There’s a bit of a catch-22 when you think about talent and an organization. You can have talent, but it can’t perform to its fullest without being part of an organization; you can also have an organization in place, but it can’t run well without talent.

Sometimes talent programs become muddled, and managers tend to approach them as short-term events for new or established employees. Unfortunately, they are missing opportunities to look at the entire system and incorporate talent programs at every phase.

The best approach is to always look toward developing both talent and the organization from beginning to end. To properly set up talent and therefore progress the organization, ask the following long-term questions:

  • What is the organization trying to accomplish?
  • What are its business needs?
  • What are the strategic challenges of the organization?
  • What role will the talent have in these challenges?
  • What are the talent’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What will help them overcome weaknesses?
  • What is hindering the organization from achieving what it needs to achieve?

Over many years, talent developer Christine Tricoli has learned those questions are vitally important. “When I think about pulling together a development program, I always start with those questions,” Tricoli said. “Without this analysis up front, you’re really just putting people into a classroom and getting them to know each other; you’re not getting the most out of it.”

In her current position as senior vice president and head of talent services at a financial services company, Tricoli ensures the effectiveness and high engagement of employees while aligning them to business strategy and objectives. This includes leading organizational design and development, learning and development, employment practices, and talent management functions. In essence, she facilitates dialogue with the right people.

“Asking the people who do the work for solutions to problems, and including them as part of a discussion in how to solve those problems, is the quickest way to get to the results,” she said. “When people work through problems together, and for a common purpose, that serves the company, they are engaged and should be rewarded.”

Many managers are anxious to get talent up to par in almost no time through some short-term solutions, but working through these questions is more effective in the long term. Employees feel part of the cause and become fully invested. One key component many miss is understanding the life cycle of an employee and how that fits with talent programs. It is vital to understand this life cycle in order to help each person succeed, and you must have talent management in each phase.

Before embarking on a talent development strategy, Tricoli asserts that you must first understand the phases of an employee life cycle, and then you can know how your talent programs fit into that life cycle.

6 Phases of the Employee Life Cycle

  1. Outreach: campus engagement, sites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor, recruiting portals, etc.
  2. Recruitment and Selection: job descriptions and behavioral- and competency-based interview questions
  3. Onboarding: new hire orientation and new board member orientation, code of business conduct, company swag, and employee and manager onboarding sites
  4. Performance Management and Recognition: performance goals and assessment, high potential and high performer programs, rotational assignments, special projects, leadership programs, mentoring, networking, career-pathing, succession planning, recognition and awards, etc.
  5. Development/Training: leadership programs, core behaviors training, etc.
  6. Off-Boarding: exit interviews and evaluations

Talent management and strategy aren’t just about having talent take classes when they are at a certain point within the organization; it’s about aligning the employee through every phase of the life cycle. Ensuring that the vision and mission of the organization encompass each component of the life cycle is a part of a comprehensive talent management program, which then translates into the talent helping achieve the company’s strategy.

“When someone comes to your website,” Tricoli explained, “they should be able to see your core behaviors or values. Once you have these established, then you can begin to interview candidates based on your core behaviors and competencies. When we onboard employees, we communicate how important those core beliefs are to us. Through every phase, we are systemically aligning talent to our strategy and showing the way in which we will carry out that strategy.”

Talent programs must be supported by the CEO and management team, who then attend portions of the programs, speak at company dinners, teach segments of the programs and answer questions about their own leadership experiences. Talent programs should also be reevaluated every few years to ensure that those core values are still part of the company’s true identity and make adjustments as necessary.

“The degree to which you train, educate and connect to people will result in the overall success of the company’s performance and often the increased engagement level of the staff,” Tricoli said.

To pull it all together, follow three steps:

  1. Align your employee life cycle to your mission, strategy and values.
  2. Ensure that identified gaps are the focus of the development program.
  3. Include employees and managers in program design.