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Beyond Talent Management: Making HR Data Part of Operational Business Decisions

This is part of a special advertising section focusing on the talent management outlook.

Monday, April 2, 2012
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Many HR organizations struggle to show how the processes they own drive competitive business value. Rather than being valued as a critical part of business execution, talent management is often viewed as a necessary administrative function, but not one of particular interest to ongoing business operations. In many companies, talent-management processes are seen somewhat like electrical wiring -- crucial for a home to operate efficiently and safely, but not a core feature that significantly increases the home's value. The same is true of many processes used for performance management, staffing, development, compensation and succession.

HR as a Strategic Business Function

This tendency to treat HR as an administrative function is unfortunate because HR processes can significantly increase revenues, accelerate time-to-market and decrease operating costs. When leaders tell me "I don't care about HR," I ask them "Do you care whether people in your company are doing what you need them to do to support your strategies?" If they answer "Yes," they do care about HR. However, they are probably not using HR processes to achieve their business goals.

So how can business leaders use HR processes more strategically? Two things are required:

* Knowing what to do. HR professionals must have expertise in ensuring the right people are in the right jobs, focused on the right things. For example, they must know how to use goals to motivate employee performance or measure existing talent in a way that accurately predicts future potential.

* Knowing how to do it. Even if an HR department knows how to make people more productive, the organization benefits only if HR can effectively share this knowledge with line leaders who actually manage employees. That means HR leaders need to talk about HR processes using language that resonates with those leaders. It also requires providing tools line managers can use to access HR processes and data in a way that addresses real-time business needs.

Business-Execution Technology

Mobile, cloud-based technology is playing a pivotal role in moving HR's focus on personnel management to business execution. This technology's impact has been twofold. First, it increases administrative efficiency, freeing HR professionals to focus on increasing workforce productivity. Second, it makes it possible to get HR expertise out of the HR department and into the hands of managers across the organization. The following examples -- based on actual SuccessFactors customers, but changed slightly to protect their confidentiality -- illustrate how this technology can be used:

* A customer asks a sales manager whether her company has someone who can help with a highly specialized task. The manager uses the company's HR talent-management system to quickly find individuals with the specific skills the customer needs.

* A hurricane is approaching a city where a company has critical IT business operations. The disaster-planning team links the HR system data to an online mapping technology to show where people with critical IT skills live, to determine whether it is necessary to relocate them.

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* A senior executive is asked about the level of resources being applied to a strategic initiative. He runs a goal-management report that shows exactly how many people are working on the initiative, what departments they are in and their specific goals.

* A senior leader in a critical role unexpectedly leaves the organization. The leadership team runs a report using succession-management data, which shows who could potentially backfill the position and which employees could be moved with the least disruption to ongoing business operations.

In each of these examples, line leaders access HR data in real time to make critical operational decisions. They show that HR processes are not something to be done once a year; instead, they become a critical source of knowledge that continually informs vital business decisions.

The impact of this technology on HR can be compared to how GPS technology has affected the use of street maps. Although everyone knew maps contain valuable knowledge, it was not easy to extract that knowledge, particularly at exactly the time decisions needed to be made. GPS changed that by providing just the right piece of information at every critical decision point -- with very little effort.

By putting critical HR knowledge into the hands of decision-makers at the moment they need it, in a format they can readily use, business-execution technology can profoundly improve how line managers run their businesses.

This development is contributing to a fundamental shift in the role HR plays in an organization. It is a key catalyst that is changing HR into a strategic function -- from providing administrative support to enabling the effective execution of business strategies.

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