Assessing Your Ability to Develop Talent

The checklist is broken down into 14 different sections, each covering a unique set of talent development processes.


World-class talent development departments include these elements and characteristics in the design of their measurement systems:

1.      ROI — The ROI  or Cost/Benefit ratio of each major development initiative is calculated and reported to line management

2.      Revenue per dollar spent — The ratio of company revenues to dollars spent on development is routinely evaluated

3.      Impact on performance — The impact of development initiatives on the business are evaluated by calculating the correlation between development dollars spent and worker productivity

4.      KSA Related Delays — The number of delays in work that can be attributed to lack of knowledge, skills or abilities of the workforce (as reported by a survey of managers) is tracked and continuously compared to internal benchmarks

5.      Key Performance Driver Assessment — Managers assessment of key deliverables by function as drivers of employee performance (measured by a survey that forces managers to force rank deliverables based on their relative contribution to each departments productivity or goal attainment)

6.      Program cost — Program costs are measured and benchmarked against leading talent competitors to maintain optimal cost/benefit ratio

7.      Participation rates — The percentage of employees that participate in voluntary activities each year is tracked and compared to last year

8.      # of development hours — The number of hours of development that the average worker participants in each year is tracked and reported to managers

9.      % of salary spent — The % of the average employees salary that is devoted by the organization to training and development is tracked

10.  There are program measures that provide proof that each individual development initiative’s performance results improve each year

11.  The development function seeks and gathers periodic “customer” feedback from managers, employees and third-party participants in order to continually improve. There is evidence to demonstrate that the feedback was used to modify programs each year

12.  Development impacts the culture — There is evidence that development departmental efforts strengthens (and changes where appropriate) the corporate culture, mission and values

13.  Development and diversity — There is evidence that development programs help add diversity to the organization, in order to increase our business capabilities

14.  Distributed metrics — development results metrics are distributed quarterly to all managers to encourage competition, the sharing of best practices and to improve results

15.  Metrics dashboard — The development department maintains a metrics “dashboard” which allows them to continually monitor all of the vital elements in a successful development function. Advanced departments provide a single development “index” which allows you to see how you are doing at a single glance

Evidence of program recognition

16.  Internal recognition — Development programs and their results are highlighted somewhere in the annual report (because what is included in the annual report is an indication of top management’s assessment of major business impacts)

17.  External recognition — The development department receives write-ups, awards or rankings from external publications and associations

18.  Benchmark target — At least one of the top firms in our industry contacts your firm each year in order to benchmark your best practices


World class development departments include these elements and characteristics in the design of their goals and strategies:

19.  Distributed goals — the development department has published and distributed its priorities, values and measurable goals (with numerical targets for each goal)

20.  Learning organization goal — The overall goal of the department is to build a “continuous learning organization” that learns and shares information faster than anyone in the industry

21.  On-the-job learning goal — The department’s goal is to increase learning and development both on and off the job rather than just offering “development programs”.  This is because effective departments realize upfront that development and learning are not the same as development or offering “programs” and that on-the-job” learning has higher business impacts

22.  Solution provider goal — A primary goal is to be a function that provides “solutions” to business problems.

23.  Increasing productivity goal — Like all HR departments, another primary goal is to increase the productivity of the workforce by encouraging and supporting continuous learning and development.

24.  “What works sharing” goal – A primary goal of any development department is to facilitate solution and problem sharing between managers.

25.  Sense of urgency goal — One of its primary goals is to demonstrate the positive “value proposition” of development.  As a result, it builds a strong written business case and a sense of urgency among employees and managers (as demonstrated by employee surveys) about continuous learning & improvement

26.  Agility goal — A primary goal of the department is to be agile.  As a result, it can demonstrate examples of its agility and its formal plan to rapidly redeploy resources (people, information and talent) to meet changing business needs

27.  Fact-based decision-making goal — Because one of its values is to be “businesslike”, the department’s managers strive to make “fact-based” decisions

28.  Development ownership goal — One of its primary objectives is to shift “the ownership” of development issues to managers and employees.  In that role, it influences (rather than forces) managers and employees to continually learn and to stay on the leading edge of knowledge.

29.  Consultant and advisor goal — The development department acts like an advisor, in that it informs and gives managers a range of choices.  As a result, there are few mandatory programs.  Instead, it builds demand for its programs first rather than “forcing” programs on managers and employees

30.  Strategy “awareness” goal — The development department’s overall strategy is known by all.  The strategy is developed by benchmarking the best strategies from other world-class development functions.  The department’s own strategy fits a “model” (i.e. University, e-learning, technical skills focused, leadership skills focused) and it has a “name”. Managers and departmental staff can recite the name and the basic elements of the development strategy (assessed through a random sample survey)

31.  Written strategic planning goal — The department has a written strategic plan.  Because it is forward-looking, the department has formalized programs and systems that monitor and forecast the external business environment so that development can proactively anticipate business opportunities and problems


The department function recognizes that managers are its primary customers; as a result, the development department actively seeks out managers and executive assessment of development effectiveness.  World class development departments include these elements and characteristics in the design of their satisfaction surveys and when assessing managerial involvement:

32.  Amount — Surveys indicate that managers are satisfied with the amount of development available to them and their employees

33.  Quality — Surveys indicate that managers are satisfied that quality of the development that is available to them and their employees

34.  Performance impact — Managers report that development has a noticeable impact on employee performance in employees that attend development activities

35.  Top manager led activities — The percentage of development programs taught by the CEO / top management/ high-profile individuals is tracked.  A high percentage of involvement indicates significant management commitment

36.  Manager led activities — The percentage of development programs taught by line managers is tracked.  Increasing the percentage is important because the credibility of the presenter has a large impact on development effectiveness

37.  Management sponsorship — the number of development programs sponsored or championed by executives is tracked because their investment is an indication of their interest. Managers can also demonstrate their sponsorship by funding new development programs

38.  Manager objectives — Managers are given measurable development objectives at the beginning of each year


As a secondary customer and primary user, the talent development department is concerned about the employee’s assessment of their development offerings. World class development departments include these elements and characteristics in the design of their employee assessment process:

39.  Employees report impact — employees self-report that their actual job performance changed as a result of their development (as a result of a six-month follow-up post development survey)

40.  Employees are on the leading edge of knowledge — A majority of employees, when surveyed, agree that they remain on the “leading edge” of knowledge

41.  Overall attendee satisfaction — Employee satisfaction after completing development sessions is measured

42.  Learning plans — Each employees has an individual learning and development plan that is updated each year. Every new hire, transferee or promoted individual has an individual learning plan for their first 6 months on the job

43.  Personal development budget — Each individual is provided with their own “personal development budget” (as a percentage of their salary) each year

44.  Employee satisfaction with quantity — Employees are satisfied with the amount of development available (as indicated by results in the annual employee survey, 360-degree assessments or development effectiveness surveys)

45.  Employee satisfaction with quality — Employees are satisfied with the quality of the development that is available to them (as indicated by results in the annual employee survey, 360-degree assessments or development effectiveness surveys)

46.  Employees are assessed on development — Employees indicated in surveys that they understand the portion of their annual performance appraisal is based on their continuous learning and development. Employees agree that there is an expectation that they remain continuous learners

47.  Needs assessment — There is evidence that opportunities are provided for individual employees to undergo skill assessment testing and follow-up advising and that employees are satisfied with that assessment process


Results are assessed and accountability is ensured through the use of the following approaches and world-class elements

48.  Top managers reward criteria — “Development effectiveness” is part of top management’s year-end assessment and reward criteria

49.  Employee reward criteria — Individual employees are formally assessed and rewarded for continuous learning, development and improvement

50.  Manager assessment criteria — Individual managers are assessed on how well they train and develop their employees as part of their regular performance appraisal

51.  Rewards for “releasing” talent — Managers are assessed and rewarded for moving top talent in and out of their department (or are penalized for hoarding talent)

52.  Rewards for developing those outside your department — Individual managers are assessed and rewarded for mentoring and developing employees that work outside their business unit

53.  Fee-for-service — Some percentage of development programs are offered on a fee-for-service or chargeback basis in order to demonstrate their economic value.


Ensuring that development activities provide our firm with a distinct competitive advantage over major competitors is a primary goal of the talent development department.  That competitive advantage is ensured by including the following design elements that help to build and maintain a competitive advantage:

54.  Higher rankings — Our development program is ranked higher than our competitors in Training Magazine’s annual rankings

55.  Competitive analysis — A side by side program comparison is compiled each year comparing our development programs to those of our direct competitors.  Each year gaps are identified and resources are allocated to close those gaps

56.  Competitive intelligence gathering — The firm does continuous competitive intelligence gathering on the competitor’s development programs

57.  Outsourcing limits — There is a limited amount of outsourcing of advanced development programs because the use of outside vendors limits our ability to offer “unique” programs that no one else has


Development activities and goals must be closely integrated with other business and HR units in order to achieve excellent overall results.  World class development departments include these elements and characteristics in the design of their integration processes:

58.  Business needs drive development — Development programs are prioritized according to business needs.  There is evidence to demonstrate that development programs are created and funded based on business needs and priorities

59.  Alignment with HR goals — There is evidence that individual development goals and objectives are directly linked or aligned with specific HR and corporate goals and objectives

60.  Integrated with HR functions — There are formal mechanisms that serve to integrate development with other HR functions (especially workforce planning, recruiting, OD, educational assistance, benchmarking and retention).  Some of those mechanisms include cross-functional teams, interdepartmental job rotations, shared  results metrics or rewards that are tied to overall (rather than functional) performance

61.  Coordinates with service and sales — the development department demonstrates that it coordinates its efforts with customer and sales training. Independence allows for disconnects between these vital strategic components, while integration speeds up shared learning

62.  Integration with performance management — there is evidence that there is a formal link between development, employee relations and performance management efforts and systems

63.  Integration with the workforce plan — the development department participates in the creation of the firm’s workforce plans. The workforce plan includes a forecast of future competency and skills needs

64.  Integration with succession planning — Leadership development activities are an integrated element of the leadership succession plan


World-class development organizations have a direct impact outside their function.  Two of the primary areas where they impact our recruiting and retention efforts.  Indications of world-class status in this area means including the following program relating to recruiting and retention are included in the development program design and assessment:

65.  Development impacts hiring — New hires are asked during orientation if development opportunities or one of the prime reasons for accepting their position. This information is “fed back” to the development department

66.  New hire needs assessment and development — The development needs of new hires are formally assessed during their first month as part of standard orientation and on-boarding.  The department has measures to assess whether initial new hire development is completed on time

67.  Learning ability is a new hire criteria — The ability to learn and self develop is a hiring (and promotion) criteria for a majority of the jobs

68.  Development impacts retention — In “why do you stay” interviews (or retention surveys) employees cite development and development opportunities as one of the top five reasons why they stay at the firm

69.  Development impacts retention — The retention rates of the people that actively participated in development programs this year is compared to the retention rates of the people that you trained last year. Retention rates of individuals that did not participate in development activities are compared to those that did participate

70.  Poor development offerings do not cause turnover — All employees that voluntary terminate are asked in their exit (or post-exit) interview whether they left because of a lack of development/ learning? That information is “fed back” to the development department


Because technology increases the capability of the development function, it needs to permeate everything the department does.  Indications of excellence in the technology area include:

71.  Open book management — because the availability of information affects employee’s ability and willingness to continuously learn, the percentage of corporate information that is available 24/7 through self-service on the organization’s Intranet is monitored

72.  Development programs online — The percentage of employee development courses available on-line is assessed and get increases each year

73.  Participation reporting to managers — In order to maintain every managers “awareness” of their employees development needs and results, the department offers a computerized tracking system that reports to a managers desktop the development attendance, satisfaction and skill” gap” of their employees.

74.  Skills and interests database — Employee skills and development interests can be instantly sorted and queried by management via the intranet.  This capability allows management to identify and assemble project teams at low cost and in short time frames

75.  Online administrative capabilities —  The department offers online sign-ups, video previews, employee reviews, course assessment scores and course availability on a self-service Web site to make it easier to access the department’s programs

76.  Website usage  — Employee usage of the firm’s knowledge or development web site is tracked (and it continually increases each year)

77.  Best practice sharing web site usage — The effectiveness and ease-of-use of the development departments are best practice sharing web site is continually assessed

78.  24/7 capability — in large geographically dispersed organizations, it is critical that a majority of information and services offered by the development department be available to those in different time zones.  As a result, the percentage of information and services that are available online through self-service is continually assessed and improved

79.  Integration with other databases — The development database is directly linked to other HR and business databases


True learning organizations ensure the continuous acquisition and spreading of knowledge, problems and solutions throughout the company. Not all development departments strive to turn their organizations into “learning organizations”.  However, if this is one of your primary goals, then you should include the following elements into your program design. .  Design features that indicate that your department has processes that will help make your organization a true learning organization include:

80.  Learning organizational goal — because of the high economic value of becoming a learning organization, senior management have included among the company’s overall strategic goals the goal of becoming and maintaining a learning organization

81.  Quantity of sharing — There is evidence that you periodically track the volume of  sharing of solutions, problems and the transfer of information within the organization and that you have processes to improve the sharing of “what works” solutions and potential problems

82.  Speed of sharing of internal information — the department has developed processes that increase the speed of information sharing.  In addition, the department tracks the speed (measured in days) in which problems and best practice solutions “that work” are shared with a majority of the managers.  It also develops processes that decrease the speed (measured in days) in which it takes for an idea to go from the bottom to the top of the organization (or vice versa)

83.  Sharing internal “bad news” — because there is a natural tendency in organizations for managers and employees to “hide” errors and bad news is essential that the development department create processes that encourage individuals to disclose “bad news” and to rapidly share that negative news throughout the organization. Failing to make everyone aware of problems and errors guarantees that many more individuals in the organization will repeat them do to their ignorance or lack of warning. The percentage and the speed in which this negative information is shared between a majority of the managers is tracked

84.  Sharing of external information — There is evidence that you have processes to periodically acquire and then to track the time required to acquire and share external best practice, competitive intelligence and business event information

85.  Rapid learning about external events — The development department has processes that increase the speed in which individuals learn about external business “events” (the number of hours it takes for more than 50% of the employees to learn about an external business event in our industry)

86.  Volume of external benchmarking — The development department has processes for assessing and increasing the percentage of employees that are continuously gathering industry and business data or that are benchmarking best practices in our industry

87.  Bottom up idea sharing — because there is a tendency in many large organizations for most ideas to come from” the top down”, it is essential in learning organizations a large number of ideas also filter from the bottom up.  As a result, the department develops processes that encourage and increase idea generation and sharing.  It also tracks the percentage of new ideas that come from the bottom 30% of the organization up (as opposed to from the top 30% down).


World-class development includes a truly global approach to development and learning.  Indications of a global approach include:

88.  Multilingual — the department makes a conscious effort to make a significant percentage development programs available in other languages

89.  Localization — There is evidence that a majority of the development programs are being customized to fit diverse cultures and geographic regions.  This is important because most development programs are “ US or corporate headquarters centric” and a global marketplace requires meeting local needs

90.  Global development staff — the department makes a conscious effort to recruit development staff  from outside the headquarters country

91.  Global initiation of development programs — the department develops processes to encourage the creation of development programs by individuals located outside the headquarters country


World-class development departments offer both traditional and alternative approaches to development and learning.  Some of the indicators that non-traditional approaches are being offered include:

92.  On-the-job development opportunities — Because on-the-job development play such a crucial role in development, the department create processes to encourage and facilitate on-the-job development and learning.  On-the-job opportunities including short-term project and team assignments as well as part-time, temporary and permanent job rotations programs that are coordinated by the development department

93.  Team-based development opportunities — Because most work is done in teams, the development department offers programs that provide team based development for “in tact” workgroups and teams

94.  Mentor opportunities – The department facilitates the process of acquiring a mentor and making the relationship effective

95.  Opportunities to develop benchmarking skills — The development department provides programs designed to provide individuals with the skills necessary to benchmark or network because networking plays such a key role in fast learning

96.  Article and book summaries — because managers and employees have very little chance to leave the job site to attend development programs, it is essential that they be provided with materials that help them learn at their work side.  As a result, some non-classroom development is provided through the distribution of articles and books, article and book summaries, best practices studies, subscriptions, at home video and in-car audio CD’s. In addition, employees are provided with information about online services such as listservers, bulletin boards, online “chat” groups and professional information sites as alternative development mechanisms

97.  Self-directed learning opportunities — Because not all employees learn at the same speed, the department must provide self-directed/ self-service learning so employees can move at their own speed.

98.  Development during “off hours” — A significant portion of the available development must be made “user-friendly”.  This means that frequently development is available after business hours, during scheduled “down times” and during lunch periods.  Development demonstrates that it “comes to them” at locations that are convenient to the participant

99.  Rapid response capability — “SWAT” type teams are available to rapidly address crisis development needs.

100. Simulations and scenarios — Online technical and management simulations, expert systems or “if-then scenarios are available to allow employees and managers do work on problems “before” they actually occur

101. Development during the “available” time — because most managers and employees do not have large blocks of time to allocate to development, world-class development departments offer development activities that fit into the short “bits” of time that they do have available.  Development “on the run” programs and tools are offered.  Whenever possible, programs are delivered in the limited “time that is available” to the employee or manager.  There is evidence that the development department makes a conscious effort to limit an employees time “off the job”


The way that development resources and budgets are allocated is an important indicator of world-class status.  Some of the key indicators of the strategic allocation of resources include:

102. Resources available — The percentage of the total corporate budget that is dedicated to development is higher at your firm than the industry average because the department has built an excellent business case

103. Lower percentage cuts — When corporate budgets are reduced during tight times, development budgets are reduced at a lower (or equal amount) to the average reduction (again an indication of a strong business case)

104. Demonstration programs — When possible, the department runs pilot programs or split samples in order to clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of development programs (as compared to “control groups”)

105. Budget aligned with goals — A periodic check is done to ensure that the development department’s budget and time allocations are in direct proportion to the development departmental objectives, HR objectives and business goals.  Additional assessments are periodically made to ensure that development time and budget are primarily spent on high priority business units, managers and jobs

106. Allocate resources to high ROI activities — There is evidence that the development department has a formal process to allocate or reallocate resources to the highest ROI development programs. There is evidence that development rapidly redeploys department resources from areas of low return to areas of high return and there is further evidence that low ROI programs are periodically dropped

107. Sunset date — All major programs have  a “sunset” date so that they are continually forced to provide evidence of their continuing value and that those that cannot are dropped


World-class development and development departments manage their internal operations differently than “average” departments.  Some of the characteristics and elements that indicate an excellent approach include:

Program and needs assessment

108. Failure analysis — The development department has established formal programs to assess development failures and successes.  There is a formal mechanism to ensure that the learnings are “fed back” to improve the development process

109. Periodic needs assessments — There is evidence that the department conducts periodic “needs assessments” throughout the organization in order to ascertain development and development needs. The department conducts focus groups to identify issues, development opportunities and problems

110. Forecast the future — The development department forecasts future development and learning issues in order to help prevent them (or minimize their impact)

111. JIT capability — the department has a capability of “instant” program development to meet certain business needs.  There is evidence that just in time programs have been periodically developed for these unpredictable problems and needs

112. “Best time” identification — Training conducts a “best time” survey in order to identify the right times to offer programs

Customer service and responsiveness

113. One-stop shopping — there is evidence that the development department provides services  are seamless to the customer (they don’t require multiple contacts or calls) and the department periodically assesses the degree to which it is “easy to do business with”

114. Seeking out complaints — There is evidence that the department formally seeks out and measures errors and complaints. It tracks and reports its error/ complaint rates from managers, employees and applicants

115. Service level agreements are utilized — Service level agreements are established with departments and managers in order to demonstrate our responsiveness and commitment to quality service

116. Offerings are exciting – the development department makes a conscious effort to monitor the extent to which employees consider his offerings to be exciting and to make it’s programs interesting and challenging (not boring).  Most activities include hands-on or action learning and current business problems that participants can relate to

Training department operations

117. Qualifications — The head and senior managers of development and development have line business experience

118. Requirements to work in the business units — Members of the development and development team are required to spend a portion of their time working in the business units each year. Periodically members of the development staff are also required/encourage to work outside of the development function in a P&L job as a “development” opportunity to help them better understand and relate to the business

119. Branding and image building — The development department makes a formal attempt at building and assesses it’s external and internal brand because the brand has a significant impact on recruiting and retention

120. Prove that programs work and why — in order to avoid the label on an organization that offers “flavor of the month” programs the development department makes a conscious effort to ensure that all programs are based on sound theory and that the department collects data that proves not just that the programs work but in addition, specifically why they work.  Knowing why programs work helps allow for continuous improvement

Continually improving departmental efficiency

121. Cycle time — The cycle time (months) for developing new development programs assessed each year

122. Cost — The cost per participant is assessed each year

123. Quality certifications — The department meets, where appropriate, ISO, six sigma and other quality program guidelines

124. Targeting the top performers — the department has a formal process for ensuring that it targets a significant percentage of our it’s programs toward high and medium level performers (rather than the lowest performers because they require different types of programs and program delivery)

125. Educate managers — Managers are provided information on the “costs” of each development program in order to minimize unnecessary usage.  World-class development departments also educate them about the costs of competing externally available develop programs so that they can make an educated choice

126. Alerts to managers — Relevant information about development activities is “pushed” to individual managers to right before they need it (when their interest is high)

127. Minimize jargon — The department makes a conscious effort to minimize the use of jargon and the adoption of “fad” development programs


128. Benchmark development practices — The development department periodically benchmarks and learns from the best practices both within and outside industry

129. Recruit the best development professionals — The department identifies the best  development professionals and periodically recruits them to the firm

130. Sharing with strategic partners — There is best practice sharing among our “strategic alliance” partners, suppliers and even customers


The preceding checklist can be a vital tool in assessing your current development efforts and developing a plan for improvement.  If you faired well, i.e. you could affirm yes to at least 60% of the items, then congratulations.  However, as any CFO would tell you, it is quite possible to perform all of the actions, have all of the programs elements and processes of a great talent development function in place without actually producing any substantial results and business impacts.

Once you have completed the checklist, share your results with senior leadership.  Do their perceptions match yours?  Do they have ideas you haven’t evaluated?  Armed with the proof that you meet each of the preceding characteristics, reposition your function as a key strategic deliverable, and you may just find yourself rising in corporate popularity.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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