7 Steps for Creating a Sustainable Talent Development Program

Ann Giambusso outlines how she secured Charmer Sunbelt Group’s future talent needs

Ann Giambusso is the executive vice president of human resources at Charmer Sunbelt Group

1: Identify the Company’s Needs

The objectives for your talent development program should be clearly formulated by your CEO, which will allow leadership to be a tower of strength during the process. “In my experience, without that senior management commitment and ongoing support, any program like this would not be successful,” Giambusso says.

Charmer Sunbelt Group (CSG), a $5.2 billion family-owned spirits and wine distributor, created its talent development program four years ago through the leadership of Giambusso and the vice president of the learning and development department. “We recognized that as the organization continued to grow and our industry continued to evolve, we needed to internally field exceptionally talented leaders, which meant facilitating the development of our people,” Giambusso says.

A talent development program is a way of looking into the future and should answer the question “Where do you want today’s leaders and managers to go tomorrow?” In creating it, try to understand what has happened historically and look at how leaders have performed over time.

2: Assess Any Previous Succession Plans

Find out the current state of talent within the company. If there was a previous succession plan in place, identify what did and did not work and why. “Although we wanted leaders knowledgeable about our unique business and organizational culture, we struggled to find internal talent to move up into mid- and senior-level leadership positions,” says Giambusso of CSG’s previous talent pipeline. “We realized we focused heavily on performance reviews of individuals’ competencies in their current roles, but did not always have the depth of discussion needed regarding what was required for an individual’s next role. Understanding that gap was critical.”

3: Design the Process

Management of your talent development program’s process rollout should fall under your HR and organizational development teams, who should adopt any tools that you already have in place. If needed, seek third-party expertise for guidance to create the desired process, which is what Giambusso did at CSG, bringing on assistance from Development Dimensions International and Lominger, two talent-management companies.

CSG designed a process to create a pool of “potential leaders,” a catalog of all associates currently holding management responsibilities. Each of these associates created a management profile that detailed educational background, prior work experience, and leadership aspirations. Another portion of the profile was completed by the associate’s supervisor, in which the associate was assessed on 10 distinct competencies that CSG identified as critical for its leadership positions. The supervisor then met with an HR director and executive leadership to share the assessment, discuss future job openings within the organization, and determines the potential leader’s “readiness” for the next challenging role. “Having the supervisor and entire executive group involved is a critical element in the process,” Giambusso says.

4: Involve the Leaders You Already Have

Involve key management leaders early in the process, as their interaction, involvement, and communications are essential in embedding a successful talent development program in the organization. Recognizing their contributions in public meetings with their peers will keep them focused and engaged to continue driving the success of the program.

5: Communicate

Keep leadership up to speed, so that they, in turn, can keep their teams up to speed. Communication is “an ongoing step that parallels the other implementation steps,” says Giambusso, who shares tools with leadership so that they can share the process with their teams and assist their local managers.

“It’s important, even if you don’t have the ‘how’ perfectly defined, to start communicating what the company is trying to achieve and the process to get there,” Giambusso adds. “A successful talent development program requires your associates at all levels to be engaged. Communicating with them early on will drive this needed engagement.”

“There are great business reasons to put in place this process. Namely, to ensure a strong talent pool as your business grows and evolves.”  —Ann Giambusso

6: Test and Assess

Once you have a process created, test it with a small group rather than the whole company. For CSG, the talent-development process was used with a group of 100 leaders from across the company, who were in turn reviewed by senior management.

Once completed, determine the success of the test and obtain feedback from management. After CSG’s pilot, Giambusso recognized the need to focus on the development planning and follow-up processes. “We realized we needed to provide more tools for the potential leaders and supervisors to create [development] plans,” she says. “As a result, we built a more structured template and provided online practice tools for the supervisors.”

7: Follow Up

Once a talent plan is put into place for an associate, continual communication is key. CSG’s team conducts follow-up discussions with the associates and their supervisors at 6 and 12 months. CSG uses these check-ins to evaluate how the plan is progressing and to address any challenges.

Once you have a talent development program in place, ensure that it meets the organizational needs outlined by your senior leadership. Giambusso has a formal meeting with the COO every other year to review the talent pool as a whole and to reassess the company’s talent needs. “This process ensures a strong talent pool as your business grows and evolves,” explains Giambusso.

As a company, it is beneficial to know that, internally, the right leaders will be ready to manage greater responsibilities. And from an employee’s perspective, a talent development program demonstrates the company’s commitment to invest time, management, and training funds to provide opportunities for career advancement.