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August 2016
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The Public Manager

Talent Development Can Drive Federal Employee Engagement

Agencies can make the most of their talent development investment by helping employees see the benefit of these programs.

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As the end of the government fiscal year approaches, many agencies have clear insight into the remaining budget dollars available to meet workforce development needs. But with limited time to determine how to use expiring funds, it can be easy to slip into a compliance mentality. By viewing investments in development as a "check the box" activity, some agencies may be failing to realize the full potential of their talent development investment.

One benefit organizations can derive from talent development programs is an increase in employee engagement. Simply investing in employees can have a direct, positive impact on employee performance and engagement. To multiply that effect, agencies can take a few simple steps when determining how to best spend those year-end dollars to build workforce capacity and increase organizational performance.

Link Development Programs to Job Requirements

Jacob Cherian and Jolly Jacob report in the International Journal of Business and Management that motivation, performance, and engagement tend to increase when employees have more confidence in their abilities. Taking the time to clearly and specifically link outcomes from talent development programs to job requirements can help employees understand the benefits of talent development on their job performance.

To maximize this impact, create explicit maps between talent development program objectives and the job-specific performance goals and anticipated improvements. And before approving any program, ask for specifics on how participation will improve performance essential job functions.

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Make the Link to Mission Explicit

Kim Jonker and William Meehan, note in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that to thrive, nonprofit organizations (like those in the federal government) must develop and adhere to a clear statement of their core purpose. Linking talent development programs to that core purpose enables individuals to properly connect their participation in development programs to the goals of the organization. When employees can connect their personal investment of time in building their individual capability to their ability to help achieve the organization's mission, they move from mere participation to inspiration and commitment.

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Measure and Share the Impact of Development

It is commonly accepted that organizations with higher levels of employee engagement also achieve higher performance. But the jury may still be out on whether engagement drives performance or performance drives engagement.

According to economist Alec Levenson, there is often a lagging relationship between engagement and performance. Engagement scores decline when an organization fails to meet its objectives or rise when an organization succeeds. This suggests that employees are more likely to be engaged with an organization that is delivering value to its clients. So, capture the results and impact of your talent development initiatives on the success of the organization and share those stories. Highlight accomplishments and how your talent development programs have benefited both individuals and the organization. This gives employees exposure to the successes of your organization and motivates them to contribute.

Celebrating the achievements of talent development also reinforces the new behaviors learned through the initiatives, helping them solidify into new cultural norms, which can provide long-term, stable increases in engagement that can be elusive when creating programs specifically to enhance employee engagement.

Talent development plays a critical role in building the skills employees need to succeed in their jobs, which, in turn, contributes to mission success. But intentional and strategic investment in talent development also can drive sustained employee engagement and create and reinforce new cultural norms to provide long-term, sustained success.

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