Talent development
Training & Learning

Why Most Talent Development Programs Suck (And Why Yours Doesn’t Have To)

“It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do,” said Steve Jobs. Despite the wisdom Jobs left us with, we're not listening to smart people—the talented employees we worked so hard to hire—or asking them how they want to grow in their careers. Companies are dishing out talent development programs that are irrelevant, outdated, and boring.

Most companies offer training programs and certifications in the name of talent development, but it’s a dead investment—only 12% of employees apply the skills from training programs to their jobs. The pandemic further exposed the cracks as employers raced to reskill employees to meet the challenges of remote work and automation.

The problem with talent development programs is that they are disconnected from the skills employees require to evolve and excel at their jobs. Employees need on-the-job development opportunities that allow them to step outside of their comfort zones and acquire new skills to use at work. To achieve this, organizations must toss out traditional corporate learning and replace it with a unique Collaborative Learning culture that promotes empathetic career coaches, active learning opportunities, and employee-led training needs analysis.

Only 12% of employees apply the skills from training programs to their jobs.

Problem #1: Traditional talent development programs are based on calendars, not employee needs

Talent development programs are often an organizational formality, with training schedules based on generic topics and the availability of outside experts. Imagine being in the flow of work and spending two hours watching a video that’s not even relevant to your work. Employees need room to grow so that they are mentally ready to develop their talents. Littering their workweek with training sessions just for the sake of having these sessions doesn’t give them space or skills.

360Learning recently conducted a survey of 600 U.S. employees, asking them about the L&D challenges they face. Here are the three most common responses:

  • There isn’t adequate time for training, especially during working hours.
  • There isn’t enough training or that training isn’t suitably comprehensive.
  • The training provided isn’t relevant to the job or situation.

(You can grab the full report, below):

employee engagement survey

We surveyed 600 learners. This is what they said.

Do you remember the formulas from trigonometry class? Probably not, unless you’re an astronomer and need to apply it to your work. Any time humans learn new information, they forget 75% of it in just six days unless there is an opportunity to use and apply that information. Similarly, when programs are based on schedules, not needs, it leads to a waste of company resources because it doesn’t help employees develop talent or improve performance.

Problem #2: Top-down approaches prevent employees from having honest conversations about programs

A top-down approach to talent development means that managers decide what employees need to learn. This is when training becomes a drag. 57% of respondents in the survey mentioned above said that the training provided by their employers is “sometimes irrelevant, boring, or outdated.”

In a top-down environment, employees may fear repercussions if they point out the disconnect in a training program. As a result, companies miss out on valuable feedback from employees that they could use to make training worthwhile. Here’s the type of feedback top-down management misses out on (that employees pointed out in our survey):

  • “They make you watch outdated and boring videos in the backroom and then consider that training.”
  • “Sessions are too static and too short.
  • “They have training videos but no other support.
  • “A lot of information is given, but there’s no hands-on follow-up or discussion.”

There are concrete repercussions when employees remain silent and don’t participate in their own talent development. They are unable to surface real Learning Needs, leading to frustration with and disengagement from work. Employees learn for the wrong reasons by gathering certifications just to make a case for promotions. Management checks off boxes and flawed KPIs, but the point of talent development, which is to create individual and business impact, is lost.

57% of respondents in the survey mentioned above said that the training provided by their employers is “sometimes irrelevant, boring, or outdated.”

Problem #3: Most talent development programs do not tap true employee potential and aptitude

50% of senior leaders are dissatisfied with their talent development efforts because they are not designed with the employees’ interests in mind. This leads to gaps in skills and succession planning.

Often, companies also overlook the institutional knowledge that already exists within the organization and can come in handy to develop talent. In our 360Learning survey, 77% of respondents said they have untapped knowledge to offer, and they want to share it but haven’t been asked to. Internal subject-matter experts know exactly what it takes to excel on the job. Yet, most talent development programs seek outside experts and leave existing employees’ potential underutilized.

Organizations are losing out on a huge opportunity to strengthen their employee value proposition (EVP), which focuses on whole-person growth by providing a “more human deal.” Individual growth lies at the heart of this new way of developing and retaining talent, and yet, only 45% of employees believe their organization actually sees them as people with personal interests, not just employees. This misalignment ultimately causes stress and burnout, and as the world is observing, the “great resignation,” which is driving people away from their jobs in droves.

77% of respondents said they have untapped knowledge to offer, and they want to share it but haven’t been asked to.

Your talent development program doesn’t have to suck. There are proven ways to make it work for your organization and your employees. Here’s how:

Provide employees with empathetic career coaches, not authoritative managers

The first step in your talent development program is to start at the top—train managers to become empathetic career coaches for their teams. A great manager will realize that there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to helping people grow professionally. Each employee deserves a personalized career progression path that ties in Collaborative Learning and peer feedback.

Our survey pointed out that most people want to learn from their managers and peers. To thrive and grow, employees need career coaches instead of micromanagers. But most managers don’t know how to coach because their own leadership skills haven’t been developed.

Managers need to collaborate with each team member to curate individual growth charts based on interests and potential. This includes setting Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), which means individual contributors help determine their own development goals and measure them periodically. This encourages ambitious objectives—which may not always be fulfilled but inspires employees to aim high.

A continuous feedback loop built into an empathetic manager-employee relationship facilitates frequent performance assessments. Constructive and focused feedback is crucial to identify skills gaps and areas for growth. Build feedback into your organizational culture with the help of a Collaborative Learning platform to create a solid foundation for talent development.

Related: Your Approach to Leadership Training is Broken—Here’s How to Fix It

Create “learning moments” on the job with peer learning instead of classroom-style training

A Learning Organization makes learning more convenient through mentorships or buddy programs, discussion forums, self-directed online courses, and company wikis. This means that employees learn when they actually need the information and are ready to apply it.

Mentorships are an authentic way to enable knowledge-sharing and curiosity conversations within your organization. When people are able to freely ask questions and explore different career paths through lived experiences, they can visualize their own growth and learn concrete ways to get there.

Another way to hone in on peer learning is by mapping employee skills into a matrix. A skills matrix is useful because it helps you visualize the degree of competency held by each employee so that you can make more informed decisions around talent development. Skills mapping helps you bring in internal subject-matter experts to create and iterate courses, so they can provide contextual knowledge and help peers grow in different areas.

Adopt bottom-up training needs analysis, so employees tell you what they want (and need) to learn

A bottom-up training needs analysis means that employees decide what they need to learn. In the survey mentioned above, employees were asked who should identify their Learning Needs, and 70% said “myself.” The least chosen answer was “executives,” which suggests there is a huge appetite for decentralized learning strategies.

With a Collaborative Learning platform like 360Learning, employees can declare, upvote, or comment on Learning Needs. This democratizes learning and makes it specific and relevant to the tasks employees need to perform. As an added bonus, it is also cost-effective and speedy compared with old models of needs assessments that may take weeks or months.

Employees were asked who should identify their Learning Needs, and 70% said “myself.”

Beat the looming talent crisis with a collaborative approach to talent development

87% of executives are facing a skills gap or expect to face one in the coming years. The way out of this crisis is to adopt a collaborative approach to talent development and talent management. Think deeper about Steve Jobs’ advice on listening to the smart people you hire, and you’ll know that collaboration is at the front and center of his directive.

Related: Your Complete Guide to Human Capital Management—How HCM Can Transform Your Workforce