HR Technology Column

The 'New Normal' of Talent Management

HR executives -- and their C-suite leadership -- must act now to deal with the "new normal" of talent management. A global recession, a lack in needed skill sets, an aging workforce and disconnected talent strategies are combining to create corporate crises.

Monday, June 27, 2011
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This is a guest column by Jason Averbook for a vacationing Bill Kutik.

It is impossible to tune into any form of media these days without hearing about job creation: Where will jobs be created? When they will return? How can governments around the world support job growth?

This topic will dominate discussions for the foreseeable future, but I think a better question that will rise to the forefront will be: Where are the skills?  

The global recession of 2008-2009 brought to light a worldwide unemployment epidemic. With unemployment rates running at an all-time high, according to the United Nations Labour Agency, countries around the world are counting on both the public and private sectors to assist in solving the problem.


While global unemployment is important, perhaps an even more important issue to HR leaders is how to gain an understanding of what skills exist inside their organizations, what skills they will need in the future and how they will build talent strategies that align to those skills.

Better visibility into the skills that are needed versus the gaps that exist will help organizations realize that this issue is less about new job creation than about new skill development.  

In most crises of supply and demand, we can manufacture a new supply. Whether it is oil, consumer goods or even money, ways are found to create more. However, when it comes to individual skill sets, solving the supply and demand crisis is not as simple.

And without visibility into what we already have, what we need, and where and when we will need it in the future, it's virtually impossible.  

This lack of visibility is a nearly unanimous area of deficiency I find as I travel around the world to meet with our customers.

Unfortunately, at the same time, I witness the depressingly familiar reactive approach from HR leaders to solving the problem. Many HR leaders combine their lack of clarity into the skill sets and motivations of the workforce with the ongoing, long-time struggle to tie their organizations' talent strategy to current and emerging business needs.  

Frustrated by the current state of the organizations' talent-strategy approach, some individual business units have taken matters into their own hands -- building their own talent inventory processes and systems that are separate from the rest of the organization.

While this approach temporarily works on a unit-by-unit basis, talent and skills eventually bleed out of these worldwide organizations because of this decentralized effort.

When we add the problems of disconnected talent strategies and supply-and-demand talent issues to high global unemployment of "lesser-skilled" workers and an aging workforce, you have an explosive situation.  

While this sounds dramatic, demographics underscore that skill sets leaving the workforce outpace skill sets entering the workforce. We cannot simply create an extra group of 18-to-20-year-old individuals already prepared to enter the workforce with the skills needed by businesses today.

Combining that situation with the demand for new skills and the lack of clarity for future needs and we find ourselves in the "new normal" of talent. This "new normal" will be one of the largest crises we face during our lives.  

So, how does this relate to HR technology?

That relationship became intensely clear to me after a recent conversation with a CIO. He asked me: "Now that we are not hiring, I assume that you would agree with me that we do not need to spend on talent-management technology, correct?"

It literally felt like a punch to the gut when I sat back and thought about it. Candidly, there couldn't be a more false assumption to make than this. Honestly, it's tragic.

Talent-management technologies are not only more important than ever, but they should be the No. 1 driver of every HR organization and business leader worldwide. In a world where everything becomes a commodity in a matter of weeks, the only long-term differentiator is talent: buying, building, retaining and mobilizing talent.  

In the past, talent-management spend has been measured predominately by how much organizations spent on new recruiting technologies. Consequently, the thought that "jobs are not coming back" has created a perception that investments in talent-management technology are no longer needed.  

But talent management is more than recruiting. HR must know the business strategy, understand the organization's current depth of skills, and know when, how and where the business will either grow or acquire additional skills.

HR leaders need to be able to visualize changes in talent supply and demand, and proactively capture needed talent before the business even requires it. The only way HR can accomplish this is through the use of talent-management technology.

The definition -- and legacy -- of HR in the future is talent management.

And technologies such as workforce planning, and proactive talent acquisition through candidate-relationship management and talent communities will help induce clarity as well as drive the overall talent supply.

So, too, will the use of skills inventory through technologies -- such as a basic talent profile, deep succession management on critical jobs, and enterprisewide social-collaboration tools -- help organizations manage talent.  

Technology that supports the development of skills that align with business strategy -- such as ongoing performance management and proactive re-skilling through learning and career planning -- also help organizations optimize existing talent, retain it and realize its true value.

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Finally, technologies that support compensation management and employee engagement are required to ensure the workforce is invested in both its future -- and the future of the enterprise -- and is rewarded for its impact on the business strategy.  

So ... is this the time to invest in an upgrade without talent management embedded? No! Is this the time to stop investing in talent-management technologies and invest in "more business-critical" tools? No!  

Human resource leaders worldwide need to lead the way in solving the supply-and-demand talent crisis. They must build talent strategies that tie their agendas to that of the business and the CEO.

Once those strategies are linked, the business case for HR technology is a "no brainer," the concept of "business critical" tools shifts back to a focus on talent, and the HR function shows its impact on driving business outcomes.  

Is this the time to stop investing in talent management? No! Quite the opposite, this is the exact time to invest more, and organizations that don't will be left with a serious competitive disadvantage.  

Join me at the HR Technology® Conference Talent Management Panel on Oct. 3, where I will discuss this and other critical topics with our leading global customers including Starbucks, Shaw Power Group, The Hertz Corp. and Campbell's Soup.

Jason Averbook is co-founder and CEO of Knowledge Infusion in Minneapolis, a full-service HR and talent-management consulting firm that creates talent strategies and then works with organizations to select and deploy technologies to drive strategic outcomes. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonaverbook or on the Knowledge Infusion blog. He will be moderating his Fifth Annual Talent Management Panel at the HR Technology® Conference, as well as taking on Naomi Lee Bloom in the Second Annual Great Technology Debate.

Jason is filling in this month for HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik, who is on vacation. Bill is co-chairman of the 14th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition, Oct. 3-5, in Las Vegas. The full program is available online. You can comment on this column at the Conference LinkedIn Group , which does not require prior or future conference attendance to join. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show®. He can be reached at  

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