Training, Development & the Employment Life Cycle

"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow." - 14th Century Proverb, Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

The Society for HR Management recently reported that expected hiring levels for May 2010 “could reach levels not seen since 2007″ and that this “spring fling” has led to increased difficulty in hiring qualified candidates.

In conjunction with the increased hiring many organizations will be implementing in coming months, we can also expect many current employees will take the opportunity to job hunt actively as the economy continues to improve and new opportunities open up.

And in the May 2010 Fast Company Magazine, Chip & Dan Heath argue that, “When you own the talent factory, you’ve created a permanent competitive advantage.”

Given these realities, now is a good time to examine the ways in which training and development directly impact YOUR organization’s employment life cycle and some high-return actions you can take to ensure you are positioned to take advantage of improving conditions.

SPRING: Hiring & On-Boarding
At the beginning of the employment life cycle, training & development plays a crucial role in both identifying appropriate candidates and bringing them into the organization effectively. On the hiring front, you can help your supervisors and managers incorporate behavioral interviewing to ensure consistency, take the guesswork out of hiring, and increase your ROI by ensuring a better fit between your organization and new employees.

On the on-boarding side, there are a variety of tools you can use to get new employees up to speed quickly. In addition to the standard instructor-led orientation sessions, savvy organizations are also incorporating technology-based self-paced modules, peer mentoring programs, a flexible orientation curriculum that allows new hires to opt out of subjects in which they can demonstrate mastery, and similar innovations.

SUMMER: Needs Assessment & Skills Development
Ongoing skills development is the traditional province of training & development programs and remains a critical component to your organization’s success. Employees need product- and job-specific knowledge to perform their individual roles effectively; they also need to be able to function effectively as team members to improve organizational performance. Smart organizations conduct regular needs assessments to ensure they are providing development opportunities that meet the needs of both individuals and various teams/departments.

Summer is also an excellent time to identify the tangible skills and intangible knowledge each employee will need to succeed and advance within your organization—do your employees know what they need to know to be promoted? Do you?

FALL: Performance Management/Giving Feedback
Once you’ve identified the skills and knowledge your employees need to grow, the next step is to provide continuous, effective feedback. The Wall Street Journal recently shared a tongue-in-cheek quiz confirming that, “Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews.” Since it’s unlikely that most organizations will banish annual reviews, at a minimum you must ensure that your organization’s review process is effective, efficient, and as painless as possible.

Even more important, however, is making certain that your employees know how to give constructive feedback on an ongoing basis. Supervisors and managers are of course your front line reinforcement team and need to know how to coach and mentor effectively; you can also implement peer feedback and mentoring as well.

WINTER: Succession Planning
Now that you’ve brought your new employee on-board, identified what skills s/he needs to succeed, and implemented a cycle of continuous feedback, the next stage is to ensure your organization’s succession planning process supports the ongoing cycle and the return to spring. Quick: can your managers identify their “A” players by name? Can they tell you exactly what their “B” players need to make the A-team? Have they identified their direct reports who would be appropriate for reassignment to another role or to be let go?

Effective succession planning doesn’t need to be complicated or involve giant spreadsheets and 100-page reports. It does require ongoing assessment of your employees and that continuous feedback discussed in the fall. It requires an understanding of where your organization is going and how each individual team/department will contribute to that destination. And it requires your leadership team to know their role in the process.

Ensuring you have the appropriate training opportunities at each stage will position your organization to hire rock-solid performers, retain key talent, develop your employees, function more effectively, and help all of your acorns grow into mighty oaks!