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August 2016
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The Public Manager

5 Strategies for Transforming Talent Development

Elevating talent development means shifting from a focus on training to one on using human capital to promote the agency mission.

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The concept of talent development represents a new era in recruiting and retaining a quality federal workforce. It requires a paradigm shift in the way training is viewed and integrated within the fabric of government agencies. No longer confined to ancillary training and development activities that occur in a structured environment, talent development is a strategic imperative that becomes pervasive throughout the agency.

Paradigm shifts can be challenging. So to assist in your transformation efforts, we offer five strategies for shifting the mindsets within your agency.

Strategy 1. Assess Agency Appetite

A dedicated training function or organization is necessary to create an atmosphere of talent development in government agencies. The maturity of the training function is an indication of an ­agency's appetite for talent development.

Indicators of organizational maturity include management's focus on talent development, resources invested, programs offered, technology used, level of commitment to a learning culture, quality of partnerships that treat development as a strategic imperative, and methodology for measuring and evaluating training's impact on the agency's mission, strategic plans, performance objectives, and culture. (See the sidebar for guidance on assessing organization maturity.)

Once you are clear on your agency's appetite for talent development, leverage organizational strengths and identify creative approaches to begin your talent development journey.

How Mature is Your Learning Organization?

Ad hoc. Management has not embraced a strategy for training within the organization. No formal budget or training programs exist. The view is that there is no time for training because there's real work to do. Training partnerships and integration are nonexistent or depend on personal relationships. Training is incidental. Only basic technology to support training delivery and administration is available, and all training measurement and evaluation efforts are reactionary, instead of being established practice.

Transitional. Management sees training as somewhat necessary. A team or organization is created to deliver training. Budget is allocated, but it is the first to be swept during shortages, and allocation is based on requests. Training is used to fix problem employees. Training staff are involved in work groups and committees. Individual development plans are implemented. Training opportunities include ­e-learning courses, occasional speakers, or in-house instruction with a reliance on external vendors. Several processes are automated and discussions of system integration have begun. There is minimal use or understanding of the functionality of the learning management system. Training hours, budget usage, number of employees trained, and smile sheets are used to measure and evaluate training effectiveness.

Operational. Management interest in training is focused on compliance and enhancement of mission-critical skills. Budget remains small, but less frequently swept. Budget allocations shift with learning trends. Ownership of training rests solely on the learning department, with staff saying things like "Training will tell us what we need to learn." The learning department is viewed as an off-the-shelf service provider with little or no opportunity to assess real needs. Learning paths and curricula with progression for specific skills and competencies are being developed. A catalog of learning activities to include on-demand courses is available, and a skeleton crew of training specialists are on staff to develop learning activities. Most administrative processes are automated, some system integration has occurred, and social media and collaborative tools used occasionally. Needs analysis, competency modeling, and efforts to capture learning application are used for measurement and evaluation.

Strategic. Management views talent development as a strategic imperative to facilitate organizational performance and change efforts. The organization is staffed with learning professionals who act as advisers and consultants to performance improvement efforts. Training budgets increase to support strategic goal accomplishment and are seldom cut during shortages. Everyone takes responsibility for learning, and innovative opportunities to learn are seized. Talent development champions among senior staff exist, and partnerships with key organizational units help move talent development efforts forward. Several formal learning programs are maintained annually and directly funded. There is increased use of technology to deliver informal and social learning opportunities such as virtual classrooms, simulations, blended learning, podcasts, wikis, and blogs. Training administrative processes are automated and integrated into HR processes. Training measurement and evaluation include links to performance ratings, agency metrics, talent assessments, and demonstration of return on investment.

Strategy 2. Marshall the Talent Development Team

In addition to the design, development, and delivery of learning beyond the classroom, talent development includes a system of coordinated HR functions that help recruit, select, position, develop, reward, and retrain talent. When operating in concert, the system promotes talent-rich agencies.

The talent development team ensures system alignment and develops and oversees the implementation of the agency's talent development strategy. It includes representatives involved in workforce planning, recruitment and selection, workforce training and development, performance management, career management, succession planning, benefits, and awards and recognition on the team.

The talent development strategy considers current and future needs, establishes pathways and programs for talent growth, and coordinates HR processes and actions to promote and sustain talent development efforts. The team ensures integrative approaches are used to develop and execute strategies that ensure the agency has the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time to form and sustain the agency's mission.

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Strategy 3. Grow Talent Development Staff and Partnerships

Successful implementation of talent development strategies requires a capable cadre of talent development professionals and partners. Whether you are an office of one or many, here are a few suggestions for growing your talent development staff and partners:

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  • Offer training in human performance improvement and talent development to provide strategic insight into the role of learning development in organizations.
  • Create opportunities for interns and employee details to attract those interested in learning more about training and development.
  • Leverage the experience and interests of agency members by developing an adjunct faculty program of leaders, subject matter experts, and training enthusiasts to supplement your staff as trainers, facilitators, presenters, panelists, program content advisers, and champions.
  • Develop team leader and supervisor training skills to provide just-in-time training and to identify and exploit workplace learning opportunities.
  • Establish inter- and intra-agency partnerships to share best practices and resources for expanding talent development efforts.

Strategy 4. Assess, Align, Develop, and Deliver Effective Learning Experiences

Effective talent development learning experiences facilitate the agency's strategic plan and performance objectives, complement the culture, and exploit the capacity of the agency.

Begin by assessing the quality and effectiveness of current learning and development efforts.

  • Are learning opportunities designed in accordance with adult learning and instructional design principles?
  • Is content relevant to the agency's strategic plan and performance objectives?
  • Are there gaps in training delivery approaches that can become part of your talent development strategy, given culture and resource constraints?
  • Are there opportunities to develop and deliver informal or social learning approaches to training?

Your responses to these questions will assist in determining next steps in enhancing your talent development efforts.

Strategy 5. Measure and Evaluate Impact

To ensure your efforts are on track and investments are worthwhile, take time to measure and evaluate development activities. Don Kirkpatrick's four levels of evaluation are a useful framework for determining the impact of your learning experiences:

  1. reaction: participants' view on whether training was favorable, engaging, and relevant
  2. learning: whether participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, and attitudes
  3. behavior: how much participants apply what they learned to their job
  4. results: whether targeted outcomes are achieved.

You can obtain a clearer picture of return on investment and opportunities for enhancing talent development efforts by aggregating qualitative and quantitative data from multiple sources. Suggested data sources include:

  • core operations (such as employees trained, hours trained, courses completed, percent of budget spent)
  • smile sheets
  • self and supervisor pre- and post-assessments of competency
  • program learning checks
  • learning transfer checks
  • training needs assessments
  • recruitment and retention data
  • Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results
  • agency performance metrics.

Take the Leap

Transforming talent development in government agencies is no easy task. Although the road can be tough at times, the importance of ensuring we have a talent-rich government that provides the best possible service to the American people far outweighs the challenges faced. We invite you to take the transformation leap if you have not already. To those who have embarked on the journey, the best is yet to come!

ATD Resources

Integrated Talent Management Certificate (ATD Education Program)

Revolutionize Learning and Development (ATD Book)

Building a Talent Development Structure Without Borders (ATD Research Report)

Building the Learning Organization (ATD Book)

Essentials of Developing an Organizational Learning Culture (ATD Education Program)

About the Author

Elaine Newton is the training manager for the HRSA Learning Institute at the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

About the Author

Dana Sims is the training lead in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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