Rethinking talent development for the hybrid era

A robust skills taxonomy and innovative learning strategies are vital to effectively manage talent and address skills gaps in today’s work environment.

It was a Tuesday afternoon, and Amy, an HR leader from North America, found herself in a heated debate with her counterparts from EMEA and APAC regarding a people strategy project they were all involved in. Valerie, the global leadership expert based in Europe, was leading the project to redesign how the organization viewed talent and leadership development. The goal was to help business leaders identify talent and leadership gaps within their teams so they could provide the necessary upskilling and reskilling opportunities. 

As Valerie explained the intricate details of measuring high performance and potential through multiple assessments and calibration from various sources, Gideon, one of the APAC HR representatives, raised an important question. He asked who would be responsible for developing the identified talents, especially considering the high cost and limited availability of global talent programs for different regions. 

Valerie confidently responded that the respective managers would develop their own talents using mentoring, on-the-job training and coaching, following the 70/20/10 approach. However, her response was met with eye-rolling and gasps of amazement from the virtual meeting attendees. It became clear that while a lot of thought had been put into identifying the talent gaps, the simplistic plan of leaving employee development solely to their own managers undermined the purpose of the session.

“When combined, a well-defined skills taxonomy and a strategic talent management approach empower organizations to adapt to the challenges of a hybrid world, optimize workforce productivity and achieve sustainable success.”

In today’s hybrid work environment, having a robust skills taxonomy and implementing effective talent management is more important than ever. A skills taxonomy categorizes and organizes the skills and competencies within an organization, providing clarity on roles, responsibilities and development paths. This allows organizations to identify gaps, create targeted employee programs and make informed talent decisions. At the same time, talent management ensures that individuals with the right skills are in the appropriate roles, regardless of their location or working arrangement. It involves attracting, retaining and developing talent to meet current and future business needs. 

When combined, a well-defined skills taxonomy and a strategic talent management approach empower organizations to adapt to the challenges of a hybrid world, optimize workforce productivity and achieve sustainable success. Once the necessary development gaps have been identified, the next question is whether the current learning approaches ensure that employees have the right skills at the right time, enabling them to remain competitive in a changing business landscape. It is counterproductive to design a comprehensive talent and skills assessment process if companies continue to rely on traditional learning tools and approaches.

The earlier scenario highlights the challenges that many organizations face when it comes to talent capability building. HR teams engage in extensive discussions to ensure a strong and reliable talent assessment for managers. However, the lack of innovative and applicable learning approaches and tools to support these assessments gives people managers the impression that talent management is nothing more than a paperwork exercise, with little impact on improving employee skills. In addition to hybrid workshops, webinars and online courses, let’s explore some practical employee learning suggestions that can be integrated with skills taxonomy and talent management, to create a more sustainable workforce.

Peer learning and knowledge sharing 

Mentoring programs are a cost-effective approach to facilitating knowledge transfer and providing guidance for career development. With the rapid pace of technological advancement, reverse mentoring has gained momentum. This involves more tech-savvy junior employees mentoring their more experienced colleagues who may not be as skilled with new technologies. These programs are most successful when the mentees are proactive and enthusiastic about learning from their mentors, so it is crucial to establish the right mindset.

Collaborative learning environments

Workshop learning may not be as effective for more experienced employees because it primarily focuses on awareness and theory-based learning. By creating learning communities and forums where employees can discuss company/function-specific problem statements or case studies, their learning experience is enriched through the sharing of different perspectives and collaboration within groups.

Leveraging technology and innovation 

I have had the privilege of working for a company that was trying to solve the problem of assembly line downtime during employee training on technical and safety-related skills. Each time new knowledge was introduced, some assembly lines had to accommodate employee learning, directly impacting operational productivity. However, by utilizing virtual reality and augmented reality, the company provided a more immersive learning experience for employees, particularly for hands-on skills and complex procedures. This freed up supervisory time, as VR and AR could provide employees with real-time feedback on their actions and allow them to learn from their mistakes.

Reflective learning  

Microlearning has become a buzzword in today’s corporate learning environment. It involves bite-sized online learning or short webinars that are popular among busy employees who struggle to find time for learning due to work commitments. This form of learning has proven useful for facilitating technical skills, as short learning cycles help maintain learner attention. However, when it comes to developing soft skills, microlearning has little impact on shifting behaviors and mindsets. To strengthen employee soft skills, purposeful reflective learning at regular intervals over a three to six-month period is preferred. Learning tools such as journaling, employee coaching or after-action reviews can help employees reflect on and improve their soft skills.

Adopting some of these learning strategies can create a dynamic and engaging learning environment. This environment not only upgrades employee skills but also enhances overall productivity and job satisfaction. To achieve this, it is essential to have a well-defined skills taxonomy and a business-focused talent management approach. With these in place, the workforce requires a more tailored learning approach. This approach ensures that they can build the right skills at the right time, enabling them to remain competitive in a changing business landscape.