There’s clear agreement that a company’s most important asset is its people, but there’s no consensus on the best recipe to develop them. And nor should there be, as every company’s situation is different. But are there major themes that cut across the spectrum?

Training is always an important part of an organizational development plan. Though important, in times of economic stress, the training and development budget is almost always the first to get clipped. That’s not a reflection of the importance of training. Rather, it’s a reflection of the non-mission critical nature of the training—its loose linkage with business objectives— and the slow return on investment.

To protect training from budgetary barbarism, make it mission critical. In other words, if the training doesn’t happen, the company will not meet its business objectives. To be clear, I’m not talking about meeting the training objectives—for example, 80 percent of employees trained in lean. I’m talking about meeting the company’s profitability objectives, say, a 10 percent increase in profit margin. If the training won’t be used on a real project to deliver real business results, don’t hold the training. Don’t wait for a budget battle, cut the training now and focus your budget and energy on work that will make a difference.

If a training program is named after the subject matter, beware. There’s no value in Six Sigma projects that don’t do anything for the company except reduce standard deviations. On the other hand, projects to increase throughput by reducing process variation have significant value.

It’s the same with lean. Calling it lean training shifts the focus to the tools, and value stream maps have no inherent value. Instead, projects that increase throughput by reducing waste focus the work on business results and more positively impact the bottom line. Training isn’t about demonstrating the tools; training is about work that delivers business results. There’s a huge difference.

Mentorship is another important pillar of development. When done well, mentorship can be a good investment, but often it’s done poorly. Done poorly, mentorship programs create incremental projects that are dumped onto the workload of overbooked mentors. And though the rule book doesn’t say it, it’s clear to all that mentorship work is lower priority work. From the mentees’ perspective, project assignments are thin and tangential and crafted to achieve mentorship compliance.

Here’s a simple rule to live by: Mentorship programs must advance existing projects that are vital to business success. Follow that rule, and everyone wins. Mentors get incremental resources (mentees) to work on their most important projects; mentees get to work on projects with meaning and sizzle; and the company meets its business objectives because the most important projects are accelerated.

Partnering your best leaders with your brightest young talent brings together the effectiveness of seasoned leaders with the new knowledge and energy of young talent, and this partnership is a great way to get your important projects done better and faster. Mentorship isn’t about developing young talent; it’s about delivering on business results. Talent development is a nice side-benefit. Keep the cart behind the horse and mentorship has tangible value.

Starting with your business objectives, you define your important projects. For each of those projects, you put together project plans and resource needs that identify gaps in your organizational capability. Those elements are all in place. From there, move your young talent to fill the gaps, partner them with good leaders, and use the best tools and processes.

Fight the instinct to create new work to develop talent. Instead, move your best young talent to your most important work.