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Last updated: 22.08.17

Embracing a forward-thinking approach to talent development and retention

Staff expectations of learning and development have changed significantly in recent years - meaning businesses need to evolve quickly if they wish to retain their most prized talent.

The world of work today is nearly unrecognisable compared to the one we saw twenty or even ten years ago, with generational shifts and the advent of new technology having transformed expectations surrounding careers and workplaces.

In the not-too-distant past, rigid corporate structures, established paths of progression and working timetables fixed from the top down were all taken for granted as realities of working culture. However, bosses are increasingly finding that none of these old rules apply any more, and that their relationship with their staff is changing into something much more fluid and less hierarchical.

Like any major change, this process can be disconcerting, but it certainly doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, companies that are able to proactively shift their approach to talent development in the workplace will be able to reap significant rewards in terms of better performance, greater collaboration and enhanced staff retention in a competitive marketplace.

A shift towards individually-focused, continuous development

The most significant underlying change in working culture in the last few years is a shift towards an individualistic staff-centric approach to management. Modern workers have grown up in a tech-based world where all of their user experiences can be tailored to suit their personal needs, and they expect nothing less from their careers.

Naturally, this requires a step back from the more authoritarian approaches to management that were fashionable in the past, but the benefits will quickly become clear. Focusing on the individual gives a company greater scope to be flexible and agile, helps workers to learn and develop at their own most effective pace, and encourages them to use their own initiative to pursue opportunities for personal and professional growth on a continuous basis.

Ongoing feedback replacing annual appraisals

One of the key elements of achieving this kind of working culture is through the dismantling of formalised structures that no longer fulfil the needs of your company and its workers; abandoning the antiquated practice of annual appraisals can be a key part of this.

Modern workers are used to instant communication, so the idea of waiting up to 12 months before they are able to give or receive feedback on their development is likely to feel like a serious anachronism. Instead, adopt an ongoing approach to feedback - this will make it easier to flag up and encourage good practice, while rooting out and nipping any potential mistakes in the bud as early as possible.

Progression based on new experiences, rather than promotions

On a similar token, there's growing evidence to suggest that the old-fashioned "career ladder" approach to progression - whereby staff work their way through successive job titles and pay bands - is falling out of favour.

While workers are always going to be motivated by the prospect of a better salary, it's likely that they're more interested in the prospect of new experiences and learning opportunities than they are in a fancier, grander job title. As such, don't expect staff to be content with progressing in a linear fashion; instead, be prepared for them to move between different functions and projects within a fluid team structure, acquiring new skills as they go.

Collaborative, constant learning and development

If there's a single theme running through all of these changes, it's that the hungriest and most talented members of the current workforce expect choice and flexibility - and they want it now or whenever is convenient for them.

That's why it's important for staff development efforts to embrace the always-on ethos of our modern era, and to make sure that access to learning is continuous and constant. Not only does this mean making sure that managers are always open to answering questions, but also everyone within the company adopts an open attitude to collaboration, as this will mean staff can learn just as much from their peers as they can from higher-ups.

By taking these steps and shifting attitudes towards working culture, companies can make sure they are able to not only keep hold of their most prized talent, but also help them develop and grow into a new generation of forward-thinking leaders, meaning they can carry on delivering value for years to come.

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