How to Develop Your Organization’s Talent on a Budget

How to Develop Your Organization’s Talent on a Budget

Talent development has never been more important than it is right now. Getting it right doesn’t have to break the bank.

In recent months, many of us have been visiting restaurants, seeing friends and family we’d missed for over a year, and even attending in-person meetings. Overall, there’s a sense that Texas is on the rebound—that we’re coming out of the worst of the pandemic and with a new clarity and confidence.

Within our businesses, new priorities and responsibilities are also coming into focus. As many of us struggled to stay afloat in 2020, we sidelined certain issues that, today, seem newly critical. One such issue of particular importance? Talent development.

Talent development has always been high on the priority list for CEOs, but for many it went on the back burner during the pandemic. No longer. In a recent CEO survey from Fortune and Deloitte, CEOs expressed optimism for the future of their businesses post-pandemic, but when asked an open-ended question about their biggest challenge, they mentioned “talent” more than anything else.

Now is the time to put talent development back on the top of the list of CEO priorities. As the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel nears, a focus on growing your workforce’s skills and abilities will help companies grow faster, recover fully, and deliver real results. At the same time, it also builds morale in employees and helps them grow in their own career trajectories. In other words, it’s a true win-win-win-win for your employees, your customers, your organization, and you—the CEO.

Are you getting nervous, wondering how a revamped talent development program will affect your budget? Well, there’s good news: a great deal of talent development can be inexpensive (or free!) and highly customizable to fit your situation. Here are four steps you can take right now to develop talent in your organization without spending a ton of money.

Step 1: Make a list of your current talent development offerings.

It’s OK if you’ve put talent development on the back burner and your list is minimal (or even blank!). Now is the time to take a candid, fresh look at the talent development you’re offering or should offer. Often the best approach is to identify one to three high-priority talent development areas and start with those. What will make the biggest impact in your business? Is it a redesigned onboarding program? Better training in people management for your supervisor? More offerings around technical skills related to your product?

A lot has changed, so it makes sense that your talent development priorities may change, too. Starting with fewer priorities also increases the likelihood you’ll be able to achieve them. For bonus points, ask your employees what they think the talent development priorities should be. You may be surprised by their answers and find unexpected alignment as well as new areas of focus.

Step 2: Relaunch your talent development program.

Once you’ve identified your priorities, hold an event to officially relaunch your talent development program. This can be done in person if that is an option, or you can create an online or hybrid event. This official relaunch is helpful to differentiate your new offerings from whatever the standard was before, and to tangibly show that you’re starting a new push to grow talent on the team.

You don’t need to pay for a fancy guest speaker for this meeting either. Instead, pick a great video to show the group. YouTube has a wealth of short talks that will get your team thinking. TED and TEDx talks are a great place to start.

The best kickoff events are interactive, positive, and enable you to personally share why you’re investing in your team’s talent. At the event, be sure to provide a written summary or overview of the talent development plans you’re going to do, and give a timeline. Keeping it simple is a great way to build buy-in, momentum, and trust as you ramp back up.

Step 3: Host an “Innovate on Anything” day.

One universal talent CEOs should develop in their workforces is the ability to think creatively and innovatively. An Innovate on Anything day is a fun, easy, and low-cost way to let employees practice this ability. In the meantime, you’re also likely to come away with new ideas that will benefit the company.

What happens during an Innovate on Anything day? You ask employees of all tenures, educational backgrounds, and titles to share their ideas about what would make the company better, stronger, or more effective. The examples can range from how to improve workstations to new ideas for products, marketing, or services. You can go big and say there are no cost or other limitations to the ideas people generate, or you can establish limitations, such as a budget of less than $100 or an idea that can be implemented within the next three months. Then everyone shares their best ideas—via email or in-person in a group environment. One or two ideas are selected to move forward, and everyone is given a chance to discuss how to fine-tune them. Whoever had with the original idea typically gets the opportunity to lead the implementation.

In addition to the outcomes created by an Innovate on Anything day, your company benefits from getting people to think creatively—and to realize that anyone can innovate on issues big or small. 

Step 4: Empower employees to create their own talent development pathway.

Giving employees ownership and choice in how they develop talent helps people really get invested in the process. The easiest way we’ve found to do this in our own speaking and research company is to give each employee a budget to take an online course, class, or other learning experience that will develop their value as a professional and also help move the business forward. Again, it doesn’t have to be a big number; you could give each employee a budget of $100, or even simply allow them time in the workday to take a free course.

The important thing is that each employee gets to select the course or program they want to complete. Before they take it, ask them to share why they picked the course and how it will help them. Once they complete the course, ask them to share with their team or the company what they learned, how they will apply it, and the most unexpected thing they learned. Implementing this self-directed program has helped our employees develop their talent—from specialty graphic design to creative messaging—and given them a sense of ownership of their own professional growth.

•  •  •

Purposeful talent development has always been one of the greatest differentiators of top companies and CEOs. This current moment, as we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic, is no exception. Refocusing on your talent development program doesn’t have to be a giant monetary expense, but it does shows your determination to support, develop, and grow your people. 

Jason Dorsey

Jason Dorsey works with CEOs and leaders to solve generational challenges and drive growth. He is a global keynote speaker, researcher, and strategic advisor. Jason has served on public and private company boards, cofounded The Center for Generational Kinetics, and received over 1,000 standing ovations. Learn more at or check out his new book, Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business—and What to Do About It.

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