HR-Technology-iconIf and when they lie awake worrying at night, I believe that there are probably several fundamental issues facing senior HR professionals today that are contributing to this insomnia. They are desperate to learn more about how they can help their organisations survive the continuing economic difficulties, grapple with the rapidly changing nature of emotional contracts between employees and employers and optimise the effectiveness of cross cultural interfaces. Finally, and on a more pragmatic level, many will be worrying about how to best exploit the powers of contemporary technology.

When looking in more detail at the issue of technology with regard to talent management we have to start with a brief introduction to the three virtually unavoidable steps in technology utilisation:

Automate. Automate what you have done manually; only to discover that it was a compromise and that you have added little, if any, value through automation

Innovate. Throw out the automated manual system and put yourself in the hands of the technology experts – after all they know technology best – only to discover that they may know about technology but often not about business processes or people. The cuteness of the gizmos soon wears off and you discover that you have declining utilisation of any ineffective set of clever but inappropriate tools

Consummate. You take back control and design integrated processes and technology – processes that seize on the behaviour engineering and business intelligence powers of contemporary technology. Technology that directly underpins your processes and offers truly synergistic best-fit solutions
With this in mind, my ten tips for tip-top talent management technology

1. Develop organisation-specific answers to the question: “what does the organisation need?” Define what ‘great’ looks like after you have implemented the technology – not what you believe the technology should do. Technology is changing so rapidly that it is almost impossible for non-technologists to define the mechanics. Define what you, as an HR professional, know best – the outcome, the resulting behaviours and the final performance metrics.

2. Explore what can be done; don’t merely design based on what you know – as in 1. Set out with an open and inquisitive mind. It is astonishing what is now possible so, before even considering making decisions, learn what is available and test its potential relevance.

3. Define a quality dataset that truly describes top talent. Managing talent depends on quality data. The data that we can collect about people has advanced in similar ways to the technology that can collect and manage it. In addition to measures of capability etc (the traditional resume), data such as engagement, vulnerability, aspirations, peer-views, potential (which can now be measured), agility, self awareness and intelligence are increasingly important.

4. Accumulate a quality dataset. Ensure that a quality dataset is collected. This means paying attention to more factors that just what you collect. You must also consider the sources and other factors. Think about these six criteria; comprehensive, valid, reliable, differentiating, useful and defensible.

5. Test data at source (garbage-in, garbage-out). Calibrate inputs not outputs. Two of the powerful tools that contemporary technology brings are the power to share data rapidly across time, hierarchical and geographical boundaries and the ability to test data at source. Using the first, we calibrate expectations and measures of people (eg: goals and KPIs) so that later evaluations are more robust. The second allows us to use statistical techniques to test for harshness, leniency, ability to differentiate and period-on-period comparisons etc, and then to interact with the data providers to enhance the quality of what they submit.

6. Use tools and data presentations correctly. For example: don’t use a 9-box as an assessment tool because it is a data presentation tool; don’t adjust scales merely to highlight insignificant differences in data; don’t use spider charts for data where there are no connections between adjacents and opposites; don’t treat correlations as automatically defining causes and effects; and so on.

7. ‘Hope is not a strategy’. Ensure that your talent management processes lead to effective actions and follows-through; the excitement of achieving a robust talent plan should not minimise the effort to implement it.

8. ‘Maximise return on talent’ does not mean ‘focus exclusively on HiPos.’ Identifying and then determining what to do with genuine ‘high potentials’ is critically important. However, genuine HiPos will probably continue to be so ‘despite you’ not ‘because of you.’ But, HiPos can only be fully effective in an organisation that ensures that the layer of 60-80% beneath them are sufficiently skilled, equipped, organised and managed to benefit from the HiPos’ leadership.

9. Be willing to break new ground – redefine ‘best practice’. The very best that you can achieve by copying what others do is to be mediocre. So called ‘best practice’ is rarely that – by virtue of the way it is discovered (asking lots of leading companies) and defined (the things that they have in common, not what sets them apart from each other). What truly defines a leading company are the willingness to break new ground, an in depth understanding of people and what optimises their performance and development, and the courage to act promptly to implement new ideas.

10. Select a sustainable solution – not merely a product. Common, popular and commodity products are excellent if you want to catch up. They are rarely great if you want sustainability. Talent management processes (eg: performance management, development management, succession planning, career management etc) must evolve as the capability of the organisation evolves and as the sophistication of the users and processes evolve. You must deploy solutions that can grow with you or you commit yourself to periodic and negatively disruptive changes.

The above are just my tips and suggestions and certainly not the panacea for all talent management technology issues; or insomnia. However, when looked at with an open mind, they should go a long way to helping you to explore a few innovative new ideas that might just be ‘the difference that makes the difference’.

Clinton Wingrove, EVP and Principal Consultant at Pilat HR Solutions