The Role of Onboarding in Talent Management

You have hired (or promoted) your new talent and are hoping perhaps that the difficult part of talent management is over. Unfortunately, your real work has only just begun.

Many employers make the mistake of expecting new hires to simply be able to produce immediately, often with little or no training much less onboarding. Unless, however, you have hired fully developed staff who is already invested in your company and fits perfectly within your organizational culture and already know all of the intricate details of how you intend for them to carry out their duties, you need to give training, onboarding, and developing their talent its due course. There are a number of incidents and occasions that may arise that can put an unnecessary damper or strain on your new employee's relationship with you, with their coworkers, with their supervisor, and with the company as a whole. These issues often can be avoided given proper time and attention.

When a fry cook is hired, they typically go through a relatively short training process. Some of this process includes necessary HR procedures and paperwork. Some of this training may include an overview of the company, often including any particular niches or specialties the company provides, and is likely to include the new hire being given printed materials detailing the company's policies and procedures. The employee will then be shown their workstation, directed about how to clock in and out, and given similar information in this vein. All of this information is important and necessary and certainly should not be overlooked, but it is a far cry from the type of training that should be performed with the talent.

Training talent will inherently require significantly more involvement than training the cook, assuming that you are not running a restaurant where the fry cook will play a critical role in your long term success and is expected to create his or her own menu items or recipes. Most talent positions will be much more complex and require a significant increase of personal judgment and competencies. What is basic training for a fry cook will not be basic training for almost anyone considered to be talent. Even the job responsibilities new talent is expected to fulfill immediately and before any talent development, should still be much more complex in terms of basic and essential training.

Moreover, when you consider the fry cook, unless the company is offering an unbelievably fantastic work experience, the cook is likely to be invested in their job based on finite and concrete details, their salary, any benefits, ability to get along with their supervisor, and so forth. Most fry cooks are not necessarily looking for a place where they can learn and grow and eventually become the CEO (although that certainly is not out of the question). But hopefully, new talent that you are hiring is looking for a company where they can learn, grow, and hopefully advance. Talent is looking for a career and a company that can help them achieve that career in a positive and engaging place.

Enter onboarding. Through the process of onboarding, you will help new talent find their place in the company, both in terms of job responsibilities as well as within organizational culture. During this process, the employee should begin to investigate and assess whether the company is a workable match for him or her. Because much of onboarding should be done by their immediate supervisor, this will also help the employee determine the likelihood of any personality conflicts that might arise between themselves and their supervisor. The new hire is, in the process of all this, likely to become more and more emotionally and intellectually invested in not only their position, but also in the company as a whole.

If you are having trouble imagining what onboarding might consist of, consider the term itself, you are bringing somebody onboard with your ideas and beliefs. Your goal is not only for a new employee to understand their job functions and know how to perform them but also to value the mission and purposes of the overall company. Many types of activities count as onboarding and virtually every activity that helps develop organizational socialization can help a new employee to come onboard. Lectures, videos, formal meetings, and printed materials, such as those used during more traditional training, can be helpful with onboarding, especially when they are focused on organizational culture and the freedoms that come with working for your company.

Should the idea of communicating freedom be difficult to imagine, consider all of the ways that employees are often restricted. Within many companies, employees are not encouraged to take initiative, question their instructions, vent about conflict, suggest new ideas, and so on. While this certainly may be understandable within certain types of businesses or specific roles within the business, employees that are brought on as talent, or who demonstrate the potential to be considered as talent, should be encouraged to develop their competencies through the freedom provided. Of course, these freedoms must still be executed at the right time and the right place; onboarding is an excellent opportunity to help new talent understand when the proper time and place may be. An atmosphere that encourages communication, innovation, creative problem solving, and other positive actions is exactly what you want your company to have, especially among those who have been brought on to help your company achieve new growth and success.

Another key element of the onboarding process, working alongside the identification of freedom, is to establish transparency with your new employee. If you have hired an individual for a particular position but with an eye towards potentially promoting them within the organization's leadership, tell them so. Young, undiscovered, or less developed talent may not yet have a full appreciation for the wisdom that can come with experience.
Those with talent potential are frequently ambitious and can often become frustrated or feel stunted when they are unaware that they are already being considered or groomed for future roles, especially in the absence of strong leadership. While it is easy for a seasoned professional to see the value in not necessarily sharing that kind of information with new hires, you can sometimes be setting potential management up for failure and you may lose them in the process. By communicating with them that you are aware and appreciative of their desire to advance in the company and acknowledging that your intention is for this to occur, you are motivating them to work harder while also demonstrating to them your integrity.

As previously mentioned, onboarding is a great time to help demonstrate to new staff members the efforts of your organization to be inclusive. While this socialization aspect of onboarding is usually considered to be a professional style socializing rather than conventional socialization, helping new talent actually socialize with coworkers can play a significant role in bringing them onboard with the company. Obviously, any rules regarding relationships (both of the romantic and non-romantic nature) should be conveyed as part of the training. So then, introduce your new staff member. Let them meet as many other staff members as is practical. Might they meet people not only with whom their friendship naturally aids in the process of onboarding, but they can also have an opportunity to witness personally the diversity and inclusiveness your company has worked to achieve. An atmosphere of inclusion can help cement the onboarding of almost any new hire, as they are much more likely to find people with whom they share things, even if there are many more people with whom they do not share many commonalities.

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By performing a thorough onboarding, you are already beginning to develop your new talent. One of the many benefits of undiscovered or less developed talent is your ability to help shape them into not only great talent, but also great talent that is perfectly matched for your organization. Above all, by being open, honest, and inclusive, you are leading by example. In addition, onboarding will also give you, as an employer, plenty of opportunity to evaluate your new staff member as part of the trial period of employment. Just as they are able to discern whether they are a fit with your organizational culture and with their supervisor, you and their supervisor are able to make the same judgments about them.

Developing Talent

Talent development begins during the interview process and frankly, while we consider some talent to be fully developed, it never really ends. No employee is perfect and, thus, there is always room to develop their talent further. Although some differentiate between talent development and career development, for the purposes of this article they will be treated as synonymous in accordance with many talent management experts.

Talent development is a series of processes designed to grow and extract top notch talent within your leadership team. Each person that is considered to be talent within your organization should be mentored and properly supervised in order to ensure that their talent is being developed consistently. Unfortunately, many employers assume that potential talent will simply know how to perform and how to develop their own talent, but this is not true. While many employees with tremendous talent potential do have some education and experience, the crux of what makes them talent rests with their competencies. Therefore, an individual who has stellar competencies and tremendous potential to be a leader within the organization may not necessarily understand how to develop their own skills and expertise.

One of the earliest steps you can take to develop potential talent within your company is to assess your employees thoroughly, especially those employees considered talent or who will be groomed to be talent in the future. The assessment need not consist of questionnaires and tests but rather should be based on closely observing and mentoring the employee to determine their areas of strengths and weaknesses. Once you have established what areas need work, you can begin to plan projects and exercises that should help that employee to better develop their challenge areas; also, be sure to praise them and give them opportunities to shine utilizing their current strengths.

When assessing an employee, attention should be paid both to the staff member's ability to perform their current responsibilities as well as their likelihood of success in future talent positions. While grooming an employee to become a leader is time intensive and may prove fruitless if the employee is unable to better develop their talent, it is a far more desirable scenario than to spend the same amount of time fully orienting and onboarding an employee, putting them in a higher level job, and discovering that they are incapable of performing up to standards. By putting the time and effort into potential leaders within the company, you can help ensure that employee turnover has as little affect on operations as possible while inspiring and motivating the employees to demonstrate their competencies and their skills.

We hope that the talent you have hired to fill critical roles (whether immediately or over time) has demonstrated the competencies previously outlined. Similar to competencies, there are five factors that help produce sound execution of talent development and management that may help your business.
  • Accountability. Each staff member should know and understand what roles they are expected to perform and should be held accountable for the choices they make within that role. Accountability does not mean that an employee is necessarily bad for the company; rather it shows areas where your employee may need additional guidance. It also helps demonstrate to you, as their supervisor, what methods of communication you can improve as well.

  • Communication. It cannot be overstated that communication and transparency can make or break a working relationship. Employees, especially talent, should be aware of the organization's mission, the vision the organization is hoping to achieve, its proposed strategies to meet those goals, and what the organization is expecting and hoping to get out of each employee. By telling an employee that they are being groomed or should be considered talent in the future, they will be motivated. By making the organization's mission clear to them, they will become more rooted and have a significant interest in the success of the company. Clear and consistent communication is the key.

  • Alignment. This aspect of talent development rests primarily with current supervisors and leaders in the company rather than with new and developing talent. All of the planning that was done prior to hiring potential talent cannot be put away once the talent has been acquired; rather, it is important to provide continuous alignment of talent management initiatives with talent development based on the strategies and goals of the organization as a whole.

  • Skill. Most talent will have a certain level of natural competencies and skills. Few of them, however, are fully optimized for each competency and skill involved in performing their job functions and therein lies the potential for talent development. Coaches, mentors, and other leaders within the company can work with the talent to develop their skills further.

  • Measurement. There are many tasks in any given job responsibility that may seem difficult or implausible to measure; nevertheless, it is important to develop measurement techniques and tools for each of your talent employees to track their ongoing development. Some of the measurements may not be reflective of much if it is a standalone but combined with other measurements that are more concrete and finite, may promote an overall assessment of the general growth and development of each potential talent.

At its heart, talent development is about aligning the leadership potential of the talent with the strategies and goals of the business. Talent development may include some training, especially training for new positions or leadership roles, as well as career development, management, and organizational development. Talent development is essentially an integrated term for all of these functions occurring within the same company for each of its talent employees. Although career development is often considered an individual issue and hence has not always been an area that companies choose to involve themselves but it is critical that career development is part of talent development. Repeatedly, studies have shown that the employee retention is significantly higher when the employee has a career path even if their long term career may not be with your company.

It may seem counterintuitive to spend time and money developing a career path for an employee when that path will take them out of your purview and thus you will not get to enjoy the fruits of your labor when they begin working for someone else. Although this concept is certainly understandable, it is wrong. Any given individual's career path may take them on a different journey to other companies but for the time being, they are with your business and are likely to stay invested in your business when they understand how the time and work that they do for you will impact their long term career plans. Thus, helping an individual develop a career plan will improve employee retention and allow you the opportunity to develop talent from which you will benefit even if someone else will also benefit in the future.

A paper entitled The Nuclear Renaissance, a Life Cycle Perspective, put forth by the Washington group international, identified two "logical" laws of talent development. First, that any young or new technology-rich company will suffer from a shortage of technically trained people who are necessary to support growth of the company; the second law indicates their resources will come to these businesses when the companies become "attractive" to talented individuals. Yet talent development goes far beyond up and coming businesses and those that rely primarily on technology. Nevertheless, these laws, when expanded, do set the stage for understanding why talent management and development are critical.

One thing to remember when it comes to talent development is that the pipeline of talent within a company can only be as strong as its weakest link. Some of your employees with talent may require significantly less development on behalf of the company; while this is certainly helpful to you as it frees up resources, it should not condemn those individuals that do need more work or guidance through talent development. The top one or two leadership positions within a company are not the only positions where you want talent. Consequently, it is imperative to help develop any potential talent as much as possible to better serve the needs of the entire company.

Now there are some ethical issues that speak specifically to talent development. It can become very easy in certain situations for a company or business to develop the talent and careers of its staff in specific ways that might make the individual excellently suited for success in that company but perhaps not at other businesses. An overemphasis during the talent development process on unique characteristics and practices of the company may limit the employee's understanding and familiarity with how those same topics would be addressed by other companies. Obviously, you do not need to teach all of your talent how to do each task for every potential company out there. But if you find yourself specifically excluding pertinent information that would allow your talent to be successful at another company, you are definitely pushing the lines of ethical behavior. While you want to retain your employees for as long as possible in order to get the most benefit from the talent you have helped develop, it is highly unethical and downright wrong to set them up for failure if at some point they choose to leave your company for another.