The Best Firms to Build a Career in Talent Management

Dec 6, 2010
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

There are many lists that highlight great places to work. Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” and BusinessWeek’s “Best Places to Launch a Career” are two of the most compelling for general jobseekers. However, I have never come across a credible list designed specifically for those early in their career in the field of talent management. I’ve been researching and working in the field for 40 years, and it is obvious to me that there are a number of firms that clearly stand out above the rest.

Rather than just picking names based on my experience, I used the following criteria to select 15 companies that anyone interested in becoming a talent management rock star might want to join:

  1. Firm included in the current BusinessWeek or Fortune rankings as a top place to work.
  2. Firm has won awards or been written up for excellence in talent management.
  3. Firm has been a “launching pad” for talent management leaders who now serve in a leadership role at other major firms.
  4. Firm has continued to grow and hire, in spite of economic turmoil.

I separated the list into two categories: bold innovators and foundation firms.

Bold Innovators in Talent Management

  1. Google — it takes a bold and nontraditional approach to every aspect of talent management. There is no talent management function that is more data-driven or that has built a stronger employer brand. Despite being a vastly dispersed organization of 23,000 employees, it continues to excel at collaboration. If you could choose any firm to learn about next-generation approaches, this would be the one.
  2. Microsoft — this firm has come into its own as a powerhouse in innovation regarding talent management. Another data-driven function, it has a team of analysts that constantly monitor top performer engagement and processes that help develop a deeper understanding of talent than any other firm. It understands the workforce implications of social media and is investing in numerous projects to determine what works and what is just hype. Its approach to managing contingent labor is literally the best in the world.
  3. Zappos — if you desire a culture that produces amazing business results but typifies “crazy” more than any other firm, Zappos should be your choice. Nothing demonstrates its understanding of the value of top talent more than its practice of paying mishires to quit. It also holds more parties and events than any other major firm.
  4. Apple — no firm has been more successful at innovation and product brand building across different industries. Apple would be at the top of this talent management list except that its executives are known for downplaying the importance of talent management and HR. Regardless, there is no better place to learn how managers get the most innovation and breathtaking productivity out of its employees.
  5. Sodexo — it is a talent management innovator in an industry that is not known for pushing the envelope. It has bold talent management leadership and leads the way in so many best practices that it’s hard to call it out for anything in particular, but worth paying attention to are its metrics, diversity, and military recruiting initiatives.
  6. DaVita — being an innovator in talent management within the medical industry is unfortunately quite unusual. Nevertheless, this function has leaders who can only be labeled as both innovative and aggressive. They lead the way in aggressive recruiting, business-like metrics and building manager satisfaction with the talent management process.
  7. Facebook — it might be the next Google because it has successfully poached top talent away from Google. It is building a reputation and a strong employer brand. It will continue to excel because it believes in using the powerful social network platform in all aspects of talent management. Everyone working at Facebook knows that they are literally changing the world and their talent management leaders are no longer satisfied being second to Google.
  8. Starbucks — if you want to learn how to manage in an environment of extremely rapid global growth, this is the place for you. Its growth rate requires the talent management function to continually reinvent itself, which means endless opportunities to learn. Starbucks has also built an incredibly strong product and employer brand.
  9. Wegmans Food Markets — It is amazing that despite being a “regional grocery chain,” the firm was named a Best Company to Work for in America. This firm excels in all aspects of management, including employee engagement, employee retention, hourly employee development, and customer service.
  10. Infosys — you might find it unusual for a firm headquartered in India to make this list, but its talent management practices are award-winning. The firm is so attractive that it routinely recruits American college students into its ranks. If you want to get a global perspective on how to manage a productive workforce, you can’t go wrong here.

Foundation Firms in Talent Management

These firms have built talent management functions that have proven over the long term to be the best training ground for future talent management leaders. It is the fact that many of these foundation firms have literally populated the leadership ranks of other major firms with their alumni.

  • PepsiCo — this firm has developed more successful talent management leaders than any in our profession. Its business-like approach to talent management is often copied. The firm also excels in global talent management, diversity, and leadership development.
  • Johnson & Johnson — this firm also has a well-earned reputation for developing talent management leaders that assume leadership roles at other major firms. Instead of innovation, it is known for superior execution and a truly global approach.
  • Southwest Airlines — this firm was innovative in all aspects of talent management long before “the war for talent” began. Its innovative hiring, teambuilding, and employee engagement practices are still widely copied. This firm had a best-selling book and its own TV show to build its still strong employer brand.
  • GE — it’s not an exaggeration to say that no firm does traditional leadership development better than GE. In talent management it also excels at internal movement, differentiated incentives, globalized practices, and releasing deadwood.
  • IBM — even though it is a foundation firm, it continues to lead the pack in managing remote work and globalized talent management. Its internal redeployment process and their leadership development are also among the best in the world.

Final Thoughts

If you are just starting your career in talent management or you know someone that is, this list can be a good starting point to inform a job search. These firms are growing and without exception they welcome new innovative thinkers and leaders in talent management. It’s also important to note that even if you’re not looking to change firms, this list can also be used as a benchmarking source to identify the best firms to copy and learn from.

If you would like to highlight other firms for the list, use the comment section at the end of this article to do so.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.