Talent Management Road Kill

article by Dr. John Sullivan & Master Burnett Some things take time to figure out, while others are blindingly apparent at first sight. For the best and brightest in the HR world, the fact that senior leaders were demanding that talent management be elevated to an all new level following the collapse of the “new economy” during the spring of 2000 was blindingly apparent. Leaders were fed up with boom and bust, and new visions were espoused of organizations that could forecast and respond more quickly to fluctuations in economic conditions. Unfortunately, the best and the brightest make up less than one percent of the total HR population, and five-plus years later, the rest still seem oblivious to the mandate that may some day render them less than useful to the 21st-century HR function. Patience Is Waning Senior leaders thoroughly understand that building an organization or changing one takes vision, planning, patience, and flawless execution. To that point, they have given HR five years. All indicators are that HR has yet to change or plan to change anything, and that the patience of senior leaders is wearing thin. Around the globe, corporate leaders ó and in a few cases, the boards of directors ó are taking action, and in most cases that action supplants HR professionals with years of experience. For example, one of the world’s leading banks recently decided to sack an entire team of HR professionals, opting to replace them with a team made up of professionals from other functions including finance, marketing, and sales. In a leading global software company, the board of directors has issued an order that establishes a talent management role that will report on the health of the workforce to the board each quarter. These mandates are widespread, and not exclusive to the world’s most elite companies. Prime talent-management-related jobs, such as those responsible for workforce planning, are being awarded to professionals so far removed from the human resource function that they’re not even sure where the HR offices are located! It’s a truly sad day when business professionals cannot prove they are capable of mastering a practice that is theoretically the foundation of their profession. The Better Candidate During a chance encounter with an exceptionally talented individual, who now heads workforce planning for a company charged with monitoring one-third of the world’s airspace, it was clear why her leadership team found that the best candidate for such a mission critical post didn’t come from HR. Leaders explained that the company needed:

  • Someone capable of demonstrating an understanding of the business at a macro level
  • Someone capable of applying common forecasting and planning models to the organization’s workforce
  • Someone who could communicate with senior leaders and managers in a language they understood about what actions need to be taken to maximize the productivity of the organization and achieve its strategic objectives

The statements above certainly aren’t groundbreaking; in fact, leaders have for years complained that HR professionals lacked such basic business skills. The truth is that it was just a matter of time: either HR professionals would step up to the plate, prove their value, and change the perception of senior leaders, or said leaders would get fed up and other functions would seize control of choice HR activities. Events of late indicate that judgment day is upon us, and that many of those people who now make up HR maybe heading to the unemployment line, or redeployed to posts most leaders accept as administrative such as the mail room. Regardless, change is coming. Stepping Up In the world of business, perception is everything. If customers fail to perceive value, they won’t buy your products. If investors fail to perceive capability, they won’t buy stock in your organization. If senior leaders don’t perceive that you are working for them, they will get rid of you! The time is upon the HR profession to abandon the old, embrace the new, and prove that the function is worthy of the business partner title many fought for so long to have. Winning the battle for survival will come down to proving that HR practitioners are:

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  • Business professionals first and foremost (not social workers)
  • Capable of mastering finance, change management, strategic planning, and communications
  • Understanding of the business itself, including what it produces, what role each of the pieces play, and the delicate relationships between each piece
  • Willing to stop doing what is easy (focusing on efficiency) and start doing what matters (focusing on effectiveness)
  • Believers that standardization is not the answer to everything!

Talent management isn’t easy, but it isn’t rocket science either. At its core, talent management is a macro-level practice that combines the scope of recruiting/staffing, training and development, and performance management with robust capabilities of strategic workforce planning, forecasting, and change management. While talent management may not change the ownership of talent resources in an organization, it most certainly coordinates the acquisition, development, deployment, and retention of them in an effort to maximize the capability and capacity of the organization. As a strategic practice, it by itself, when executed, flawlessly proves that HR does have what senior leaders demand from a strategic business function. Next week, we will introduce a short list of talent management program elements that must exist, be tested, and marketed to senior leaders to prove worthiness of a continued existence. If you have experience or thoughts on the issue that you would like to contribute to Part 2, please email them to johns@drjohnsullivan.com for consideration.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



1 Comment on “Talent Management Road Kill

  1. I am not sure that the clock is winding down yet for HR. Although I have no doubt that corporate offices are wanting all sorts of creative new talent management options available to them, I also think there is still a very large, and possibly growing need, for the traditionalist HR professional to keep the peace and manage some of the trends that could start mass changes in the ranks. As someone who has been primarily staffing focused for the last 20 some years, I am often approached by management wanting to come up with some creative talent management sourcing strategy that will ensure they have an adequate pool of qualified resources on demand for the next 2-5 years. However, next comment out of their mouth is usually ‘and don’t forget the 10 highly specialized engineers we need hired in the next 2 weeks’.

    Maybe I have not yet worked for a really forward thinking company that has had the financial and people resources (or the Board of Directors) that would support building a truly unique talent management solution.

    It is nice to see that corporate america seems to realize that HR does have some value as I have seen a tremendous increase of HR hiring activity going on over the last 12+ months and it looks like this trend will continue. However, most HR professional that I know and network with are still so busy putting out corporate fires and jumping through hoops on a daily basis that there would be no way they could realistically put together a untraditional talent management strategy when we are urgently tasked everyday at maintaining the existing talent management philosophy.

    I realize that some may say I have my head in the sand. However, if I were to tell my management to not worry about filling today’s needs so that we can instead focus on how to fulfill next year’s needs, I can guarantee you I would not be employed for very long.

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