Ten guidelines for talent developers | Sunday Observer

Ten guidelines for talent developers

Talent is in high demand, locally and globally alike. We saw a wave of writings such as ‘Winning the War for Talent’ spreading around the world. We have witnessed the dire consequences of not having the right talent at the right place, in the private and public sectors. Talent development becomes vital in this context. Today’s column is a reflection of the action needed by talent developers in terms of highlighting the required norms.


We are discussing a wide span of actions including formal education and informal training. Let me focus more on management training. It is not only because I am a management learner and a teacher, but also a management trainer. At a time when training has become more a commercial engagement than ability enhancement, a relook at the roots and results is important.

Training can be regarded as the formal and informal processes organisations use to facilitate employees’ learning so that their resultant behaviour contributes to the attainment of organisational goals. An example for a formal process could be a classroom session. An informal process takes the shape of observations, understudying or guidance.

I see a mushrooming of trainers in Sri Lanka with the mailbox flooded with details of many training programs. While noting the positive aspect of it in catering to unmet needs of the market, my concern is on quality and relevance. Simply because someone has the gift of the gab, he/she does not necessarily become a trainer. Knowing the depth and breadth of the topic is essential.


According to the Oxford dictionary, a commandment is an authoritative direction or instruction to do something. In the context of management training, this direction may come from leaders of an organisation. Or, in a very broader sense, it can be viewed as a set of guidelines for effective training. Let’s look at what they possibly are.

1. Conduct proper need analysis

The story of talent development through training begins with need analysis. Training is a gap filler. You have to identify the gaps with regards to knowledge, skills and attitudes. For example, someone who is very good in accounting is not very comfortable in dealing with Microsoft Excel. That’s a gap, which needs to be filled by appropriate training.

If this is not done and training is offered, the whole purpose is lost. That’s why some of the ‘off the shelf’ programs might not match the exact needs of an organisation.

2. Set SMART objectives

When needs are identified, objectives have to be set to ensure results. Most of the electronic brochures on training I get daily do not contain the objectives. Having fancy images or smiling faces of trainers is one thing. What is more important is to spell out the Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-bound (SMART) objectives.

In some cases such as attitudinal training, it might be difficult to have SMART objectives. Yet, you can work around it to have a certain sense of measurement. Only then does the evaluation become meaningful.

3. Design the program meaningfully

This is all about beginning with the end in mind. Identifying the needs and setting objectives appropriately has to be done proactively. The design of the training program is critical to delivery.

It is like the plan of a building. Many trainers spend less time in design and exert more energy in delivery, which may lead to interesting but not impactful sessions.

As Tom Peters and Robert Waterman describe in their seminal work, ‘In Search of Excellence’, Walt Disney was meticulous in designing training for Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Disney followed three basic steps in being a dreamer, realist and a critic.

Dreamer: Wearing a dreamer’s hat to unleash creativity, in imagining a wide array of possibilities

Realist: Wearing a realist’s hat in pruning the possibilities to a manageable, feasible level

Critic: Wearing a critic’s hat in making the design practical by challenging assumptions

4. Ensure proper delivery of the program

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and this is the acid test. It requires purpose, passion and performance.

A trainer must be very clear about his purpose in front of the participants.

Clear thinking leads to clever action. Without getting derailed by participants’ queries, overall purpose should be in mind like a compass always pointing to the North.

Passion is the magical ingredient that makes a difference. It is putting heart into action in addition to the head and hands.

A wholehearted effort with a focus on results is what is needed. Such a passion should come from within. You got to have a flare for training.

Unless one enjoys what one is doing, there is no fun element there. As Sir Richard Branson advocates, fun is fundamental for success.

A talent developer playing the role of a trainer has to be a performer. It is very transparent and digital. Evaluation by the participants is the true customer feedback. What is in need is not a list of excuses for pitfalls but a live experience of excellent performance.

5. Prepare adequately

Preparation is a vital aspect for smooth delivery of training. here. As the old saying goes, “if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail”. It reminds me of a true event that took place in Europe.

There was a lady violin player who had a mesmerising performance in one of the grand theatres. The audience gave her a standing ovation. A little girl, a violin fan, walked to her after the show and told her, “I would like to spend half of my life learning to play the violin the way you played”. The answer was prompt, “I actually did”.

Hence the mantra for excellent delivery is none other than rehearsing, rehearsing and more rehearsing.

6. Obtain a feedback

Mercer Consulting, in its annual global surveys consequently identified training effectiveness as one of the most important HR measurements. It is vital for sustained talent development. This refers to the reaction level identified by Donald Kirkpatrick. It relates to how trainees reacted to their training.

In other words, how much they liked it or disliked it. Some organisations are very proud of compiling an evaluation sheet at the end of the training session and get an overall measure. For me it gives only a ‘feel’ of the training effectiveness. Some trainers are very smart at declaring a money back guarantee if the evaluation rating is below a specific percentage. It does not cover the reality of application challenges, and is just a case of thriving on feelings.

7. Assess the learning that took place

It can be either ‘know what’ or ‘know how’, referring to knowledge and skills respectively. This is the second stage which is the learning level according to Kirkpatrick. It is directed at measuring trainees’ performance in terms of their knowledge, skills and attitudes against the criteria which were set for the period of training. This generally means an end of the course assessment, comprising either a questionnaire to check the knowledge gained or a test to ascertain the skills acquired. A person who underwent training on word-processing may be asked to type a letter, and obviously the letter is expected to be well-formatted and free of errors.

8. Evaluate behavioural change

This focuses on the application of training and refers to level 3 or behaviour level of the Kirkpatrick model. It resonates well with what Aldous Huxley, a British author said a long time ago. “At the end of the day, what matters is not how much you know, but how much you have done”. Knowing should lead to doing, and doing should bring the desired results.

At this stage, the focus shifts from the training context to the work environment. How effectively has the knowledge, skills and attitudinal enhancement gained from training been transferred to the job is measured here. The immediate supervisor can play a critical role in this respect by providing feedback based on his/her observations of the trainee.

9. Be aware of the impact of the initiatives

Now is the time to focus on returns at a macro level. Return on Investment (ROI) or Return on Training Investment (ROTI) appears prominently in this regard. What Kirkpatrick calls the results level (Level 4), deals with measuring this important aspect. It involves complex calculations to establish benefits against costs, with a high amount of assumptions.

To obtain the desired results, the training should fulfill financial and non-financial expectations. In areas such as sales, it is relatively easy to measure the impact at results level, by using simple comparisons such as sales before and after the training. With regard to other areas involving knowledge and attitudinal enhancements, the situation is much more difficult with the involvement of multiple contributing factors towards results other than training.

10. Genuinely develop talent for prosperity

Talent development through training has a wide span. With economic growth and business expansion, organisations, public and private, focus more on training. Such a scenario demands the trainers play their role exceeding expectations. That requires them to do a sincere soul-searching to enhance one’s competencies. It is no more a game of going behind corporate decision makers in seeking opportunities. It is a case of competing on competencies so that caring and committed trainers will be more occupied.

Way forward

Talent development through training, which is on the rise, is a good thing. Yet, not measuring its effectiveness is a sad thing. In Sri Lanka, individuals and institutions alike can play a role in this regard. Let the 10 guidelines for talent developers pave the way for such endeavours.