Three New Roles Every Modern, Strategic Talent Management Function Must Have

article by Dr. John Sullivan & Master Burnett

The human resources profession is one often perceived by those outside the function as a bureaucratic, compliance-driven, administrative function that is reactive versus proactive and that changes at the speed of a rock. In most organizations, that perception is one well-earned, since most HR processes and policies are developed in response to a significant event and are intended to limit certain behaviors instead of enabling others. HR has become the function known for saying “you can’t do that” as opposed to function known for saying “this is how we can accomplish that.”

However, a few leading organizations are breaking with tradition ó at least when it comes to talent management ó establishing new functional structures that account for current labor market realities, and adding new proactive activities to the stable of HR services. A growing number of organizations are leveraging the visibility currently being placed on the impending talent shortage/crisis by corporate leaders and growing the scope of talent management activities to include formalized processes, programs, and departments focusing on proactive management of the employment brand, retention, and workforce planning.

These groundbreaking organizations are tearing down massive walls that years of political infighting have created between HR functions in order to develop entirely new HR structures where all deliverables are integrated to “strategically” manage the portfolio of talent that the organization can use to call upon to achieve both short- and long-term objectives. No longer does the training and development function devise and offer training programs for skill sets that can more readily be acquired through recruitment at a lower cost. No longer do key employees leave the organization because a bad manager kept them from advancing or learning. No longer do offers made to top candidates get rejected because compensation cannot adequately assess the market value of talent. Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t, but getting there isn’t easy; lots of archaic thinking gets in the way!

Driving Change: Three New Roles Defined While breaking down the barriers between the existing HR functions that impact talent management is in itself a profound success, leading organizations are also formalizing a number of proactive activities that add true strategic power to talent management. By creating a formal workforce planning role, organizations are empowering staffing departments, training departments, and operations departments to take the guesswork out of how it will happen, and they are managing using robust forecasts that scientifically demonstrate the correlation between workforce utilization/composition and organizational capability and capacity. To further support strategic talent management, workforce planning is coming online with two other proactive roles. Employment branding is becoming more mainstream as organizations recognize the need to make themselves more visible and attractive to top talent, and to motivate existing employees. Retention efforts are formalizing not just to stave off the need for hard-to-find replacement talent, but also to support knowledge management and knowledge transfer between several generations of talent. Each of these new roles is outlined here:

Vice President/Director/Manager of Workforce Planning

This role will be responsible for developing systems that ensure that the organization has an adequate supply of talent to support planned business objectives in both existing and new markets. (Note the emphasis here is not to run statistics and create reports, but rather to ensure an adequate supply of talent.) Specific responsibilities for this role include:

  • Overseeing the creation and management of all strategic HR goals, management practices, organizational policies, and talent management systems to ensure the organization has the capability and capacity to secure an adequate workforce when needed.
  • Participating in organization-wide strategic planning and operations-planning sessions to provide input on workforce-related touch points.
  • Projecting the organization’s supply and demand for talent on a moving one-, three-, or five-year basis (timing dependent upon industry).
  • Identifying gaps in projected supply and demand for talent and developing strategic and tactical plans to acquire the labor needed to meet objectives.
  • Marshaling the cooperation and integration of HR deliverables.
  • Establishing and maintaining the business case for organizational change needed to retain a position as the “employer of choice” among key internal and external talent constituencies.
  • Analyzing data from all internal functions to determine the relationship between talent availability or utilization and productivity, or the occurrence of sentinel events. (A sentinel event is any unexpected occurrence that results in a severely negative outcome.)

Vice President/Director/Manager of Employment Branding

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This role will be responsible for developing systems that identify and manage how the organization is perceived by both internal and external key talent constituencies to ensure that the organization develops and maintains a dominant position in relevant labor markets as the employer of choice. (Note that the emphasis of this new role is not on employment advertising but on understanding and managing perception among key constituents.) Specific responsibilities for this role include:

  • Developing and implementing an employment branding strategy that ensures key constituents continue to perceive the organization as an employer of choice, thereby simplifying talent retention, motivation, and attraction.
  • Marshaling internal management practices and people programs to ensure that the employment experience delivered is one capable of sustaining projected talent needs.
  • Overseeing the creation and integration of employment branding messages in all public relations, media relations, marketing communications, community relations, special events, and recruitment advertising campaigns.
  • Identifying and developing storylines around company management practices that can be repeated internally and externally through employee referral campaigns, public speeches by executives/managers, news stories, and select awards program applications.
  • Periodically assessing employment brand internally and externally to ensure alignment between current strategy and labor market conditions.
  • Establishing and maintaining the business case for organizational change needed to develop the required employment brand.

Vice President/Director/Manager of Retention

This role will be responsible for developing systems that identify mission-critical talent stores within the organization and a stable of tools and approaches that can be used on a one-to-one basis to retain them. (Note the emphasis here is not to develop organization-wide approaches that treat employees equally, but rather to provide differentiated treatment to top performers in key roles that have been characterized as critical to the success/failure of organizational objectives.) Specific responsibilities for this role include:

  • Overseeing the development and implementation of talent management methodologies to identify mission-critical roles within the organization based on objective assessment versus speculation.
  • Overseeing the creation and deployment of tools and approaches on a case-by-case basis to ensure the retention of key employees.
  • Analyzing internal data from all functions to identify relationships between organizational practices/events and turnover.
  • Developing and administering knowledge management and transition processes for planned turnover.
  • Developing and maintaining systems that monitor and report on managers’ abilities to develop and retain top performers.
  • Establishing and maintaining the business case for organizational change needed to drive retention efforts.


It’s a brave new world, one with few barriers to competition, which is why barriers to strategic talent management must be removed. Existing barriers include isolated HR functions, lack of strategic mindset, and lack of infrastructure to power true strategic talent management. Removing these barriers isn’t easy, but is a necessity for survival in a global economy. Many professionals in HR are not adequately equipped and will not survive in a modern HR function. Organizations cannot let those incapable of transitioning become barriers themselves. It is time to step up to the plate. It is time to embrace new proactive activities. It is time to stop talking about being strategic and actually be strategic! Enjoy the future ó it your turn to be the corporate hero.

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," 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 and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



7 Comments on “Three New Roles Every Modern, Strategic Talent Management Function Must Have

  1. A person with strong BI and data manipulation skills who can chunk and present data to all consumers of recruiting information inside and outside of your organization. Skills such as XML, data modeling, programming simple interfaces, BI and analytics with or without HR expertise will help you get the most out of whatever solutions you are using today- from a full boat TMS to integrating multiple point vendors for background, assessment, tax, compliance, HRMS, etc.

    No big firms run without financial analysts, why should human capital efforts not have dedicated data jockeys ?

  2. John, this is great information. Hopefully, more companies will start hiring for these positions and help their companies become strategic managers of talent.

    A few thoughts:

    In my previous life (as a Director of Customer Marketing for a nationwide wireless company), one of the critical elements for evaluating the success of the brand, as well as the success of retention efforts, was a metric for customer churn (turnover). This metric was standard for the entire industry.

    Calculated by dividing the total number of deactivations by the average number of customers, this metric identifies how many customers leave the company (usually for another carrier).

    The entire wireless industry rallied around this metric because it was (and is) vital to the financial health of the organization (acquiring a wireless customer is quite expensive). Moreover, Wall Street watches this metric very closely and uses it to evaluate the performance of wireless carriers.

    Therefore, every employee was committed to 1) setting the right expectations at the point of sale; 2) building a sustainable customer brand; 3) delivering an excellent customer experience at all company touch-points; 4) providing strong customer service; and 5) offering a great value. In short, everything was done to minimize churn.

    So based on my experience, I believe that an Employer Brand Manager as well as Retention Manager would be far more effective if they had a standardized, published attrition metric to benchmark their progress. (After all, if you can?t measure it, you can?t improve it).

    This attrition metric would carry even more weight if it were 1) presented for all to see (including job seekers) and 2) included in a company?s financial reporting.

    There are so many costs associated with losing an employee, including the cost of acquiring a new employee and the cost of vacancy; I find it curious that there seems to be no publicized attrition metric that?s used to consistently benchmark HR and recruiting efforts.

    A great start would be creating a standardized attrition metric that becomes a visible part of every company?s DNA.

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    Thank you for the valuable feedback concerning your metrics experience in the telecommunications business. In the HR business the metric is called the turnover ratio. While I was at Ultratech, I had to provide the turnover ratio, on a quarterly basis, for the company as a whole so that it could be reported to the company’s Board of Directors. This information is confidential and only used to determine if there is an attrition problem in the company as a whole (perhaps the company is not being competitive in the Industry in terms of benefits, compensation etc…) From time to time I also developed reports for detailed specific position turnover. I hope this helps answer the question concerning metrics in managing employee turnover.

    Here is the Turnover definition and formula as provided by SHRM:
    Annual Turnover Rate
    Annual turnover rate is the rate at which employees enter and leave a company in a given fiscal year. Typically, the more loyal employees are to a firm, the lower the turnover rate. A 100% turnover rate from year to year means that as many employees left the company as were hired. To calculate annual turnover, first calculate turnover for each month by dividing the number of separations during the month by the average number of employees during the month and multiplying by 100: # of separations during month ? average # of employees during the month x 100. The annual turnover rate is then calculated by adding the 12 months worth of turnover percentages together.

  4. Hi Rafael,

    Thanks for your feedback. It was very helpful.

    I have a couple of questions for you: Why the need for confidentiality in this area? How do companies know if they have an attrition problem if they can?t compare their attrition rates with other companies in the same industry? While they can look at their own attrition rates year over year, how do they know if this rate is acceptable or unacceptable? What I?m saying is this: companies don?t know whether they are retaining more employees than their competitors if that benchmark metric isn?t consistent and visible industry-wide.

    If companies publicized an attrition rate (using the SHRM definition or some other accepted definition) ? or at the very least contributed to an average developed by real numbers in their industry ? they would quickly learn whether their retention efforts were working.

    In fact, based on my wireless experience, a metric that?s used universally and released to the public would encourage companies to:

    1) Set realistic expectations up front in their marketing and employment branding efforts.
    2) Focus on employee satisfaction.
    3) Compete more effectively for talent in the marketplace.

    It may take a while before companies see the competitive advantage in making this information public.

    As a start, though, if companies hire retention and employment brand managers to reduce attrition rates, then they should also consider making those rates a companywide (and not just HR) focus. Hiring managers should understand the costs of attrition and impact on the bottom line.

    Moreover, it would be helpful if there were an industry-average attrition metric of some sort that companies could at least use as a reference point to compare against. (For example, a wireless phone industry attrition metric, a software development industry attrition metric, etc.)

    I just started a metrics group for ERE. I invite those who are interested in this topic to join the discussion there as well.

  5. Jennifer,

    Thank you for the kind words and for your valuable comments concerning metrics for recruiting.

    The reason I always suggest not to publicize the attrition rates is because if you do have a high turnover, relative to your industry counterparts, you do not want to get the word out or create a bad image as a place to work for your company.

    If you are a good HR Professional and keep your data on attrition for every position, department, division, etc.. you will historically know if you have problems or issues in a certain area or the company as a whole. If you suspect that it is a company problem you can then hire a research firm to do a study to really learn why people are leaving and what the company can do to correct the problem.

    I hope this helps.

    Rafael Zambrano

  6. Regarding the perception that a company will get a bad reputation if attrition metrics are shared, can I suggest that the horse is already out of the barn?

    Companies with high turnover rates can?t hide for long in today?s internet-driven, word-of-mouth network. For starters, employees who leave the company talk about the reasons for departure with friends, family, neighbors, and industry peers. Add to that the connectivity of blogs and e-mail, there?s no telling where that information lands.

    Next, if a company is routinely replacing high-level executives, that information is easily discovered by any candidate willing to do the research (?Why is XYZ Company publishing yet another press release for a new divisional vice president? Things that make you say, ?Hmmm…..?).

    Publishing this particular metric merely acknowledges the word on the street; however, it also sends the message that the company knows about the challenges it represents, and is working to change it for the better. Across an industry, this means that the average number gives visibility to what is ?normal? ? a calibrating point for both good and bad.

    To Rafael’s point, I agree that companies with high turnover should enlist the help of market research, or invest in a good business intelligence tool. But that?s not enough.

    Attrition is a metric that hurts the bottom line of the business. The entire company should rally around the problem to fix it. The metric should be tracked in every department until it?s in line with industry benchmarking. As Jennifer said in her previous post, I?m not sure that such industry-based attrition metrics exist ? if so, please let me know where to find them too.

    Companies that are serious about sending the right message in this area should also hire an employment brand manager, not to mention an employee retention manager so they can strategically manage their talent portfolios (great article by John Sullivan:

    All of that said, the converse of this discussion is also true: companies with lower published attrition rates may be at a significant competitive advantage for high caliber talent. Attrition, although it can be caused by many factors, still speaks volumes about the work environment ? and that is very powerful employment brand messaging.

    If companies in this category were more visible, job seekers might begin to associate the number with excellence?imagine that! ?I notice your competitor publishes attrition rates, why don?t you? Is there something I should know??

    I realize that publishing attrition rates is a big change – and probably not going to happen overnight. However, if companies are serious about employee retention, doesn?t it make sense to 1) make it the priority of the whole company, not just a few folks in HR; 2) find ways to develop a benchmark average that is specific to their industry (does *anybody* know if this exists? Please raise your hand if you do!); and 3) track against the benchmark religiously and hold EVERYONE?s feet to the fire for beating it.

    Dr. Sullivan recently wrote that ?the human resources profession is one often perceived by those outside the function as a bureaucratic, compliance-driven, administrative function that is reactive versus proactive and that changes at the speed of a rock.?

    I happen to believe that HR has the power to shift that perception a bit by taking on attrition in a more public manner. In fact, I suspect that HR might get and hold a seat at the Executive Table tomorrow if that rate was on the web site and annual report today.

  7. Very interesting discussion on attrition. My two cents: attrition benchmarks are collected and published today by PWC/Saratoga. Until this year they were US only, now there is an optional international view (they are also by industry etc). They’re not free (15-20K for two years) but hey – if you are using them in front of the board, and you integrate them into monthly metrics throughout the business (as we have done for 4 years) you can make the case fairly easily. I recommend it.

    Two critical things though. All attrition is not bad – so focus on voluntary attrition, and where possible attrition of high performers and/or key positions. PWC/Saratoga has benchmarks for that too.

    Totally agree with the post on analytical skills, but I would go broader than recruiting and attrition and say that HR needs to be able to analyze workforce status and changes continously & systematically. In fact the corporate leadership council just published the results of a survey of 300 global CHROs which emphasised the need for this skill and the fact that only 1 in 8 HR organization felt they had it. (,1283,,00.html)

    Finally, on workforce planning, I run a fee-free workforce planning roundtable ( – and our recent meetings suggest a couple of additions to the scope of workforce planning. (We co-authored a white paper in the Journal on Corporate Recruiting leadership that came out in April on this topic

    We would suggest that the focus of workforce planning positions, in addition to the areas Dr. Sullivan highlights, also include:
    – strong connection with near-term financial planning via integrated and aligned headcount measurement
    – development of human capital metrics that tie directly to business improvement
    – integration of workforce movement like expected attrition and planning hiring with current financial plans
    – successful management of the integration and exits associated with mergers & acquisition.

    We are finding our members have less involvement with HR deliverable program/project management and HR policies than your article would suggest.

    Hope that’s helpful,


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