Is It “Code Red” for Talent Management and HR?

talent management


Talent management is in a “state of confusion.” Those were the words of Mike Haberman, a long term friend and colleague of mine. I respect Mike a lot and scheduled him for a very long overdue interview.

Listen to the Podcast Here


During this brief interview we covered a lot of territory from the current state of talent management to the biggest challenges facing HR. We probably raised more questions than came up with answers but we did agree upon this: organizations hinge their growth and future success on talent management as the solution and yet the definition of talent is ambiguous and rarely agreed upon.  Management, HR, recruiters and even employees have different descriptions and therefore different expectations. If everyone can’t agree on what talent is, how can you possibly manage it?

The words themselves – “talent management” – conjure up a sense of hype and rhetoric.  The function within an organization started as personnel who evolved into human resources, then human capital asset management, to talent management. Recently Josh Bersin, one of the thought leaders I respect the most,  suggested a shift toward “people management.”  A Deloitte report suggested “the mission of the HR leader is evolving from that of “chief talent executive” to “chief employee experience officer.”

But name changes are superficial and no substitute for the real shift in attitude that needs to occur. For example, if people are a company’s most important assets, why aren’t they included on the Balance Sheets instead of listed as costs and expenses on Profit and Loss Statements? Despite all the name changes over the years, HR’s duties and responsibilities remain largely the same and the stature of it is still subservient to operations, finance, IT, and sales.

I suggested to Mike during our interview that maybe the function (and consequent title) is “talent stewardship.” Admittedly that plays into the name changing ritual – like that will make any difference.  But by finding a better title for it, maybe that will be the catalyst for a more strategic role and “a seat at the table.”  Candidly, I’m just flailing at an attempt to get management and business owners to say, “Oh now I get it!” Anyone have any better suggestions?

But as Mike shared, “some people feel that talent only represents the stars and key players of the organization, not every single employee; the Angelina Jolies and Brad Pitts, not the cameraman, stage hands, and extras.”  A 2006 article in The Economist notes that, “companies do not even know how to define ‘talent’, let alone how to manage it. Some use it to mean people like Aldous Huxley’s alphas in ‘Brave New World’—those at the top of the bell curve. Others employ it as a synonym for the entire workforce, a definition so broad as to be meaningless.”

Title changes are meaningless unless management shifts its mindset and recognizes that people are indispensable and add value to the organization.  Until then, talent management, HR or whatever you want to call it will just be laundry list of tasks that must be done, not an asset that drives performance and profitability.

What do you think?  How would you define HR’s role that reflects its strategic importance? Is there a word or words that describe it better?  Or should “talent management” be a responsibility delegated to each project or product team manager and the role of HR restricted to compliance and payroll? Isn’t that where many HR professionals spend most of their time anyway?

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