Talent management has not delivered the value that has been expected of the function. Yes, while there are cases where, in isolation, some good work has been done; those cases are the exceptions that prove the rule. By and large, the development of the talent management function has been more of a semantic shift from human resources management, in the same way human resources became more semantic in its shift from personnel management.
Before you get too angry with me for saying so, I have my professional roots in human resource management with PriceWaterhouseCoopers where I began my career in the early 1990’s, (I was with Coopers & Lybrand prior to the PwC merger,) so I am not here to criticize. I got in to the profession like so many of you did–because I was interested in how to improve the elements of organizational performance through people. At that time, we bristled when someone called us personnel, because we believed we were so much more than that. The Personnel to HR shift, of course, was created in order to provide the kind of support organizational transformation and change efforts require. HR was to be something different. But with exception to the rare cases of success, for the most part it wasn’t all that dramatic a shift. Because of that, we now transition to talent management, which is quickly falling into the same trap that HR did.
So before I go much further it should be noted that of all the functions in business, talent management could be the most valuable of the next decade. I say this with confidence because I have worked with some of the best Human Resource and Talent Management professionals in the business and have seen first hand the impact they can have. Done well, Talent Management can create incredible value, but in order to do that, some things need to change, though.
Stop clamoring for a seat at the table and take it. The only way to do this is to get serious about the business of the organization and to understand the drivers of growth and profitability of the business you are in. HR and TM professionals are notorious for their lack of knowledge of the actual business so you may have to work double time to prove your competence in this arena. Further, TM needs to stop acting as an appendage of the organization by talking about how it needs to integrate or to earn a seat at the table. Simply do the work to be integrated and stop drawing attention to the lack. You never hear finance, manufacturing, or service talk that way. And for goodness sake, get rid of titles that include “business partner” Or “internal consultant.” Do you ever hear that with other critical functions in an enterprise? No. Why? They are critical by dint of their expertise and contribution. TM needs to do the same, and you will know this has happened when you see executives in HR and TM moving into other leadership positions in organizations, including general management.
Operate with speed and alacrity and perfect as you go. Few things are ever perfect and as the old saying goes, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Too many talent management groups are, as I write this, immersed in detailed needs analyses to prove a variety of relatively simple hypothesis, (e.g. we need to improve sales capability, we need to improve retention and engagement, we need better leaders, or we need leaders to do more of [insert your favorite leadership competency here.] Without engaging in too much analyses, surveying, and identification of needs, use your knowledge of the business to identify opportunities for improvement and design interventions that are created to address those performance issues. Do it with rapid prototyping, evaluate your results, and make changes for the next round. I am sure your R&D and product development teams don’t ever achieve the perfect product; so stop looking for the ideal training program, the complete recruiting process, or the perfect session design.
Last year I met with the division leader of a financial services firm going through a major transition. At her request, I also met with the Director of TM who told me that the next 18-24 would be focused on developing a plan and assessing needs for the future. Nearly two years to create a plan and assess needs? The business leader expressed a sense of urgency in getting results while TM spends then next year and a half or so getting a plan in place. (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.) Focus on success and the achievement of your outcomes and you’ll go a long way to quickly having an impact on the business. Sustainable quick wins, and good short-term performance will trump the possibility of something great well into the future. And of course, the faster you get results, the quicker your stock will rise, enabling you to take that seat at the table.
Create metrics for success and demonstrable value that is tied to business success. Better yet, create metrics that are the results of business success. Most organizations have a scorecard (balanced or otherwise) on a routine basis that measures key objectives and performance indicators for the business. Make sure your objectives are tied tightly to those same performance indicators and be sure you are not measuring “stuff” because you need to add something to the scorecard from TM. Employee retention, employee turnover, and staff engagement are good measures, while metrics like number of training sessions conducted, orientation sessions held, and performance appraisals delivered are not. You want to make sure you are measuring business outcomes that you take responsibility for. In the same way that sales has a quota and manufacturing has production standards, you to, have accountability for critical measures of success.
Adopt a results focused mindset. Process is important, and procedures and guidelines keep an organization from falling into anarchy. They are necessary, but not sufficient if you are going to create value for your organization. Kind of like getting dressed appropriately for work, you have to do it, but it isn’t enough to be successful. Similarly, TM professionals need to focus on outcomes and results. Too often, HR and TM are put in the position of administering a process instead of actively contributing to the value or the results of that process. The performance appraisal process in most companies is a good example of this, where most TM pros are simply coordinating the process instead of actively contributing insights based on actual observed performance. With development programs, TM pros are too often concerned with the details of intricate instructional design or instead of looking at the intended performance outcomes and determining what the outcomes of the program are. By focusing on the outcomes, or as one of my clients puts it, the “end-game,” TM leaders can focus on a given initiatives contribution to achieving results. Did the performance appraisal process produce demonstrable value for the organization? Did the development intervention make a difference in the results people produced? It is about output not input.
Integration with the line is how an organization works. I still haven’t quite figured out why some people think that a centralized function is required for recruiting, learning and development, and change management. The fact of the matter is that organizations are well served having skilled people close to the issues and the only way to do that is to have TM professionals working hand in glove with the leaders of the organization they serve. The transactional elements of HR and TM have been appropriately outsourced to those who can perform those tasks more effectively and efficiently. The transformational elements of these functions only seem to work when they are embedded in the line where they can be nimble and quick acting in their efforts to create value. Not done by an intermediary. Organizations don’t need a separate hierarchy on their org chart, they need expertise resident in the business units.
I have done my best to treat this sensitive issue with the candor it deserves. The fact remains that if Talent Management is going to move from a low spot on the totem pole, it has to create value quickly. That can’t happen on the current trajectory. The change in value creation won’t come in changing the placards from HR to TM. It will have to be a fundamental shift in the way TM pros conduct themselves. Right now, too many TM pros are in a support position when they could be integral to the business. After all, it is the people in an organization that bring the company strategy to life, and it is senior executives that are responsible for making that happen.