How J&J and The Smarty Train reimagined early talent development

Aug 26, 2022 | Case studies, Development

J&J and The Smarty Train share the process behind their award-winning partnership, aimed at building a resilient early talent development framework aligned to J&J’s future workforce strategy.

Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) early talent (ET) development in the EMEA region consisted of 24 different strategies and approaches.

To succeed as a market-leading employer with a future-forward employer proposition, J&J’s EMEA development team partnered with The Smarty Train (TST) to define, map, and activate a fully aligned, market-leading and future proof EMEA-wide ET development strategy.

The collaboration would go on to win Outstanding Employer and Supplier Development Partnership at the 2022 ISE Awards.

At the core of the collaboration was an innovative approach. It drew on extensive mixed methods research into J&J’s ambitions, human-centred design grounded in the needs of J&J’s EMEA development team, and quantitative methodologies to ensure the approach would be supported by objective data.

TST’s immersion into J&J’s unique challenges went on to inform three distinct project phases.


The first stage in the collaboration involved articulating a single, unified, and unique early talent proposition to be rolled out across their EMEA contingents. 

  • TST collaborated with over 100 J&J stakeholders from across the business and various EMEA countries to develop a holistic understanding of J&J culture, values, and purpose.
  • Using bespoke research into the ET market and human-centred design principles, TST developed custom user personas to allow J&J’s HR leadership team to better understand the unique needs and drivers of their core audience.
  • The final step of Phase 1 involved mapping out these user personas against J&J’s own ET needs, business imperatives, and market trends to create J&J’s own unique Early Talent Proposition (ETP).


With the ETP firmly in place, the next phase was to ensure J&J’s people across EMEA could live and breathe the ETP. Working collaboratively with key stakeholders, TST outlined three ways for J&J to deeply embed the proposition through an EMEA-wide development framework, designed to meet J&J’s fast-evolving development needs: 

  • The development programme design uses a modular approach that includes support, as well as opportunities for experimentation and reflection throughout the ET journey. These would enable J&J’s EMEA ET to own their development from the start.
  • Our design allows for quick three-month pivots to align on changing business needs and bridge emerging skills gaps. This aligns with J&J’s ET intake model and aligns development with the wider people strategy.
  • Multiple modes (mixed media, peer-to-peer, hands-on, self-guided) are available, allowing for choice and agency, in line with J&J’s goal of being inclusive in its ET approach.


Finally, to activate J&J’s unique ET proposition across EMEA, J&J and TST co-designed and co-delivered key components of the development framework. Among other initiatives, this rollout consisted of:

  • Quarterly virtual sessions that keep EMEA ET informed on their ongoing learning journey. The sessions feature J&J stakeholders from across the region and highlighted the project’s goal of unifying Early Talent voices throughout EMEA.
  • An innovative, interactive self-led experience designed to help ET reach their development goals at their own pace and aligned to their own learning style.


Johnson & Johnson moved from:

  • 24 Early Talent definitions to one consistent definition across J&J EMEA
  • A siloed approach to a unified development strategy across J&J EMEA
  • Many different deliverables to one streamlined EMEA-wide development plan championed by each country

The result is a fit-for-purpose, future-proof ET strategy anchored in a unified EMEA-wide strategy.

Following its success in EMEA, J&J are exploring ways to roll out the unified ETP and its elements on a global scale.  

Read more case studies from ISE award winners

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