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Talent (Human Capital) Management and Sports? Sign Me Up, Please! - Part 3

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: December 5 2008

Part 1 of this blog series introduced and analyzed some mixed feelings and doubts that we might still have about the noble concepts of talent management and human capital management (HCM), while Part 2 provided some definitions of these two software categories' respective scopes.

No Laughing Matter, Indeed

The discussion so far has ascertained that talent management, as a strategy, requires both appropriate systems and an organizational commitment to attract, acquire, manage, and measure the talent needed to achieve a company's business objectives. Without the alignment of business and talent management systems and processes, and without closing the gap between workforce strategy and execution, companies will sub-optimize their benefits and put their goals at risk.

Going hand in hand with strategic alignment is another significant trend in recent years, which is the recognition that automating transactions in silos (within only, e.g., recruitment, performance, compensation, succession) is not helping the human resources (HR) department. It is indeed difficult to expect any strategic alignment between business and the talent roster with fragmented data, applications, and talent pools, where data is often lost, and there is consequently no single view (or single version of truth).

Hence, fragmented islands of information render HR departments’ decisions after-the-fact and reactive at best, whereby the system is used only a few times a year, while the information technology (IT) departments remain complex and inefficient. The company’s execution is thus inhibited, since it is difficult for its top managers to determine next year’s talent needs, identify top performers, keep good talent from leaving, find more quality people, and, at the end of the day, help drive business forward.

Moving toward an integrated approach means that all of the talent management functions can be accessed from one dashboard – and the data is shared for the benefit of aligning with business objectives. But more importantly, the unified talent management platform supports a third key trend, which is to promote the line of business (LoB) manager into a key constituent and decision maker.

However, as Sherry Fox’ blog post depicts it so well, it is not easy to be an HR staffer these days. Let’s imagine the life of an HR manager, when early in the morning he/she learns about the resignation of the top few performers, and later in the morning he/she reads the report on declining retention numbers, and learns about some hiring managers rejecting many potentially good candidates.

Of course, around lunch time, the chief operating officer (COO) will summon an impromptu meeting on why the company’s best people are leaving, while after the lunch break (if any), there could be some compliance complaints (e.g., on some diversity, age, handicap, privacy, and whatnot discrimination). Just to add the “icing on the cake” for the day, in the afternoon he/she learns that the top candidate was taken (since the offer came too late). Later in the afternoon comes a report on the sales folks missing their numbers due to still too many open positions.

What might go through the HR manager’s hectic mind (other than some suicidal thoughts) could be frustrations for not having the help of unified IT systems, his/her inability to read the hiring manager’s mind, the inability to obtain valid data to predict corporate talent vs. business gaps, and ultimately, the inability to move fast enough.

What Would Nirvana Be?

So, what could the unified talent management platform change and how? Well, in a hypothetical case, the unfortunate HR manager could instead see, first thing in the morning, a report saying that the retention numbers are at an all-time high. This would be credited to the new succession and career planning initiative (backed by equivalent software) that has lately placed 100 top performers in new jobs.

In mid-morning, the chief executive officer (CEO) might announce a new initiative in Europe, where he/she desires 50 managers with European experience, 200 employees who speak a European language, 300 employees with international career plans, and an external general manager (GM) candidate. Instead of being dumbfounded, the HR department is now able to swiftly send a European talent request to the executive staff worldwide.

In addition, with the help of a nifty recruitment application, the HR folks can launch a tailored European career site under the corporate brand. Soon after, resumes start flooding in, and based on a well thought-out success profiling and interview scheduling system, 75 ace candidates are invited in to interview.

In late afternoon, when CEO calls a follow-up status review on the European initiative, the HR manager gladly reports that he/she has mobilized the talent, whereby both top internal and external talent has been identified. It might turn out that, e.g., 32 percent of the existing global workforce has European goals, and the onboarding process is thus now live in dozens of countries.

The bottom line: mobilizing talent should help companies drive the business. In this case, the sales folks might just "blow out" the quarterly figures due to the high productivity of newly recruited reps that were immediately up to speed.

Sport Teams Championing Talent Management

But, nothing can be better music to my ears than marrying enterprise applications with sports. To that end, as to prove the concept of talent management, one of Taleo World 2008’s presenters pointed out Major League Baseball (MLB) team, the Oakland Athletics (A’s). In fact, the A’s GM Billy Beane's executive talents and the organization's baseball philosophy were the subject of Michael Lewis' acclaimed book entitled "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game."

In other words, by paying close attention to the main pillars of talent management (i.e., recruiting, performance management, and compensation), and by aligning them to the overall business strategy of being competitive at a modest payroll expense (and budget), the A’s have managed to change the relentless game of baseball, and compete with the rich “evil empires” of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Namely, for the most recent several years (not counting the dismal losing 2008 season), by using facts (stats) to supplement instinct, the A’s have achieved about the same number of regular season wins, about 730. This figure is about the same as those of the Yankees and Red Sox, despite the A’s being outspent multiple times (four times by the Yanks, and threefold by the Red Sox).

While this example has certainly convinced me of the importance and general value proposition of talent management, I, as an avid Red Sox fan (Go Sox!), have to add some additional facts, starting with the one that the A’s haven’t had much success in the postseason (playoffs). The Red Sox have also seemingly implemented the same pillars of talent management, but with the overall strategy of not necessarily skimping on the players' pay, and of paying-for-performance (of course, in accordance with the MLB regulations and players' union).

Maybe that hefty payroll (but still lower compared to the reeling Yanks) can be credited with the two World Series won in four years, and reaching five playoff contests in six seasons? When it comes to recruiting, the Red Sox’ farming system, combined with occasional free agent acquisitions, seems to be doing well. But it is the astute implementation of performance management and compensation that does the job and closes the loop.

Namely, instead of valuing the sluggers’ figures for home runs (HRs, not to be confused with human resources!), stats like on-base-percentage (OBP), number of pitches to strike out at bat, batting average (BA), number of strikeouts, etc., play a much more prominent role in evaluating the player. The same goes for pricey pitchers: instead of judging their mere number of wins, the stats like the number of walks, the number of strikeouts, the number of pitches per game, the number of innings per game, earned run average (ERA) etc., are even more critical for evaluations.

Switching sports, the New England Patriots would be another good example of exceptional results in the 2000's being delivered by balancing talent with a limited payroll, due to the National Football League's (NFL) salary cap imposed onto all teams (which is not the case with MLB). The Patriots would be an example of a team of virtually no star players with so much success in this decade (three Super Bowls in four years, and six playoff contests in seven years).

Even Tom Brady, who has meanwhile become a star on his own (in part owing to his “extracurricular” activities), would be a good example of recruitment and succession planning. Well, at least till this very recent season-ending (possibly even career-ending) injury…

In any case, I now subscribe to the “war for talent” motto from Part 1, much more I mean. Make no mistake, I doubt that the above sports teams use the solutions from Taleo, HalogenKenexa, Lawson, Oracle, SuccesFactors, Ultimate SoftwareAgresso, or Authoria, since in this field, the recruiting of players and coaches follows different paths (certainly not via resumes on Monster.com or LinkedIn, but rather via a close-knit network of agents, scouts, etc.).

Still, there might be some connection between sports and enterprise applications, since, prior to going public, NetSuite added Beane to its board of directors. Curiously, NetSuite's on-demand software is used in the A's sales and marketing department (after all, these teams need to sell us tickets and merchandize, and they need corporate sponsors).

In conclusion, the principles of attracting, developing, and compensating talent are universal. What are your comments, opinions, etc. in this regard? I would certainly like to hear about your personal work experiences as an employee or employer, as well as with leveraging this emerging software category per se within your environments.
 
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