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  • Writer's pictureNicole Papaioannou Lugara

Forward Momentum: How Growing Organizations Are Approaching Talent Development to Thrive Through Change

Growth is the goal for just about every business on the planet. And the best leaders know, if you want to grow, you need to be prepared for change. In fact, growth is change.

We wanted to know what the best organizations out there are doing to keep pace with change and growth to thrive. We spoke with leaders from 9 exemplary organizations who are staying current and continuing to build momentum despite the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) of the current marketplace.

The organizations represent a range of industries including AI tools, aviation manufacturing, community banking, computer manufacturing, healthcare, health technology, music and artists’ rights management, infrastructure, and real estate.

Here are the lessons we’ve learned from these exemplary leaders and organizations.

Thriving Through Change Starts with Culture

At this point, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is borderline cliché, but there’s a reason for that. It’s true.

More than half of the leaders we spoke to mentioned that they explicitly prioritize integrating company culture and values in daily operations and strategic decision-making. While each of these organizations has a unique culture, many of the same values are highlighted across organizations.

The idea of being ready for and responding effectively to change is mentioned in every single interview. Adaptability, agility, and continuous learning are the terms most often used to describe these cultural values. 

In particular, we were fascinated with the idea of “coordinated agility” described by Matt Riley of electric aviation manufacturer, Beta Technologies, who describes an effective organization with the analogy of murmuration. A murmuration is a spectacular natural phenomenon where thousands of starlings fly in synchrony, creating fluid, ever-changing patterns in the sky. This behavior is governed by simple rules—each bird responds to the few nearest to it, avoiding collisions and aligning in direction, which results in complex, coordinated movements. In other words, the cultural alignment between individuals should be so strong that they can simply rely on one another to do what they need to do to get the bigger job done.

Ultimately, leaders believe readiness for change will enable the organizations to serve their clients and complete for business in the long run. To thrive, being able to learn and learn quickly is necessary. Exemplary organizations embed this need into their work cultures.

At Synthesia, the AI video creation platform, the learning culture ties into product evangelism and new hire onboarding:

“[A useful strategy] when it comes to combining [institutional knowledge and new talent]is creating culture cultures of best practice for sharing successful work and using communities as a tool. If you want an organization where everybody has their own agency or is able to feel like they can work as fast and as usefully as possible, then there needs to be a place to share what's working and why, but then alsowhere can you gather everybody to share other different types of information." - Kevin Alster, Head of Synthesia Academy, Synthesia

Several leaders also made it a point to discuss that culture was a product of the whole, not a top-down product. Great culture starts with strategic hiring and is supported by employees at every level of the organization. 

Leadership at Vydia, the end-to-end music management solution and 2023 Best Place to Work award recipient, acknowledges that culture is ever-evolving:

"Culture is not created by one person…It's something that changes every single time a person joins the company. As a leadership team, we focus on curating that experience to be as positive and impactful as possible." - Jenna Gaudio, President, Vydia

Actions you can take to improve your workplace culture:

  • Create, share, and frequently return to documented vision and value statements

  • Establish communities of practice

  • Encourage a culture of lifelong learning

  • Support access to information across the organization to remove siloes and move faster

  • Organize a culture committee that represents different roles and levels of experience across the organization

  • Ensure leadership models values

  • Represent culture and values honestly during hiring

Narrowed Focus for Big Growth 

Change and growth can rapidly become unwieldy. Successful organizations know how to prioritize so that they can minimize disruption while expanding desired impact.

For at least three (3) of our leaders, strategic goal-setting was mentioned as a core component to their continued success. This included regularly scheduled organizational goal setting, the construction of actionable plans for accomplishing goals, continuous feedback cycles, and a willingness to iterate.

In the midst of change, leaders noted that having a few core objectives enabled their organization to move quickly and/or innovate.

Computer manufacturer and # 1 Best Place to Work in Vermont award recipient, OnLogic highlights strategic vision and alignment as keys to quality and agility:

“What I noticed that sets OnLogic apart from a lot of companies is that we have quarterly strategies. We'll build out plans that are three years in advance. And then we'll break those down into one-year initiatives. But we even break that down into 90-day initiatives. And in order to be as agile and effective as we need our organization to be, we actually create those 90 days into ‘rocks.’ If you have a jar and you have rocks and pebbles and sand and water, how are you going to get the most bang out of your buck of putting those in the jar together? If you put the sand in, you can't fit the rocks, you can't fit the pebbles, you can't put the water. But if we have these rocks that go into the jar first, that can't move, and everything has to flow around them, then we can put the pebbles in, then we can put the sand in, then we can put the water in. We can actually move very quickly and very strategically in that way because with these rocks, it's understood these are the priorities.” - Jina Couture, Corporate Trainer, OnLogic

Actions you can take to improve strategic prioritization:

  • Determine your ‘rocks’

  • Document and share critical goals throughout the organization

  • Break down critical goals into initiatives and smaller action steps

  • Connect skill development efforts back to organizational goals

Skills, The New Organizational Currency

A recent PwC survey found that 52% of CEOs believe skills will affect their profitability over the next 10 years. In discussing skill development with leaders from nine (9) organizations, we found that upskilling remains a major point of consideration for most of them.

At ORC, one of the nation’s most reputable right of way service providers, skills are the backbone of all talent decisions:

“Skills is our new organizational currency. It threads our performance reviews, our continuous feedback sessions. It drives our L&D strategy. It anchors our leadership development programs. It helps us align our succession plans. So it really is our currency at our organization. And if you know your skills then you know your talent, right? And you also know what [skills] you need and that drives everything else.” – Kayshia Kruger, MS, SPHR, Director, Organizational Development, ORC

Not one leader believed that the skills their team had now would suffice within 5 years’ time. They all agreed upskilling was important to their organization’s ability to stay relevant.

All the organizations with 250+ employees had dedicated learning and development functions that rolled out training programs regularly. That said, of these larger organizations, three leaders specifically noted that learning and development was, for the most part, ad hoc. There was limited strategy around upskilling and evaluation of upskilling programs. It was most often seen as a function of compliance or a necessity to fill immediate knowledge/skill gaps.

Two (2) of the larger organizations noted that they were strategic about learning and development. In these organizations, learning is tied to organizational goals and regular skill evaluations. Learning opportunities are tied to career paths. Leadership development is not reserved for hired leaders and succession planning is put into action before exits necessitated it.

Despite not having dedicated learning teams, the smaller organizations also discussed intentional efforts to maximize knowledge sharing through shadowing, mentoring, internal workshops, and external training. They believed that learning was happening all the time through the work itself, as a result of operating in an innovative startup environment.

Across organizations of all sizes, a constant need for learning was evident. Many of the leaders talked about the need to prioritize efforts to build programs and content, as they often had a backlog of training requests. 

Four (4) of the organizations mentioned the use of online learning libraries or access to online video content to support skill development, such as LinkedIn Learning or YouTube content. 

Three (3) discussed learning in the flow of work, pointing to opportunities to access information on-demand or knowledgeable peers. Notably, these three organizations were highly innovative tech companies.

For example, Beta Technologies, the electric aviation innovator, has made significant investments in technology to enable rapid learning and innovation:

“We worked with InspireHQ to build Alignd, a tool we use to keep us all well informed and connected. This is how it works: On a daily basis, I go in, and I enter the one most important thing I am going to be working on that day… That then ties back to a series of goals that I have for the week. What do I need to accomplish this week? What are the most important things? And then how does that specifically flow into the mission that we have for our TeamOps? TeamOps then aligns those goals with one of the four overarching company goals. It's very simple, very crisp…But then it also captures the things that I like to do, the things that I'm working on right now and the things I'm looking to learn more about. It's how we share and make sure folks know, ‘hey, do I know anybody that knows Python?’ I can type in Python and I can go find someone who's great at that. In a company with little hierarchy,  it's really important to be able to know ‘who can I go to to support me in this particular project?’ It also serves as a development opportunity. If I need to go find out how to do something, I can look up that skill set I can go talk to that person. - Matt Riley, Chief People Officer, Beta Technologies

Time was the most-mentioned factor preventing people from engaging with learning opportunities.

The role of Chief Learning Officer was notably missing at all organizations.

Actions you can take to improve upskilling:

  • Create opportunities for learning in the flow of work with on-demand resources and communities of practice

  • Regularly inventory and assess skill needs

  • Develop succession plans based on skill profiles

  • Facilitate internal networking that supports peer-to-peer learning

  • Leverage technology to support scalability of learning

Talent Experience Can’t Be an Afterthought

As businesses strive to attract and retain top talent, understanding and enhancing the talent experience becomes crucial for maintaining a competitive edge and ensuring long-term success. It is unsurprising that eight (8) of the nine (9) organizations interviewed stated that talent experience is an intentional consideration in their overall business strategy. They allocate time, energy, and resources to create a supportive, engaging, and fulfilling environment that fosters innovation and productivity. 

Five (5) of the nine (9) organizations have staff dedicated to leading and assessing talent experience. This includes People Operations departments and/or Chief People Officers. In at least three (3) cases, the choice to use the language over “people” over “human resources” or “human capital” signals a focus on supporting people over the more traditional notion of supporting organizational policy and politics.

Talent experience considerations often start early in the hiring process. At least three (3) leaders consider the hiring process in their talent experience strategy. From their perspective, incoming employees need an honest understanding of the organization to determine their ability to contribute meaningfully. Employees with realistic expectations are more likely to stay with the organization, particularly during the first 90 days. They also believe interview experience contributes to the overall reputation of the organization and its employer value proposition (EVP) in the marketplace.

Four (4) out of nine (9) organizations highlighted their onboarding experiences as core components of their talent experience strategy. In these instances, standardized learning pathways align new hires with the organization’s vision, values, and ways of working. These are often blended learning experiences that include video content, eLearning content, one-on-one meetings, and virtual instructor-led training. One (1) organization specifically noted that all team members, including contracted freelancers, are required to complete onboarding. In addition to company onboarding, one (1) organization stated that team onboarding is also required, which is led by team managers.

Beyond the more formalized processes of hiring and onboarding, four (4) interviewees spoke about how culture affects the overall talent experience. A people-focused culture that encourages continuous learning and compassion motivates talent.

At Cardinal Group, a people-focused approach, supported by leadership, has landed them on the Top Employer list repeatedly:

“We have embraced the human side of bringing your authentic self to work: have self-compassion and compassion for others, have some empathy, and give grace to your colleagues. If you're going to point a finger, you better have some self-accountability and consider ‘What is my role in this?’ Our CEO often preaches the mantra 'we win or we learn' so he sets the expectation for everyone to embrace that mindset.” - Chris Wolf, Senior Manager Learning and Development, Cardinal Group 

Cardinal Group isn’t the only organization that recognizes leadership’s influence on culture. According to three (3) of the interviewees, organizational leadership plays a pivotal role in culture-building, setting the tone by modeling desired behavior.

Finally, for at least three (3) of the nine organizations interviewed, there is an acknowledgement that a great talent experience isn’t just altruistic, it’s profitable.

Overall, the sentiment among the leaders interviewed is that the talent market today is competitive. To attract and retain top talent, organizations need to demonstrate that they care about their employees and have alignment across the organization. 

Actions you can take to improve employee experience include:

  • Craft a talent experience strategy that starts with recruiting and ends after exit

  • Continuously collect, monitor, and act on employee feedback

  • Set milestones for desired future employee benefits

  • Create opportunities for recognition and appreciation of employees

  • Implement mentoring programs

AI is on Everyone’s Mind

Recent advances in generative artificial intelligence (gen AI) have forced just about every industry to rethink their processes, develop policies, and accept experimentation in a short window. The full impact of these technologies remains to be determined for most organizations.

Six (6) of the leaders we interviewed noted that AI would impact their organizations. In particular, the introduction of AI would require significant upskilling of their workforces.

At University of Vermont Health Network, they are already considering how AI will increase skill development needs on top of previously existing demands:

“AI in healthcare is going to be transformative and organizations that want to thrive through this change will need to focus on empowering staff with the skills needed to navigate the changing landscape. From technical proficiency to ethical awareness, we need to foster a culture of continuous learning that equips teams to leverage AI's promise responsibly, ensuring patient-centric care in an era of innovation.” - Barbara Tobi, Network Director IT Training & Education, University of Vermont Health Network

In Conclusion

The lessons shared here underscore that the agility to adapt and grow amid uncertainty hinges on cultivating a robust organizational culture, strategic prioritization, and continuous skill development.

The leaders from diverse industries share a collective insight: a proactive and integrated approach to talent management—where culture, learning, and employee experience are intertwined—can significantly propel an organization forward.

By embracing these practices, businesses can not only navigate but also flourish in the dynamic landscape of today’s market, ensuring they remain competitive and relevant in a perpetually evolving world.

Which actions will you take to improve your grow-ability?


A special thanks to the participating leaders for their time, energy, and insights.

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