Developing internal talent for critical roles: Challenges and solutions

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Several research reports in the last two years have harped on the need for critical talent and at the same time, how this need will be further amplified in the coming years. To meet the increasing demand for critical talent, organisations prefer to look inside, and that’s advisable. It has its benefits – with internal talent, there is no fear of any culture misfit. Also, organisations can save cost and deliver quality.

However, internal talent also comes with a price. The talent is not always ready to use, and it may require an investment to develop the talent. Having said that, this investment would be much less than the cost involved to acquire external talent.

Most CEOs around the world — according to a 2018 IBM report — have ranked investment in talent as the most effective way to accelerate performance. And it is easy to understand why.

Employees within a company learn faster and at half the cost of an external hire. They produce high-quality results and effective delivery on target due to their know-how of the system. Moreover, by developing talent internally, companies can fulfil their exact demands for skill shortages within the workplace, all the while becoming an attractive place to work for the best talent in the market.

Companies now have systems in place to foster learning and development for employees and develop talent for critical roles. However, despite having the required programmes, learning initiatives may not always work as planned. According to a report by SumTotal, most C-suite executives acknowledge that developing talent from within is the best approach. Although in practice, they find it hard to follow this principle.

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While companies may tout learning as a priority, most may find it hard to follow it as one. Engaging in developing activities may disrupt daily routine tasks, and that is why managing both can prove to be a tough juggle both for the employer and the employee. This can occur if there is no structured learning programme in place.

The lack of a programme can disincentivise workers from learning, and they may even be wary of learning and development programmes. Without clarity and communication, employees will not be motivated to join such programmes because they may not provide them with a definite purpose and goal.

Companies can address these challenges by ensuring that employees find meaning and purpose in engaging and learning. Without a clear vision of how such programmes can fuel their career progression, they will remain disinterested. Learning programmes also have to make business sense and be aligned with the company goals in mind. There are two ways in which companies can ensure that employees continue to learn and deliver high-quality results.

Fostering enablement

Employees will refuse to see value in a learning programme if it does not enable them to rise in their career, acquire new skills or perform at a higher level. Enablement can be achieved by designing an environment where the worker thrives and sees value in learning. The goals and objectives of any programme have to be effectively communicated to them so that disengagement can be avoided.

Effective communication and clarity are of immense importance in the process. Employees want to see which skills are the most relevant for them, and it is up to the employer to provide this ability. Having clear knowledge will drive employees to learn on their own and choose the programmes that benefit them the most.

Again, learning programmes need to be readily available to employees so that they can learn whenever they want and at their preferred pace. Also, targeted and personalised programmes for the workers ensure that they can learn skills which are immediately relevant to them.

Aligning learning initiatives with business priorities

Company learning initiatives have to be structured so that they align with the organisation’s business goals. Learning heads need to identify strategic objectives for different departments to find out what kind of learning initiatives are needed according to market competition and internal requirements. Subject matter experts in every department can be consulted while devising such programmes.

Learning and development programmes need to evolve in response to business needs. Only then can they be beneficial to the employees and the company. Business needs may shift, and with the rapid evolution in technology, training programmes will need to be regularly updated. Although it may be difficult to quantify whether training leads to better performance, it has certainly become easier with the arrival of AI and big data.

Quite often, the business’ priorities may clash with the employees’, in terms of what they want to learn. Especially with the arrival of Gen Z, it is up to companies to ensure that there is harmony between learning for business and learning for self.

Lastly, a continuous feedback stream is essential to keep the employee motivated and aware of what needs changing and what works. This will also ensure that the company knows if and when to change the course of learning to deliver better results.

Developing talent internally can have many hurdles, but effective communication and clarity between the management and the employees can help solve them. Clear communication can enable the employees to be self-driven and the employers to understand how to design policies, which align with the goals of the business and the personal goals of the employees as well.

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