditional boundaries, ask tough questions, and challenge your current approach to your role to help the organization make that shift?

Your network is invaluable. Find other like-minded talent, collaborate, invigorate your vendor communities, and share best practices.

The world is changing, and you have more tools, investment, and access to leaders and employees than ever before. If there were ever the need for the talent development superhero, that time is now. Will you heed the call?

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Annmarie Neal, former chief talent officer at Cisco Systems and First Data Corporation, is the chief talent officer of Hellman and Friedman, a San Francisco–based private equity firm. She also it founder of the Center of Leadership Innovation—a worldwide consulting firm that specializes in business innovation and transformation through leadership and organizational excellence. She brings more than 20 years of global experience consulting with business executives and senior leaders across a range of industries to her writing, speaking engagements, business management, and consultation. She has provided expert commentary for many publications, including  The Wall Street Journal. She has contributed to books and magazines on executive leadership, including The Executive Guide to Integrated Talent Management, Talent Management: Strategies for Success, and T D magazine. She wrote the Infoline "Developing a Leadership Strategy," as well as articles for the Organization Development journal and Conference Board.  Learn more about her new book Leading from the Edge: Global Executives Share Strategies for Success (ASTD Press) and follow her on Twitter.

About the Author

Daniel Sonsino is the founder of Guia HR Consulting. He possesses over 20 years of HR experience working to grow successful companies through great talent and culture.

About the Author

Ariel Vernadakis is a senior at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and a consulting intern with H&F.

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