What’s it like to change someone’s life by helping them find the right career path?
We asked Tavanesha Shepard, Manager, Talent Development at Aflac (and certified executive and leadership coach), to give us a glimpse into what her role is like and what her work means to her.
It’s a fascinating look at what it takes to become a manager, Talent Development in today’s work landscape – and why working with a company that values career development is not only helpful, but essential.
Finding the right fit
Like many of the most interesting roles today, the path to becoming a manager, Talent Development is hardly a straight one.
Before landing her current role in Aflac, Tav went through her own career development journey – a path that took her through eight roles over the 19 years (and counting) that she’s been with the company.
She started her career in 2003, working in Aflac’s Claims department soon after graduating college. From there, she made her way across different departments in the company, tackling roles in Talent Acquisition, Employee Relations, Office of the General Counsel, and finally, back to Human Resources, where she now works in the Talent Development space.
For Tav, becoming a manager, Talent Development was inevitable.
“I am a natural people developer,” said Tav. “I enjoy helping people improve upon weakness that they would like to strengthen in order to achieve their professional or personal goals – that’s my sweet spot.”
It all stems from her passion for helping people develop professionally and personally. Tav, however, didn’t make it into talent development on her own. She also needed the right people to guide her.
Meeting mentors, becoming a mentee
Tav credits much of her success and development to her mentors and sponsor, whom she would turn to for advice, opportunities, and, ultimately, inspiration.
“These relationships formed organically, and were far more beneficial than any training or development program I’ve participated.”
But her mentors and sponsor did more than just provide guidance. They also helped fill gaps in her personal and professional development, helping Tav progress and see new possibilities.
“I had some female mentors who would carve time out of their busy schedules to talk with me about my career goals and help create opportunities for me to grow and develop. I’ve had a sponsor who inspired me to want to lead and create other leaders.”
Tav was open to it all, knowing fully well that no person is an island.
“Collaboration is critical. One person cannot do it all, and no one knows it all. We need to lean into the skill sets and expertise of others to be successful in our roles.”
Tav brings this same collaborative nature into her role, working with Aflac’s management and its employees to achieve the best outcomes for individuals and the company.
“Where you may lack in a certain skill or personality trait, I can help fill in the gaps. And where I lack, I must be secure enough in my skin to leverage those who are strong where I’m not.”
Working with the right people, Tav says, has been crucial to her development and now she wants to pay it forward by being that right person for the people she works with at Aflac.
But succeeding in career development takes more than just the ability and experience to help. It also requires a company that recognizes the value of the work you’re doing.
Working with a company that cares
Maximizing your impact as a manager, Talent Development requires working with a company that’s on the same page as you in developing people to their full potential.
And the support needs to go beyond words and policies – it requires action from senior management.
Looking back on her career, Tav realizes how fortunate she is that Aflac has always valued career development, even back when she started 19 years ago.
“Being a new college graduate at the time, I was impressed with Aflac as a household name and the care and attention they demonstrated for their policyholders and employees.”
Aflac, Tav says, took her development – and that of all its employees – very seriously.
“Aflac has always invested in my growth, whether it was through formal programs, stretch assignments, or leaders that also served as mentors to me.”
And for those in the industry, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Aflac has long held a stellar reputation for career development, and the company has been a bastion for workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the United States.
In fact, way back in 1999, Aflac’s CEO, Dan Amos, adamantly told the company’s Human Resources department, “I don’t want everybody sitting at the table to look like me.” In other words, he wanted a workforce and leadership team that reflects Aflac’s diverse customers and communities. His desire for a well-rounded workforce is as strong today as it was then, if not stronger.
Aflac’s commitment to DEI resulted in the development and implementation of its award-winning DEI employee programs.
Today, Aflac is extremely inclusive, with 66% of its employees being women and 62% of its new hires being people of color (as of 2022). And it starts at the board level, as 64% of the company’s board of directors is either a woman or a person of color.
As Tav explains, it’s all about making people – all people – feel valued.
With support from Aflac’s leaders and proven development programs in place, Tav has all the tools she needs to make employees feel respected, appreciated, and included.
“If you have an employee who values their growth and development and doesn’t feel that it’s a priority for the company, they will absolutely look elsewhere for a company that makes development a priority. My role can very well affect turnover and retention.”
Fortunately for Tav and Aflac’s employees, they have a company that has adopted personal growth, employee development, and DEI into its core philosophy.
The rewards go deep
As a manager, Talent Development, there are many ways – big and small – to make an impact in someone’s life.
And for Tav, all are equally rewarding.
“When an employee sends an email merely thanking me for recommending them for a leadership development program or sends me an email after they’ve participated in a development program and says they are reenergized, I feel good inside.”
This role has been the perfect fit for Tav, and she relishes the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life every day.
“Landing my current role is the career achievement I’m the most proud of. It allows me to tap into one of my gifts and passion of intentionally growing and developing people professionally and personally.”
Tav worked her way into her current role with the help of mentors and a sponsor. Now, she’s paying it forward. Could yours be the next life she helps change?