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

Article Continues Below

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.