Deirdre Elphick-Moore, co-founder of soft skills development firm, The Office Coach, gained valuable insights into training and development done right during her employment at international financial service house, Goldman Sachs International. Here, she shares some key lessons that Human Capital Management (HCM) professionals in South Africa can apply to achieve people development practices that have a powerful, positive impact on their organisations:

Start with a clear understanding of what your company is trying to achieve from a people perspective, of the culture that your management team wants to foster. I will never forget my induction, day one as an employee at Goldman Sachs in London. We received the expected messages from senior members of the firm, we were told about the campus facilities, employment policies etcetera etcetera. What struck me was a video at the end of it all; the final message that we left with, the one they wanted us to remember. It featured employees of the firm talking about what life at Goldman Sachs is about. It was set to the music and words of Heather Small’s song, “Proud”[1].  Underpinning all these words, of the people and of the song, is a single idea that encapsulates what it means to work at Goldman Sachs: excellence.

Identify the skills your staff members need to demonstrate in order to achieve your goals. The Goldman Sachs website articulates this clearly in its recruitment pages: “… we look for people who we believe will thrive in this environment, prioritizing quick thinking, passion and communication skills above specific qualifications[2]”. These were the skills that were developed and the behaviours that were fostered first and that I saw being nurtured throughout my time at Goldman.

Understand how these skills apply to each person’s job description/level. For example, our HCM department created documents for each business area that showed what abilities different levels of employees needed to demonstrate. Your outline of decision making abilities may look something like this[3]:

Middle/ junior managers Show forethought and practicality in operational decisions; those that relate to the day-to-day running of the business and mainly routine
Middle management Make tactical decisions that help to implement company strategy e.g. for the café, a tactical decision would be whether to open earlier in the morning or on Saturday to attract new customers
Senior managers Make strategic decisions that are long-term in their impact and that positively affect and shape the direction of the whole business

Create a tool that allows you to accurately identify skills development needs.

At Goldman, we had a 360° performance review process. Each of us had an annual opportunity to review how we felt we had performed in the past year and to receive feedback from colleagues and managers re their perceptions of our performance. This was done in a formal, structured way designed to solicit feedback that was constructive and based on the requirements of our positions. It also clearly identified areas where development was needed.

Create individualised performance development plans (PDPs), based on the outcome of the performance reviews, the needs of the firm and the aspirations of the individual. The PDPs developed at Goldman were essentially a road map, showing what needed to be done over the coming year to develop necessary skills. The PDPs differentiated between personal training goals and those demanded by the business, they included both formal training (e.g. classroom-based workshops) and informal training (e.g. mentoring), they looked at skills that could be developed in one’s existing role and where broader opportunities needed to be sought e.g. project work in a different team.

Hold individuals accountable for their behaviour and their development. Once a PDP had been signed off by an employee and his manager, it is up to the employee to be proactive about implementing it e.g. I had to source learning opportunities and I had to business case them to my manager. This process helped us to measure whether the training was relevant to my goals and those of the team/department/firm. It also showed that I was engaged in the development process and that I understood what positive change in my skills and/or behaviour I had to demonstrate following the training.

Foster a culture of continuous improvement and development. Goldman Sachs taught me about “an assumption of excellence”; if things went wrong, we did not point fingers, assign blame or make people feel small. We started with this premise “I know you are excellent. Something went wrong and now we are going to focus forward. What factors impacted this situation, what can we learn from this and do so that this mistake does not happen again, so that we can perform better in future”. Note how this point takes us full circle back to point one where we identified that what Goldman Sachs strives for is…excellence.


[1] http://www.lyricstime.com/heather-small-proud-lyrics.html

[2] http://www.goldmansachs.com/careers/why-goldman-sachs/index.html

[3] Adapted from http://businesscasestudies.co.uk/cima/improving-strategic-decision-making/levels-of-decision-making.html#axzz2DEMVFVhT

Goldman Sachs International – a case study of integrated, purposeful and results-driven people development
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