This article is part of our Essential Guide: A guide to HR technology

The perfect storm comes to talent management

It is one of the most important areas of business, but talent management has been largely ignored by the IT industry – until now

The past decade has seen a vast increase in the number of business areas being driven by IT.

We have seen the development of effective systems for financial management, supply chain, manufacturing, marketing and other areas. However, until recently, one of the most important areas of business – talent management – had been left largely untouched.

There has been technology in the human resources (HR) area but, until recently, it has acted largely as an organisational hygiene factor. Businesses needed good IT systems to carry out simple tasks, such as checking how many people they employ and how to pay them correctly. But once you could do these things, technology did not offer talent management processes with much additional benefit.

Now this has changed and, as with other areas of business, technology is having substantial and strategic effects on the capabilities of HR and other business leaders with responsibilities for talent management.

This shift is partly down to us trying to manage talent in a smarter way – for example by providing self-service for line managers so they can take responsibility for the talent in their teams.

The latest talent management systems

Systems such as SuccessFactors Recruiting (previously Jobs2web), owned by SAP, allow recruiters to get their jobs out onto social and mobile systems, enhancing search engine optimisation of job postings and providing advanced analytics on where candidates are finding these jobs, and the success rate of the different media – allowing recruiters to target their efforts much more precisely than before.

Performance (previously Rypple), owned by Salesforce, allows team managers to share objectives, track performance and provide feedback across a team – it also includes an iPhone app.  Managers can also compare and analyse the performance of individual team members.

Systems such as Saba support formal development through their traditional learning management (LMS) functionality, but also ongoing, informal and social learning.  Managers get great data about the take-up of learning and the participation in social conversation, including through Saba’s People Quotient, a rather Klout-like score for individual social contribution, and Dynamic Network Analysis for the performance of the social network.

Recognition systems such as Globoforce allow employees to share appreciation with each other and for managers to analyse this data to support performance management and other talent management decisions.
Gamification is probably the fifth main technological force affecting talent management, and Globoforce, as well as Saba (through its partnership with Badgeville) and, uses badges to stimulate uptake of these systems.

But it is also down to big changes in the potential of talent management systems. At last year’s HR Tech Europe conference – the biggest HR technology conference outside the US – many of the sessions dealt with the effect of social, mobile, analytics and cloud-based technologies on HR.
These four forces are introducing significant changes to the way companies manage their talent. Their combined, cumulative effect has had a profound impact on the contribution talent management can make to business performance.

Social technology is allowing employees and managers to connect and share information in real time. This is making HR more of a conversation and less of a process, helping employees get better, tailored support, and feel more important to their company. And mobile technologies are enabling HR processes and conversations to take place in real time wherever they are needed.

There is probably more data in HR than in any other area of business, particularly when the social conversations between employees are factored in. And business leaders want to interpret this data to understand the impacts their investments in talent management are providing. So analytics is becoming important too.

Most companies have stopped locating employee data outside the organisation so talent management is being provided in the cloud. This is providing easier implementation and upgrading, reducing costs and helping organisations keep up with changes in the business and the technology arena.

There is another force in play: the shift in the balance of HR technology from functionality to paying much more attention to usability. Businesses are realising that it makes no sense to have the latest great technology if nobody uses it. This is another change we have already witnessed in many other areas of business but is more important in talent management, where systems  are not just used within the HR department but need to support everyone with responsibility for talent management: business leaders, line managers and to some extent all employees.

So, supported by the move to social and mobile, systems are being redesigned to make them simpler and more intuitive. This change is making talent management processes more effective and is helping HR become more professional and responsive.

Integrating systems within the perfect storm

A final force is the need and opportunity for integration. Employers are increasingly interested in supporting usability by having a more consistent feel across their talent management applications.

They also want access to better analytics by linking all of the data supporting these applications together. They realise that while there are benefits to employees sharing information about recruiting, learning, recognition and performance management, this is not as useful as having all these conversations integrated.

Through organic development and acquisition talent management technology, suppliers are responding to these requirements by extending out of their previous silos in core HR management data, recruiting, performance management, learning or reward to cover most or all of these functions together. SAP’s acquisition of Success Factors for its cloud-based human capital management (HCM) systems to add to its existing HR management information system was a good example of this trend.

However, one of the most exciting changes for the next decade is going to be the integration of talent management into existing business systems. Companies and suppliers increasingly understand that the best places to manage performance, learn or recognise other people’s contributions are those in which business is being done. So talent management functionality is moving to business systems that are already social, mobile, supported by analytics and available in the cloud.

The need to integrate social conversations is reinforcing this trend – companies do not just want conversations about learning and performance management to be in one place; they also want these integrated with conversations about knowledge management, collaboration and innovation. This makes it easier for employees to participate in these conversations and avoids the creation of social islands where ideas, perspectives and experiences can be shared within areas but not between one area and another.

There is probably more data in HR than in any other area of business Employers want a more consistent feel across their talent management applications Many mobile talent management applications form part of business rather than HR systems

A good example of this shift is Recognize, an application recently added to Yammer’s App Directory that enables employees to recognise the skills of other employees through a badge and description of what you saw them do. Employees can also review the recognitions someone has received on their profile. This system is not as advanced as Globoforce, but its ability to provide recognition in the system where business social conversations are already taking place makes it important.

The move to mobile is also supporting this shift to integrate talent management with the business. Many mobile talent management applications naturally form part of business rather than HR systems. Mobile learning as an example tends not to work that well for the more theoretical content you may find on an organisation’s learning content management system. Instead it is best used for performance support – helping people learn or reinforce their skills at the point they need to apply them – so learning becomes a business application, not an HR application.

This broader business integration also supports the use of analytics so companies can search for predictive and causal factors linking talent, customer and financial data without the need for a separate data warehouse.

This means we are going to see talent management functions not taking place in a talent management system at all. The biggest impact of social, mobile, analytics and cloud may therefore be to reposition these systems as modules of broader business management systems. In fact, this shift in already taking place, for example through Peoplefluent’s tie-up with Socialtext.

This change will also connect HR much more firmly into the rest of the business. And that really will be a radical and important change.


Jon Ingham is speaking at the HR Tech Europe Conference 2013 from 24th to 25th October.



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