Tamar Elkeles

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9 min read

Learning and talent are colliding — and businesses need a hub to bring them together


For a long time, learning professionals believed their roles were all about development.  Those days are gone.

Now, development is just one of three talent pillars to focus on.  The other two are attraction and retention.

Today’s learning professionals own a more holistic approach to managing talent.  That’s why Chief Learning Officers are becoming Chief Talent Officers.  It’s up to us to set the talent agenda for our organizations.

We’re at an inflection point

This shift is taking place because of the competition for talent, new leadership expectations and the complexity of business today..

Holding onto the best employees is paramount for a company’s success.  And development is a necessity for keeping talented employees.

Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report found that “a lack of development and career growth” is the number one reason employees leave a job.

So the spotlight on talent management is coming from two directions.  Executives are saying, “I need to be thinking about how to attract and retain the best.”  And employees are saying, “I’d like to stay in a company for longer, but I need to be sure that I’m being developed in a way that will grow my career.”

Staffing for jobs that don’t exist yet

The need to manage talent is also a byproduct of this incredible era of disruption.

Business is changing very fast and with disruptive technologies and increasing complexity, organizations are struggling to stay competitive and relevant.  They need to be leveraging employees who have the ability to learn new skills quickly, and who can transition into new roles as new opportunities emerge. Companies need to develop people for jobs that don’t even exist yet, which is quite a challenge for learning professionals.

This is true across all industries.  Lots of established companies never thought they’d be displaced by a disruptive new idea or technology.  Even big box stores that stayed at the top of their game for decades are quickly losing market share and closing their doors.

No matter what your business is selling, a startup can come along, be cheaper, faster, or better and take customers and profits away.  It’s no longer just about known competitors, it’s about new ideas and emerging technologies that can disrupt entire industries. There are numerous examples of businesses closing and suffering in this world of disruption.

Internal mobility is crucial

Businesses can’t respond fast enough to the changes that are occurring. With talent, it’s a “make or buy” decision — are we going to hire someone to fill that new role or can we develop someone to step in quickly? When I was at Qualcomm, we preferred a “develop from within” strategy. That required us to continually assess, develop and strategically manage our internal talent to meet the demands of the business.

Studies say it’s cheaper and more successful to develop from within.  Wharton Professor Matthew Bidwell found that “external hires get paid more and perform worse than internal staff.”  Internal hires already know the company, understand the culture and have established relationships.

It can be very challenging to integrate new employees into a company. Great onboarding programs and ensuring there are realistic job previews make a significant difference when bringing in external talent. Company culture is critical and it’s the role of the learning professionals to effectively communicate and emphasize the norms and ways of working to ensure new employee success.

New employees are sometimes referred to as “new organs” in the system. Unfortunately “organ rejection” is a real issue, unless there is very careful analysis and support for enabling the new organ to work well with all the existing functions in the system.

How to build a culture of learning

This can’t be handled in isolation.  You need to build a culture of learning and development. That starts the day employees join the company and continues throughout their employee lifecycle.

Employees should come to a company to continue learning. L&D should be integrated into the workplace, a standard part of what everyone in the organization understands is expected of them.

To do this effectively, I recommend taking three steps:


First, identify the talent needs in your company.  What skills do you need to be competitive today?  What skills do you anticipate needing over the next one to two years?


Next, figure out where your talent stands now.  Do a deep dive assessment into the talent and skills you currently have in your workforce.  Make sure you really know not just your HiPos (high potentials) or high performers, but also all the employee skills throughout the organization.


Now, put resources in place that can move the company from where you are to where you need to be.  Use every tool at your disposal — online courses, coaching, assignments, mobile learning, academic programs and more.

Why you need a learning experience platform

When I was chief learning officer at Qualcomm, I found that building our employees’ career paths using Pathgather was the answer.  As a learning experience platform, it pulls together learning, user generated content and information from across the company, making it easy to build a robust learning ecosystem.

The traditional LMS is antiquated and in many cases isn’t even necessary today. We don’t manage learning anymore and we cannot capture all of the learning that takes place among employees or within the organization.

The way learning takes place now is much broader and more social.  A true learning organization is one in which employees can share their learning experiences and add their own content.  And it’s crucial to make all this learning available on mobile devices, for people to engage in whenever and wherever is best for them.

By having one centralized hub, you can truly leverage your learning organization.  You can see what various coworkers who excel in certain fields recommend as great content for learning. You can see the learning opportunities that various managers in your organization recommend.  You can see the new, emerging skills co-workers are developing, and which offerings are most helpful — whether YouTube videos, TED Talks, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), or more.

A centralized platform allows people to personalize their learning experiences, which makes them much more engaged.  And it gives you the talent analytics you’re looking for.  That’s why Pathgather has become a learning experience platform, not just a learning platform.

Overhaul needed

For learning professionals, now is the time for bold moves. As I said at last years ATD conference, It’s time to be progressive and build experiences for today’s workforce.

It’s worth the time and the effort.  In setting the talent agenda, you’re setting your entire business up for continued success.

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