Talent development for small businesses

What’s crucial as we emerge from a challenging economic period, is that talent development should be considered a business priority in order to remain competitive, rather than a series of one off initiatives, or indeed a ‘nice to have’. Below are a number of key considerations for SME leaders looking to get the best out of their teams:

You have talent- can you afford to lose it?
During the recession, many SMEs will have reduced all but essential expenditure, which was often at the expense of talent development. Normally this might be met with a backlash from employees, but the economic situation meant the reaction was more muted as many were worried about moving jobs during this period of instability. Now though, the economy is starting to experience growth, so, it’s time for businesses to turn the focus back onto talent development to ensure their workforce feel motivated and engaged, and that they don’t lose valuable members of their team who feel unsupported or frustrated. Not only would this be a significant loss for the organisation, but it also wastes precious HR hours and resources which have been spent training and enriching the individual with company knowledge, only for them to leave and take it all with them to their next role. There are many ways to conquer this, with short term development, such as project based learning, or longer term mentoring. You could even offer them the chance to get involved with responsibilities outside of their job spec which will help their development and which they can feel passionate about, e.g. head of fundraising/ social committee membership.

An engaged workforce is a productive one
Of course, training and development isn’t the only way to engage employees, but it certainly plays a big part in keeping your staff happy and motivated. Whilst employees are attracted to roles with perks such as subsidised gym membership, good holiday allowance, flexible hours, what will keep them interested is a belief that the company has invested in them, understands and appreciates their skills and wants to help them be the best they can be. The link between engagement and confidence is intrinsic, and with confidence comes enhanced performance, a fact which has been proven in countless scientific studies.

Do the talent development tango!
In years gone by there was a strong belief that the responsibility for development rested with the business; a parent child relationship. In the recession, the pendulum of responsibility lurched towards the employee. However, the best outcomes are achieved when both the business and the employee take on their respective responsibilities and the perfect development tango is performed with great time and synchronicity. Employees are responsible for being clear about their skills and career development needs. Business leaders have the responsibility for being clear with people about what is expected from them, where there are gaps, and for listening carefully to people’s needs for support and development whether on the job, online or in the classroom.

Learning keeps you competitive
Organisations which embed a learning culture encourage continual review of both team and individual performance, self challenge, and a general inquisitiveness which gives them the agility and motivation to respond quickly to business opportunities and challenges. Remember, managing talent well is contributing to your workforce of the future and will ensure success is sustainable. Also, we could all do with a skills update from time to time!

Talent development – no ‘one size fits all’ approach
Whilst the traditional interpretation of talent development was formal training courses to address specific needs, the methods by which you can assess development needs have evolved over time, as have the proposed solutions. Nowadays, talent development takes on many forms and doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. Examples include: in house development programmes, e-learning, line manager coaching, or getting external consultancies in to develop specific skills, e.g. leadership. The important part is correctly identifying needs and priorities so that every aspect of the development programme shows a clear return on investment.

Measure success and impact
Evaluation of talent management and development can be difficult, requiring both quantitative and qualitative data that is valid, reliable and robust.One method could involve the collation of employee turnover and retention data for key groups over time. Ultimately though, organisational success is the most effective evaluation of talent management. If your business is experiencing growth and tangible success since talent development initiatives were launched, it’s generally no co-incidence.

Bev White is Managing Director of HR Consulting at Penna. She is an expert on Career Development, Career Transition, Training and Development, Coaching and Performance and Change Consulting Solutions, and believes passionately in the importance of investing in people and adding value to her clients. Bev is also President of the UK Association of Career Firms and of the European Board for the Association of Career Firms.