Helping your talents build the skills they need

Helping your talents build the skills they need

Listen to how they view their future and encourage them to plot their course

A recent study by Western Michigan University researchers estimated that 80-85% of learning never gets applied or consistently applied in the workplace. The investment implications for business leaders are staggering.

How motivated would your talents be to learn what you tell them if they think that even 40% of it is a waste of time sitting in a class for?

I am personally more optimistic, but the above could help to explain why your talent may not be turning the money you spend on them into opportunities and on-the-job improvements if their expectations are so low coming in.

And let’s be honest: Nobody can afford to waste money or time these days.

I am an advocate of more personalised, self-driven talent development because I have noticed how often my talents said “I don’t know”, or “I was wrong, we need to consider …”, and “I need to learn how to …”. I realised that I didn’t know what to tell them anymore. I also have learned that they upskilled the fastest when they recognised a real-world need themselves. The new approach we settled on is also more cost-effective.

I think the challenge many business leaders face in the current situation is making their talent understand that they are responsible for building their future careers and opportunities — in other words, changing from a push to a pull approach to understanding.

People have always had an intrinsic motivation to learn how to be and do better. It is a message that is impossible to transmit in words alone, even for the most enthusiastic HR teams.

Your talent won’t apply themselves and what they learn on blind faith anymore. Too much has changed, and they have too much to do. And if they don’t believe, they will focus on doing things the old way, using old skills.

From personal experience, I can confirm how long it takes and how difficult it is to get even the brightest people to adjust. It can take an incredible amount of time and focus, but it is vital to the future of the business. We also don’t want avid learners who will discard the 85% of their learning as mentioned earlier.

How can you ensure that your talent believe they are responsible for their own opportunities? How can you ensure they understand that learning and applying it will separate those who thrive from those who don’t?

Empathy and understanding of your talents’ current situation and disposition to upskilling and doing new things is the best starting place. Today we all face increasing challenges in communicating and maintaining effective relationships in the hybrid world. We all face uncertainty and technology-related challenges.

We all face some level of doubts about maintaining our wealth, health and futures. But leaders need to get more specific about their individual talents. Increasingly we need everyone to be more curious, courageous and patient. However, nothing good will happen by itself. Talents need to step up and be proactive. They will need a nudge of some sort.

Here is how I have approached nudging my talents:

Engage them in painting a picture of their future. Don’t just preach, but help your talents contribute ideas and feel ownership. Get them to describe what they see working, or a brighter future. Co-creation is why we used to have strategic retreats, but today we need to engage a level of foresight and let people identify what they need to create/do to build the future.

Explain what is behind the need. Senior leaders can fall victim to believing that our talent is on the same page as us. We have had longer to consider it and tend to share it all at once with great enthusiasm. But do we spend enough time and provide an opportunity for our talents to come back with questions? To ask us why we think it should be this way? To internalise and realise what they can do and learn to contribute?

Empower them to choose their path and how they will be held accountable for it. Empowerment is a double-edged sword. For leaders, it really means trusting people and not just telling them. This isn’t easy when we are not aligned. However, if we are going to give our talents this level of trust, they need to be able to provide a plan and a clear picture of what their success will look like. It doesn’t need to be a KPI or anything like that, but something you all are aligned with.

Enable them to choose where to start. Let your talents solve big problems or chase their own development opportunities first. Let them use intrinsic motivation to get started and build their upskilling momentum. Their priorities may not be exactly the same as what you think, but listen and support them when you can. And advise and convince when you can’t.

Wherever possible, ensure they build skills that can transform their work and even lives. Also, encourage the development of transferrable skills for the ever-changing world we live in, and not skills that will be out of date in a year or two.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Talk to us about how SEAC can help your business during times of uncertainty at

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