In the beginning, there was the Personnel Department. Its job was to handle the mechanics of hiring and firing – basically, a clerical operation. Then came Human Resources, which was supposed to transform the department’s role into a dynamic player in finding, developing and keeping top talent. So why hasn’t that transformation taken place? Consultant Scott K. Edinger has some answers.


In the early 1990s I was a Human Resources Associate in the firm of Coopers & Lybrand (now pricewaterhousecoopers.) I got into HR because I was interested in the elements of improving human performance.

Some veteran HR pros will remember this as a time when we bristled at being referred to as the “personnel people.” Human resource management was supposed to be something quite different.

The problem: It wasn’t. And still isn’t.

Simply semantics

The change turned out to be more semantics than anything else. HR departments failed to deliver on the promise of organizational transformation efforts — more often than not, the only real change was the sign on the door.

As further evidence that HR has been more of an appendage to organizations than an integral part of their growth, just look at the proliferation of the job title “HR business partner.” What other function in an organization needs to label itself a business partner in order to be taken seriously?

Now we see a terminology shift to what is commonly called Talent Management. TM applies much of the hope and message of that HR change of the 1990s, to parse out the transformational elements of what HR was supposed to accomplish.

Four clear objectives

But if Talent Management is to be successful as a discipline, it has to do four things.

Before delving into those four things, it is useful to get a clear understanding of what Talent Management actually is. (This is part of the challenge to begin with. How many times do you have to define, sales, finance, manufacturing, IT, or operations?)

Talent Management, put simply and without buzzwords, is a structure designed to:

  • get people in the right positions
  • provide them with the development tools to do their jobs well, and
  • manage their performance. Done well, this is the job of the line leader – using the tools and resources the TM process provides them.

Here, then, are the four overarching goals TM must achieve:

  1. It must create value for the organization. Not the kind of value that comes from benefits administration but value that helps to grow a business.
    That value has to help line leaders do a better job of proactively identifying the right kinds of people for jobs and making sure they’re in those jobs.
    Effective TM means providing development and growth opportunities as a means to improving job performance. It also requires being an active part of aligning the organization’s strategy with the human performance.
    Too often, Talent Management has devolved to a series of projects in support of an executive mandate rather than a strategic function that helps to grow the business.
  2. Speed has to become a priority. I met last week with the division leader of a financial services firm that is going through a major transition and reorganization.
    At her request I also met with the Director of Talent Management, who informed me that the next 18-24 months would consist of focusing on developing a plan for the future and assessing their needs.
    Seriously? Almost two years to create a plan and assess needs? The division leader expressed a sense of urgency in getting results — and Talent Management is going to be getting their act together over the next couple of years.
    Nothing is ever perfect in business (or in life). An intensive, short-term analysis us likely to be just as effective as a long- drawn-out exhaustive study. TM pros need to seek results, not perfection. Drag your feet too long, and priorities will likely have changed.
    (A quick aside: When I shared the TM director’s time frame with the  division leader, she was aghast at the chasm of difference in priority and speed.)
  3. Integration with the business is a must. The best TM professionals I have worked with are as knowledgeable about the business as other functional leaders—maybe even more so. Unfortunately, they are the exceptions that tend to prove the rule.
    Too often Talent Management professionals are steeped in theory and don’t have a clear view of the day-to-day operations of the business. Elaborate reporting structures of shared services with dotted line relationships don’t seem to provide the same value as business unit integration with a clear line of sight to the organization’s objectives.
  4. Focus on results and output, not input. Processes are important, as are procedures and guidelines. But what matters most: outcomes and results.
    Too frequently, Talent Management is put in a position of administering the process versus actively contributing to the value or results of that process.
    I was just involved in a succession planning process where the VP of HR and Talent Management (they combine the title in his organization) was no more than a clearinghouse for assembling the information that functional leaders had created.
    Instead of actively contributing with insights based on observed behavior or offering developmental opportunities, he became the administrator of the process.
    As a result, his contribution to the results achieved in the succession planning engagement was minimal — because his focus was on completion of tasks and inputs versus adding insight to the process.

I’ve formulated these four characteristics after working with some of the best HR and Talent Management professionals in the country.  They are the avatars of what TM can be.
Sadly, I have encountered them far less frequently than those TM people lacking these traits.
Talent Management can be a catalyst for great change in organizations and contribute to the success of many a company if it takes into account these four principles. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen that happen too often.

Original HR Morning Article:
How HR has failed, and how to fix it

Edinger Consulting