The critical role of talent development in organisations – Q+A with Ali Couchman

We caught up with Learning and Talent Development Specialist, Ali Couchman recently to chat all things people development.

1. Can you share a brief overview of what talent development involves and why it’s crucial for businesses?

I would argue that talent development isn’t just crucial for businesses, but it’s critical. People are the talent in the business and talent development does what it says on the tin – it develops the talent.

Talent development enables a business to identify and harness its talent. For example, understanding the talent landscape in the business (do you have the right talent in the right place at the right time…). It also involves identifying and nurturing the potential within each employee, fostering their unique abilities, and equipping them with the tools to not just perform but to thrive professionally.

Talent development has the power to unleash innovation, boost productivity, and enhance employee engagement. By investing in talent development businesses can ensure they maintain a workforce that is not only competent in their current roles, but also agile enough to adapt to change and meet the challenges of tomorrow.

When a business shows that it invests in the development of its people as individuals, it demonstrates a commitment to cultivating a culture of continuous learning and growth. It also shows the business values the contribution of it’s people in the development and future of the business.

2. What inspired you to pursue a career in learning and development?

I always joke that L&D is the creative part of HR, and although it is true it’s more than the opportunity to express my creativity that attracted me to it. L&D is the part of HR that brings together science and art, engages with all parts of the business and is where you get to not only see the results of what you create and deliver, but analyse it and implement improvements. It’s really the perfect balance of the things I’m deeply interested in and good at – it’s my ikigai.

3. How do you tailor your approach to meet the unique needs of different organisations or industries?

My curiosity helps a lot here – I like to understand as much as I can about the industry, organisation and the people in it. I like to talk to a wide range of individuals across the organisation and at various levels (as appropriate to the project). This gives me a real sense of who the organisation is, what it’s about and what is important to those who work within it beyond the values, mission and vision, business objectives and industry norms.

My approach is always to design from the perspective of the end-user. In order to ensure that the initiative truly meets the needs and is something that will have a high-level of engagement its important to include the end-users in the design process.

4. Why are effective career pathways important?

This boils down to direction and transparency. For individuals, it means they can identify where their careers can go within an organisation, and how they can get there. An effective career pathway will allow an individual to create their own career roadmap and builds loyalty, dedication, engagement and motivation.

For organisations, it provides a clear framework to build from. Career pathways impact so many different processes from organisational development, and recruitment to retention and reward. Having an effective career pathway in place allows an organisation to act and be seen as an employer of choice and enables smooth-flowing internal talent processes.

5. Can you share a success story where an improved talent development strategy has significantly impacted an organisation?

There are so many success stories – picking one is tough. One particular case that comes to mind is an organisation where we built and rolled out a competency development framework along with a review process for the assessment of competence (embedded with the existing performance management process and systems).

The level of investment in the initiative was evident across the organisation through input to the design and development which later translated over to the implementation when we had excellent attendance at the rollout presentations in both the individual contributor and Manager groups.

The competency development framework and its review process was successfully rolled out and was subsequently nominated for a national award.

6. What are the most common challenges you tend to face as a talent development consultant and how do you overcome them?

Managing a number of different expectations. Talent development projects are rarely something that can be designed, developed and rolled out in isolation and there are often different expectations of these projects across the stakeholder population. In order to manage this effectively I like to meet with key stakeholders and influencers as early as possible into a project to get a clear understanding of their priorities and expectations, this way I’m able to communicate in a more effective way when there are conflicts in the project and resolve them quickly.

7. In your opinion, how does effective talent development contribute to a positive workplace culture?

When individuals are given the direction, tools and opportunities to grow, they gain a sense of purpose, motivation and commitment. This benefits the workplace, fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation and engagement.

Effective talent development contributes to a workplace culture that not only attracts top-tier talent but also retains and nurtures it, creating a foundation for long-term success and fulfilment – for both individuals and organisations.

8. Does technology have a role to play in talent development?

Absolutely! Technology not only enhances talent development initiatives but makes them more accessible. Whether it’s online learning, simulation packages or virtual classrooms technology means we are able to provide solutions to individuals in time and regardless of geography.

Technology is also key in the creation and management of talent development initiatives. For example, with the analysis of data becoming more important in the wider Human Resources field, talent development needs to ensure we collect and analyse our own data to be able to identify successes and areas for improvement.

With advances in technology such as AI it’s an exciting time to be in talent development – there are a number of AI tools (such as the coaching and performance tools) that we can use to further enhance talent development initiatives.

9. How do you measure the success of a talent development programme?

Measuring the success of a talent development programme, or any talent development initiative goes beyond just metrics, statistics and data – it’s evident in the engagement and the impact it has on individuals (and therefore the organisation).

Of course, the gathering of metrics and data is still important to understand the ROI, success is not merely quantitative. For example, effectively designed feedback forms are a good way of measuring success, however, for medium to longer-term programmes/initiatives these feedback forms need to be conducted at regular intervals to both ensure the programme is effective and to enable any in-time improvements.

10. What advice would you give to companies looking to invest more in their talent development initiatives?

Do it!

If you’re unsure as to what you need but know where you want the company to go – speak to a talent development consultant. Specialists are able to quickly pinpoint what initiatives will get you to where you want to be.

Make sure there is a good level of buy-in across the company for talent development initiatives. And be open to solutions – talent development sometimes needs an out-of-the-box approach for it to be effective.

If you’re looking to boost talent development initiatives in your organisation, please get in touch with us at

Ali Couchman is a freelance Learning & Talent Development Specialist and Career Development Coach. She has 15+ years experience in learning and talent development working across professional services, financial services, commercial property, retail and technology. She has experience across all aspects and stages (analysis, design, development, implementation, and management) of L&D, Talent Management, Coaching and Employee Engagement.