Many workforce analysts contend that it’s not entirely difficult to raise financial capital. Human capital, however, is another story. Employees who make the most of their time, talent and energy are a rare resource and should be treated as such.

Although employers might agree with this assessment, the amount of time and money they allocate to human capital sometimes says otherwise. To retain valued employees, employers must provide a clear path to promotions, regular and fair evaluations, skills training and mentorship. In short, they must invest in talent development.

What is talent development?

Talent development means providing employees with ample opportunities to grow within an organization. The most effective strategies are based on continuous learning and account for individual abilities. Ultimately, the goal of talent development is for employees to strengthen their skills and be fully engaged at work.

Why is talent development important?

Talented candidates and employees greatly value learning and development opportunities. Employers who meet this demand may not only boost talent acquisition and retention rates, but also improve the following:

  • Productivity
  • Brand reputation
  • Profitability
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Market share
  • Innovation

A failure to fulfill talent development expectations usually has the opposite effect. Without ample opportunities to train, learn new skills or participate in important decisions, employees become dissatisfied and may eventually leave the organization.

Talent development examples

Talent development can take different forms, depending on organizational goals and company culture. Some of the available methods include the following:

Learning programs

Education and training help employees learn new abilities or improve their skills. The most effective programs are customizable and can support various content and delivery methods, including classroom settings, online courses and on-the-job training.

Career paths

Certain professions have defined career paths. The expectations and performance criteria required to move to each level must be clearly communicated to employees. Even if the traditional path is unavailable, organizations can still help connect employees to open roles based on their skills and aspirations.


Mentors provide support and empathy to other employees. Anyone can fulfill this role, whether it’s a senior-level executive or a peer, as long as the individual has a unique experience to share. Mentorships are ideal for employees who are early in their careers or acclimating to a new organization.


Sponsors advocate on behalf of other employees and create growth opportunities for them. This model only works if sponsors are willing to risk their personal brand to help a protégé advance. It’s usually reserved for employees who have had a track record of success with an organization for some time.

Succession planning

Identifying and developing talent from within to replace employees when they move to a different role, resign, or retire can help employers fill vacancies quickly. It’s crucial for managers and potential successors to set career development goals and meet regularly to monitor progress.

How to develop talent strategies

Prioritizing talent development requires a multi-layered approach that extends beyond introductory training and involves both managers and employees. Common strategies for success include the following:

Be open to failure

Successful organizations view failure as part of the growth trajectory. During performance reviews and conversations, managers should ask employees to reflect on their recent failures and what they learned.

Incentivize learning

Employers can encourage continuing education by making it part of the criteria on which employees are evaluated during performance reviews. With this approach, it’s essential to set realistic times for employees to engage in learning activities. Monthly and quarterly training sessions are common.

Create support networks

Employees need an outlet for expressing any anxiety or concerns they may have about their roles or responsibilities. Mentorships, one-on-one meetings with managers, coaching services and employee assistance programs can all help in this regard.

Lead by example

The behavior of an organization’s leaders can strongly influence talent development. Often, employees are more receptive and willing to share their challenges when their leaders do the same.

Recruit life-long learners

Naturally curious people usually contribute their inquisitive energy and attitude to their daily workload. During interviews, employers should assess if candidates desire to keep learning and stay current in their field of expertise.

Leverage talent mobility

Talent mobility connects current employees to the areas within the organization where their skills are needed most. It accounts for an employee’s career goals more than succession planning, which sometimes takes a top-down approach.

Offer in-demand training

To increase participation rates, employers must provide training courses that employees actually want. It may also help to align education and development with specific career goals.

How to measure talent development

Measuring the return on investment (ROI) of employee training and development is an imperfect science. However, the Center for Talent Measurement and Reporting created the following Talent Development Reporting principles (TDRp):

  • Outcome – includes revenue, market share, quality and cost reduction, as well as talent-oriented outcomes, like engagement and retention
  • Effectiveness – focuses on how well employees absorb training material and leverage it in their work
  • Efficiency – assesses the relationship between the cost of training and its benefits

Measuring mentorships

Mentorships are often better received if it can be demonstrated how well they foster talent development. Some metrics that might be worth tracking in support of that cause include:

  • Overall participant satisfaction
  • Mentor and mentee recommendations for the program
  • Participant retention within the entire organization
  • Participant promotion rates or increased level of responsibilities

Improving talent development strategy

Talent management and activation technology can make plotting employee growth and development easier. With the right solution, employers may be able to:

  • Visualize team strengths, performance and productivity
  • Support ongoing collaboration and coaching
  • Deliver targeted learning and development programs
  • Develop more effective future leaders
  • Adequately plan for succession and close skill gaps

In addition, employees can take an active role in their development and perform the following:

  • Search for open positions and career options internally
  • Create forward-looking plans to share with their managers
  • Compare their skills with those required for a role and identify any necessary training

Implementing talent development strategies

Some employees do great work, are comfortable in their roles and would like to remain in them. Others want to continually advance and occupy supervisory, managerial, directorial and executive positions. Neither journey is good or bad, but pushing employees down a path they don't want may lead to discontent.

When rolling out any talent development strategy, employers should:

  • Be clear about what the organization’s version of growth and development means
  • Understand that people's professional goals vary
  • Be open to career webs, where employees can chart their paths

Frequently asked questions about talent development strategy

What are the methods of talent development?

Some approaches to talent development include mentorships, training programs, sponsorships, designated career paths and succession planning. Employers may use all these methods or a select few, depending on the needs of their business and their employees. The important thing is to be transparent about the opportunities available. If employees perceive that there’s no room for growth, they will likely seek a different employer who prioritizes development.

What’s the difference between talent development and talent management?

Talent development is an ongoing process that focuses on learning and coaching to help employees grow. It is a subset of talent management, which encompasses not only employee development, but also performance, engagement and compensation.

What does a talent development strategy look like?

An essential part of any talent development strategy is determining the types of training opportunities employees want and delivering them. Employers can also incentivize learning with rewards or use employee skills-matching technology to see who's ready for a role and who still needs to meet specific requirements.

What are the five key areas of talent development?

  1. Tailor learning and development programs to individual needs.
  2. Use strength assessments to understand where employees excel and where they may need additional training.
  3. Frequently check in with employees to help them build upon their strengths and stay focused on priorities.
  4. Gather feedback from peers and direct reports to further inform coaching and development.
  5. Give employees access to contextual, bite-sized education that they can explore in their own way, at their own pace.

This article is intended to be used as a starting point in analyzing talent development and is not a comprehensive resource of requirements. It offers practical information concerning the subject matter and is provided with the understanding that ADP is not rendering legal or tax advice or other professional services.

ADP Editorial Team

ADP Editorial Team The ADP editorial team is comprised of human resource professionals with extensive experience solving complex HR challenges for businesses of all sizes.