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Talent management: Finding a cost-effective solution

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Cost-effective solutions

Sue Lingard explains how employers can invest in cost-effective talent management solutions that allow HR more time to manage people rather than paper.


The changing labour landscape

Today, talent management is fast becoming the top of everyone’s agenda. All companies face the challenges of an increasingly competitive labour market. For many, job opportunities are the click of a mouse away, and net-savvy head hunters can quickly track down your key staff. Fewer young people are entering the workforce in Western Europe, and more people are retiring. In addition many HR departments are finding that the younger workforce, (people born after 1980) demand a better work-life balance, more challenging roles, good managers and higher rewards – and will leave if they don’t get it.

New approaches to talent management

Many companies have traditionally focused their talent management activities around prominent high flyers or key positions in the organisation. However, talent can be found at all levels of the organisation – indeed many would argue that for talent management to be successful it needs to drive through the business to reach all employees.

“Talent can be found at all levels of the organisation – indeed many would argue that for talent management to be successful it needs to drive through the business to reach all employees.”

It is now recognised that it also needs to involve every level of management. It’s important that business unit managers do not block or hoard talent, but promote and share it and can collaborate with colleagues across the organisation.

Similarly, it is increasingly important that employees are involved in the process. If you give them visibility of opportunities across the organisation (and let them become actively involved in managing their own careers) you gain a more committed and engaged workforce.

Administrative overload

One of the challenges that the HR department faces in many companies is the momentous task of managing the processes and information needed for effective talent management.

Even a relatively simple process like succession planning can demand that you hold detailed information on hundreds, if not thousands of employees. Consider the numbers – if you have 50 key positions (with incumbents) to track, and five possible candidates for each position, you have several hundred people for whom you need to hold and manage detailed information. If your talent pool consists of several thousand, it is impossible to manage without a system.

Performance and competency management, a critical foundation for talent management, is equally demanding. Paper or computer-based forms work as a mechanism for gathering data, but fall short when it comes to talent management.

Unless performance data is held in an easily accessible system it’s almost impossible to use the information to drive other key talent management activities, such as development or career planning. Managers can’t easily see the training, performance or career history of those in their team, so may find it difficult to understand how best to develop or manage them.

HR can’t quickly relate competencies or performance to individual training needs or to the requirements of the business. It is just too time-consuming and costly to collate and make use of the information.

Cost-effective solutions

Today’s technologies are changing all that. HR systems built around web and workflow technologies are both easier and cheaper to deploy and can be rolled out enterprise wide. Tools that may only have been available to a few HR professionals in the past can now be accessed by line managers and employees across the business.

Significantly, workflow is reducing administrative overheads, automating manual processes, from submitting absence requests to orchestrating the annual appraisal process, and giving HR more time to manage people rather than paper.

New trends in talent technology

Larger companies have long recognised the importance of succession and talent management and have been able to invest in systems to support them. However, the reach of these applications was limited by the underlying client/server technology, which made them very expensive to deploy and maintain outside of the central HR department.

“Tools that may only have been available to a few HR professionals in the past can now be accessed by line managers and employees across the business.”

With the adoption of internet technologies came an explosion of web-based ‘best of breed’ applications designed to address specific talent management processes, including employee performance management, succession and career planning, online learning, compensation planning and recruitment.

These applications offered companies a way to address ‘single’ issue talent management processes, such as performance management or online recruitment. The problem was that they were disconnected from other talent-related activities and from the core HRIS so, while companies benefited from automation, they still had the same challenge of managing silos of information with no easy way to link it together.

Today, we are seeing two parallel developments. The best of breed vendors are extending their product functionality to offer ‘integrated talent management’ solutions that address a wider range of talent management activities.

At the same time, the HRIS vendors that have invested in re-architecting their products around web and workflow technologies are extending their HR systems to embed talent management functionality in their core HRIS.

Which solution is right for you?

It depends on where you are. If you are going out to market for a new HRIS, and talent management is important for you, then it makes sense to look to the HRIS vendors that can support your talent management strategy and offer integrated functionality for employee performance and competency management, succession and career planning, online recruitment, HR analytics – and more.

Be careful to look at how ‘real’ the integration is. Unless vendors have re-architected their products around web technologies, and not simply bolted on employee self-service, workflow and other functionality, they may struggle to provide the truly joined up solutions that you need. Set them a scenario that really tests how the application hangs together.

If you are happy with your existing HRIS and just want to address particular pain points, like performance or succession management, then best of breed solutions can deliver real benefits very quickly, especially if deployed on a hosted or on-demand basis.

Many of our bigger clients, like Vodafone, Philips and Heineken, have invested in core HRIS, such as SAP and PeopleSoft, but have selected our talent management solutions to sit alongside these applications because they give them the flexibility and depth of functionality that allows them to more cost-effectively address key strategic HR issues.

Assuring the future

Companies need to increase the capabilities of their employees, develop careers and manage the performance of individuals and teams – as well as attract and retain the people their business needs. A people-centric approach ensures that a talent management programme is embedded into the culture – the right technology can facilitate its adoption throughout the organisation.

To achieve this, companies must invest in technology that realises the potential of their talent and use HR reporting metrics to identify gaps and monitor results. With effective measurement and visibility, such systems will ensure talent management is on the agenda throughout the organisation.


technology Top tips: Selecting talent management technology

1. Don’t assume that the established HRIS vendors have the best solution for you. Not all vendors have found the time to redevelop their applications to take advantage of web and workflow technologies, or understand enough about talent management processes to incorporate the right level of functionality into their products.

2. Focus on areas where you can make a real difference – and keep it manageable. If you are introducing a new way of managing processes it’s usually better to start with a small project, and involve key stake-holders. Implementing online performance management often offers a quick win.

3. Keep the bigger perspective. Even though you may want to start by just addressing a specific pain point, you need to consider the longer term objectives. Streamlining and improving and existing process, like online recruitment or performance management is a good place to start, but the real value comes with integration, so you can use this data to support competency management, career and succession planning or other key strategic HR activities.

4. Consider Software as a Service (SaaS), especially if you want to move quickly. With this option the vendor hosts the application and the customer simply pays a monthly fee to access the software over the internet. The vendor is responsible for both the IT infrastructure and software maintenance, reducing costs and relieving the burden on often already overstretched IT departments.


Sue Lingard is marketing director at Cezanne Software, a leading supplier of human capital and talent management solutions that help companies better develop, manage, reward and retain their most important asset – their people.

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