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3 creative ways for leaders to develop the talent they already have

Employers have more control over what skills get developed than they think. Here's advice for tackling the skills gap.

5 min read


Employee development


More than half of the employers and managers surveyed in Hays 2018 Salary Guide are hiring, yet, three-quarters say they’re facing severe skills shortages. What’s worse, 92% of employers reported that this skills shortage is affecting productivity and employee satisfaction, which means leaders need to get resourceful.

If you’re feeling the affects of this skills shortage, and need to develop talent in house, here are three creative ideas for organizations of every size.

Implement reskilling and upskilling

One of your more important areas of focus when developing talent in house will likely need to be in technology training. Now is the time to prepare your workforce for the fast-evolving world of automation, AI and general digitization. In a McKinsey survey of 1,500 businesses, 66% said that addressing the skills gap in these areas was a top 10 priority for their organization — and nearly 30% of respondents listed this in their top five priorities.

Furthermore, 82% of executives at companies with at last $100 million in annual revenue believe that reskilling and retraining is at least part of the solution to addressing the skills gap. This is where employee training comes into play. Whether you’re a $100 million company or not, there are options for you to make the most of training and get your team where they need to go.

Start with retention and ROI, which is attained with blended learning, according to Lisa Burke, in “Blended Learning: A Training Strategy That Fosters ROI.” With both online and in-person training, all employees are able to learn in the format best suited for their learning style.

“The second major benefit of blended learning approach is that instruction can be scaled via online methods so that the information can be presented to many employees rather than a select group,” she writes.

This makes it possible to scale training to remote employees while also being most effective with your resources.

What you focus on in the learning will depend upon the needs of your company and what employees already know. McKinsey explains that the digital space, however, should be of utmost importance: “As digitization, automation, and AI reshape whole industries and every enterprise, the only way to realize the potential productivity dividends from that investment will be to have the people and processes in place to capture it.”

Create a failure-is-good culture

Letting employees fail is critical to developing great talent. “A leader who is too helpful can actually leave others helpless,” says Julie Winkle Giulioni. It may feel like you need to be helpful to ensure the employee is successful, but in reality, you’re only holding them back.

Giulioni continues, “Solving an employee’s problem. Detailing a development plan. Giving step-by-step instructions about how to proceed. These are proactive, caring and supportive efforts on the part of the leader. But they compromise the capacity of others to build problem-solving skills, own their development or learn how to navigate the ambiguity of work.”

If you want to help your current talent grow and evolve, you have to let them navigate some of these challenges themselves, and yes, fail along the way. This may seem like an expensive way to develop talent, and it can be. Jesse Kook, founder of EndeavorHR, suggests two important tips for making this work in your organization:

  1. Avoid catastrophe: Avoid learning opportunities that have significant outward facing consequences. Kook gives the example of employees working together on a 15-day project. “It wouldn’t be wise to let them take the entire 15 days to complete the project. If they fail you’re left will no buffer to correct the situation,” Kook writes.
  2. Followup: Failure without follow-up simply results in more failure. Without guidance, the employee has no way of knowing how to improve and adjust in the future. Kook suggests implementing an after-action review or something similar that ensures employees grow from the mistake rather than making it again.

Implement informal training

If you don’t have the budget for a formal training program, you can address talent gaps by implementing informal training opportunities with all employees. The value of these opportunities are two-fold: Not only do employees get to learn and grow hard skills, but many will also get to work on soft skills, such as communication, leadership, problem-solving and being a team player.

SHRM shares a few ways to make this work in your organization.

  • Management coaching: Your managers are leaders within the organization, and this is a great chance for them to actively work toward developing lower-level talent into leadership roles. Build a formal framework for coaching, including specific expectations for both the manager and the employee, to get started.
  • Peer-to-peer feedback: Employees can learn a lot from one another. Without encouragement to share insights with one another, feedback may seldomly be shared. Use a tool like 15Five to encourage employees to share feedback on a daily or weekly basis, ensuring ongoing development.
  • Mentoring: Mentoring relationships are a great way to formalize the peer-to-peer learning framework and help lower-level employees improve their hard skills. Pair entry-level employees with those at the senior level to facilitate training and feedback on tasks and skills specific to their position.

Develop talent in house

It’s time to get creative if you’re struggling with the skills shortage. Use these ideas to develop the talent you already have, addressing evolving needs within your organization, from leaps in technology to leadership gaps.


Jessica Thiefels is an entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications, including Forbes, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. She also writes for Business Insider, Virgin, Glassdoor and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.

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