Chief Talent Officer 2020

Apr 9, 2009

Over the past several years there have been a number of articles written about the role of a chief talent officer. Each of these articles has pointed out the need for someone to have responsibility for developing and implementing a comprehensive strategic approach to people.

The current economic situation just underlines the need for organizations to develop sustainable talent strategies to minimize the trauma of poor economies; maintain a top notch, committed and skilled workforce; and encourage the development of new skills among those already employed rather than the mass hiring of new workers.

It is more obvious now than ever before that the need for semi-skilled labor is ending and that most organizations will need a highly skilled workforce to be competitive.

Successful organizations have a core of skilled people who generate revenue, create new products and services, and interact with customers in a deep way. Finding these people is very hard, and the supply is diminishing and will continue to do so as the Baby Boomers, who make up a disproportionate part of this supply today, eventually retire.

Organizations have four basic tools at their disposal to deal with people: the ability to attract and acquire, the ability to develop and provide competency, the ability to engage and excite so they are committed, and the ability to measure performance and provide feedback to adjust recruitment and development practices.

By developing the right integration and balance between each of these tools, there can be employment harmony and much less binging and purging of people when economic winds change.

One might expect human resources to step up and claim responsibility for this, and a handful of HR chieftains have tried to do this. Unfortunately, HR is mired in legalese, labor law, and in a general belief that their role is to make people happy and feel good, no matter what the business reality might indicate. HR has consistently failed to show strategic initiative and a “can-do” spirit. Many, some say most, HR people are process-police who focus on doing something “right” rather than on doing something that has an effect on the bottom line.

HR professional organizations are constantly presenting seminars and rolling out speakers extolling the need to be business-focused and to earn a seat at the decision-making table. Yet, HR remains disconnected from business and is rarely listened to for strategic people advice. Rather, they are expected to execute the decisions made by real business people.

A small number of organizations are instead putting people without HR backgrounds or credentials into roles where they will have responsibility to craft these people strategies. The people assuming the Chief Talent Officer role are often people who have demonstrated their business credentials, perhaps by running a business unit or by their involvement in product development or customer service. Many of them have also spent time building work teams, grappling with the internal people issues in teams, and who have an understanding of the external trends and issues that are changing the nature of work and the ways people want to engage in work.

A successful Chief Talent Officer has to be far more than a recruiter or a trainer or a process integrator. A talent officer is the general and strategist in charge of the supply of what is becoming the rarest resources an organization has — skilled, committed workers. Their job is to understand the objectives of the company, architect the strategy to find or develop the people who will be needed to meet business objectives, and redeploy people efficiently and effectively when their initial objectives are achieved without losing them to the competition.

While more efficiently finding existing talent is a great skill for a world-class recruiter, it is not enough for a talent officer. Their focus will have to be on creating a net increase in the supply of people in any needed job category, instead of just being better at getting at the existing supply.

And, while being well versed in training technology and being able to creatively and quickly build skills or re-skill a workforce are wonderful skills for a training manager, those are not enough for a talent officer. They will have to architect systems and tools to assess and continuously train people to fill jobs we haven’t even thought of yet. Effective talent officers will be partnering with vendors, working with high schools and colleges, and marketing to the community the benefits of gaining the skills the firm needs.

And, while being somewhat familiar with the corporate business objectives and the global talent pool is important, it is not enough for a talent officer. They have to understand the global workforce and know where to move work or people. They will have to do that according to their firm’s business goals.

A talent officer has to influence management to implement the integrated people strategies that will keep a sustainable workforce in place no matter what happens to the economy. This is not an easy job but the integration of recruiting, development, engagement, and performance is what talent management is really all about. Those organizations that get this mix right will enjoy long period of employment stability, harmony, and productivity. We have some examples today: Toyota is one. Toyota retrains during slow times, has had very few and very small layoffs, and focuses on process improvements and job enlargement rather than mass hiring. IBM, over the years, has also focused on internal mobility and employee development rather than on mass external hiring. These sustainable practices are good for the economy, good for people, and good for profitability.

By 2020 these roles will be common in large companies and many smaller ones will use consultants to help them architect similar strategies.