Talent Management: The New Buzz

May 7, 2008
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Over the past 20 years or so, corporations worldwide have focused on a variety of initiatives. The bulk was aimed at improving efficiency, increasing profit, and ensuring quality. They have ranged from business process re-engineering to Six-Sigma quality, and have been responsible for the productivity gains world economies have enjoyed, as well as for the lower prices and better quality of most products we use.

These initiatives have changed our expectations. We expect everything we buy to work immediately with little to no need for an instruction booklet and last for a long time without the need for repair. We also expect products to be priced very low relative to how they were priced for our parents. Items such as televisions, cars, and computers are incredibly cheap compared to when they first appeared on the market, and prices continue to decline.

All of these changes have come about because of the relentless focus corporations have had on a handful of focused projects based on experimentation and objective measurement.

The focus has now turned to talent. As more organizations realize that it is service, innovation, and relationships that bring profit, the focus moves away from the manufacturing and production side to the people side.

It is now HR’s turn to be in the limelight and ensure the availability of needed talent and the overall quality of talent. Recruiters are central to that effort and many changes are underfoot. Recruiting as a profession is challenged to embrace a broader scope of work and to take responsibility for more sophisticated and complex talent analyses and development.

Here are a few ways that recruiters should start thinking and acting about talent. These mirror the methods used by manufacturing, finance, and other corporate functions that have undergone transformations over the past decades.

Become a Talent Solutions Provider, Not a Recruiter

I am not advocating that you just put a new title on your business card. What I am advocating is a shift in your thinking. You do not fill requisitions, you do not source candidates, and you do not screen and assess.

What you do is solve talent problems and make it easier for your organization to achieve its business goals.

That may seem like a minor distinction, but it carries a depth of meaning. It says you are strategic and know the business issues and goals of your organization.

You can push back on hiring managers who seem to be asking for talent that is not right for the direction the organization is headed. It also says you have knowledge of the talent market and can intelligently speak about the availability of certain kinds of talent with numbers and facts.

Having the right frame of mind is the most important aspect of change. It will not be easy to begin thinking like a solutions provider rather than a “slot filler,” but as long as that is your goal and you periodically assess whether you are moving in the right direction, you will succeed.

Focus on Competencies and Hiring Managers’ Requirements

To quantitatively improve candidate quality and overall performance, a solutions provider needs to be able to define every position in terms of the competencies and skills that have been verified as necessary to accomplish the tasks of that position.

You need to ask hiring managers to define the skills they need to hire, not the degrees and experience levels they think are appropriate. While degrees and experience may add depth to the final decision, it is skills and abilities that ultimately make the most difference.

Skills and abilities are often referred to as competencies and there are standard competency lists available, such as the O-Net list of competencies available from the U.S. Department of Labor. These competency lists mean you don’t have to hire specialists to develop them for you and make it much easier and less expensive to apply them to a variety of positions.

Other ways to improve the sophistication and effectiveness of recruitment is to add more thoughtful analysis to the process. Here is what a few organizations are doing:

  1. Some organizations are using modeling techniques to determine whether it is more efficient to hire a replacement for a position or to train someone internally. The decision is made on data, not on the opinions of HR or managers.
  2. Some are calculating the impact one person has on profits based on a skills profile versus another person with a different profile.
  3. Some are looking at the attributes of successful performers and tying their findings back into the recruitment assessment process.

Is this a perfect system? Not by a long shot at this point. As many readers have pointed out to me, these analyses and competencies are often too general or too simple to be really useful.

However, it is more important to have an experimental mindset and begin to use and improve them. To wait until someone produces a better system will put you far behind the learning curve.

Adopt and Start Using Talent Management Technology

Technology ultimately frees you and informs you. It takes away administrative chores and does the routine better than you ever did. Most important, it gives you the information you need to make decisions.

When you have data about sources of hires, time, and cost, and when you know who stays and who leaves, you can make much better decisions. You can defend yourself and be much surer that you are going in the right direction.

Many large firms such as HP (hear Bill Kutik’s latest interview) have implemented integrated systems to tie competency identification, development, recruitment, and performance management together. Buying and implementing a comprehensive HRIS tool is essential, and coupling that with a talent management system will make it even more useful. An HR or recruiting function without an HRIS and a talent management system is like a walk in the dark with a small candle.

The next 10 years will be marked by the increasing use of quantitative tools and methods in HR and recruiting. Many of these will be “imported” from other disciplines that have already been shaken to the core, such as manufacturing and finance.

This period will be marked with process improvements, measurement, quantification of all HR processes, and implementation of Six-Sigma quality standards. It will also be a time marked by a rigor of thinking, and a challenging of assumption and beliefs that has not been seen in HR before.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.