HR’s New Job: Business Results

focus on resultsToday, as the economy picks up and companies are competing for people again, businesses want HR tools and systems that directly drive employee engagement, help improve employment brand, and platforms that harness and reach out into the internet to find, source, and attract candidates. They want learning software that builds a compelling self-directed digital learning environment, and they want goal management tools that are agile, easy to use, and help people develop.

Today CEOs and business leaders just want you to address these topics – and do it in an “integrated way” with a modern and high-impact HR service delivery model. HR has to “get out of the way” and spend more time in the business giving business leaders simple and effective tools, not building complex multi-step business processes which nobody has time to do. It is no secret that most managers don’t think of their company’s performance program as a useful investment of their time.

Companies still want integrated HR systems, but what they don’t want is complex, integrated ERP software that makes everyone’s life more complicated. In fact, they want life to be more simple. On a daily basis and in my current job, my clients are embarking on projects to “simplify the work environment.” “Ease of use” and “integrated user experience” are some of their top two buying criteria for HR software.

Finally, as we consider how talent management has changed, let’s talk about the word “talent.” I remember when we first started using the word, HR staff used to say “we don’t recruit talent, that’s what Hollywood does.” Well now everything in HR is about the “talent” and the word has started to become a little meaningless. Are we all just “talent” to be used by our employers? Are we defined entirely by our skills and ability to drive results or do work for the organization?

While everyone is here to drive results in some fashion, I would suggest that thinking of people entirely as “talent” has become a limiting concept. Of course we want to hire, train, develop, and lead people so they deliver results – but today we have to reflect on the fact that each individual who works for us (and many more are contingent each day) are actually individual people, coming to work for their own particular reasons.

For example, most companies no longer think about people from “prehire to retire” any more. As Reid Hoffman discusses in his book The Alliance, we hire people like we hire professional athletes. They work for our organization as long as it is valuable for both parties, and then people move on. If you’re highly skilled and successful in your career, you’re getting job offers in your in-box, so you’re always an “active candidate.” You are definitely “talent” – but you may or may not feel committed to your employer over a long period of time. And unlike professional athletes, most of us don’t “sell our skills” to employers, we volunteer our efforts at work every day. We come to work because we like it (hopefully), and the compensation and benefits we receive is only one of the many reasons we show up. We have outside lives, personal career goals, individual passions, and we want to be creative. I would suggest we are more than just “talent,” from a management perspective – we are simply “people” – just like our customers are “consumers.”

We know this shift has happened because all research shows that engagement and retention has become one of the biggest issues in business today (followed very closely by the need to give people education, training, and development). If we can’t create an environment that attracts you and others to the organization, you go elsewhere. This is why new tools to understand the drivers of engagement, analyze and predict retention, and manage flight risk are among the hottest new areas of HR. (The annual engagement survey is rapidly becoming obsolete.)

So I would suggest that we, in HR, start to think about employees as “people” – and this is why more and more companies are starting to rename their HR organizations things like “People Operations” or “People Management.” Sure we have to do HR administration, but ultimately our job is to make sure “people” are engaged, trained, in the right jobs, aligned, and supported.

But this is far from the end of this story. More to come in the coming days.


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The Origins of Client Success


Its clear the world has changed. While integration is still a big topic in HR (particularly in technology) and most bigger companies are moving toward building more integrated HR technology strategies, this whole market has shifted. Integration of the core HR processes, once considered the nirvana of talent management, is not the top of mind issue today.

In fact today, whether we like it or not, everything in HR is connected. Since those early days we now have social networking, total connectivity across all people and systems, and a talent system that leaks and collects data from the outside world like never before. Our recruitment, employment brand, and even employee engagement is extended into the public internet, so our internal systems and data no longer stand alone. Today, while core talent programs must still work together, we need to consider the whole “ecosystem” of talent issues in our strategies, programs, and systems.

Companies not only face leadership and skills gaps, they face new challenges: employee engagement is at an all time low, retention scares everyone. Companies are struggling to figure out how to make work “easy” and “humane” given the fact that the barriers between work and life are all but gone.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, the topics of diversity and inclusion are top of mind. Silicon valley firms are now embarrassed at their male, youth-dominated culture – yet it’s very hard to change. Today businesses need to focus on building a diverse, inclusive, and humane work environment – topics we never talked about ten years ago.

Performance management, once considered the core of all this, is now being totally redesigned – with a focus on much more simplicity, coaching, agile goal management, and developmental feedback.

What about talent analytics? We thought about it a little in 2008 but now it’s the #1 new program on the mind of most HR teams. Today’s analytics is far more than the “HR Analytics” talked about in the 1990s and 2000s – this is a brand new “people analytics center of excellence” that looks at all aspects of people and how we hire, manage, recruit, and retain people based on hundreds of data attributes.

People analytics will rapidly integrate with financial and other business analytics, letting businesses understand the people issues behind all major business challenges (ie. sales productivity, product quality, customer retention, etc.).

So my point is that the original idea of “integrated talent management” is really no longer the problem. We have to accept that everything is related – and now, rather than think about “integration” we need to focus on how we “drive talent outcomes.” We have shifted away from thinking about all the internal HR issues we have toward an outward focus on “solving the talent problems in my company.”

That is what we know as Client Success.

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The Definition of the Integrated Talent Management Software Market


Sitting on the 12 floor of a large corporate building; It was a Monday morning when my very first manager came and asked me if I would be able to come up with a way to use forums, newsletters and other similar tools to track top performing graduates and retain them post-graduation… HR was evolving to serve the purpose of serving the business and supporting the employee experience as a whole, software vendors smelled an opportunity and jumped in. Companies that sold standalone tools for recruitment, performance management and learning management (SuccessFactors in Performance Management, Taleo in Recruiting, SumTotal or Saba in Learning) suddenly realized that they could or should have everything. So there was a very exciting 8 year period of consolidation.

This was quite exciting for all of us. Do you remember reading of all these news on LinkedIn? Some of the deals included:

  • Authoria purchased several small companies and was later purchased and became PeopleFluent.
  • Taleo acquired and was later acquired by Oracle. Oracle later purchased SelectMinds to expand its recruitment offering.
  • SuccessFactors acquired Plateau and was later acquired by SAP.
  • ADP acquired Workstream and built out its own LMS and talent paltform, and has since launched integrated analytics and benchmarking as part of its talent management solution.
  • CornerstoneOnDemand expanded from LMS to talent management and later acquired Sonar6 and then Evolve (analytics).
  • Stepstone acquired a variety of software companies, extended itself into end-to-end talent management, and renamed itself to Lumesse.
  • Silkroad acquired a variety of companies including an HRMS company and built out a suite, pioneering the idea of the HRMS being part of this “suite.”
  • Saba and SumTotal (LMS companies) acquired smaller companies to build out their end to end talent suites.
  • Halogen Software, Kenexa, and many others went down this path – creating an industry of “integrated talent management software” companies.
  • IBM acquired Kenexa and is going down this path now, and Salesforce has made some efforts through their acquisition of Rypple and launch of (which has been repositioned for sales forces today).

This entire industry has become huge, with more than $9 billion of total product revenues in the market each year. Today the whole concept of a “suite” is going away and the ERP vendors have jumped in. Almost all the ERP vendors have built or bought similar products to integrate with core HR systems (HRMS).

If you who work in the software industry you know, this is the food chain of software companies. As a market evolves, bigger vendors with larger sales forces and lots of existing customers buy up smaller companies because they can quickly put these new products into their sales channel, rapidly growing that market.
Over these 10 years this market “defined itself.” Vendors grew and many went public (most were acquired). The ones remaining are still looking for exit strategies to become acquired, go public, or find ways to keep growing. In a sense what happened to “talent management software” is identical to what happened to CRM software – the original markets of “sales force automation” and “marketing automation” were converged into a new category, which eventually became dominated by major players.

I believe, by the way, that the evolution of this market has been very good for business. Today, while the market is more commodity like than ever, companies can buy an integrated talent suite quite easily and most of it will work pretty well (still lots of little holes here and there).

As the core features of these systems have commoditized, innovation is threatening the space again. Today vendors are building embedded analytics, mobile tools, time and labor management, and soon employee engagement monitoring and management tools embedded into the suite.

And here we are… How will HR and Technology add up to make their clients successful?

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Talent Management: Born and Evolving

Around ten years ago (circa 2004, as I started my career in a global player in logistics) people in HR started talking about bringing together many of the standalone practices within HR into a new function called “Talent Management” and my first job title was Talent Management Coordinator.

At that point in time the economy was growing and everyone started talking about “The War for Talent” (Was it not McKinsey the creator of the term? At the time the logistics global player was flooded by McKinsey consultants and it is likely that it still is) The challenges included aging baby boomers, a tight economy for critical skills, and the need to build leaders around the world. This set of issues refocused HR on building talent programs to recruit, develop, and better manage people.

These set of talent challenges pushed HR to think differently. Rather than define itself as the “service center for employee issues” and a “service center for managers,” HR started to redefine itself as the “talent management function” for business.

The original idea, was to “bring together” each of these standalone programs into an end-to-end process. Originally people called it “pre-hire to retire”, and it set of a big set of strategies and software vendors to try to not only optimize each step, but bring all the steps together.

The term was coined: “Integrated Talent Management” – and a set of software vendors started to build “Integrated Talent Management Suites” and were meant to give companies an integrated view of capabilities, leadership gaps, succession pools, and even talent needs for the future. Even today this is a tough thing to do, but we have built an industry around this whole idea.

Software vendors jumped in quickly, setting off a major chain of acquisitions. A few leading edge companies were doing this – starting with business strategy, moving to talent strategy and from there to HR and process design. But many started at the bottom, and focused their talent management programs on software implementation or solutions to integrate HR.

Even today this remains a challenge. With so many vendors in the market and the ERP providers offering talent management software, it’s common for companies to buy software first, and then later figure out how to use it. Today more than 40% of the companies buying HR software are focused on “making it easy to use” and integrating heterogeneous systems, not “solving particular talent problems.”

A few years later, I had joined a global consultancy and by then it became important for companies understand what talent management all about, and this framework was shown below pulled together all the practices and processes to consider in an integrated talent strategy.


As the framework illustrates, we mapped out how these processes worked together and documented many of the process steps to link each together. Today such an integrated framework is common in most HR departments, and continues to be a point of ongoing discussion.

Learning and capability management, competency management, planning, and business alignment as “uber processes” which play everywhere in the organization, and you can also see that performance management, succession, career, and leadership development make up the core. This is still a very valid process diagram, although some organizations may put talent acquisition in the middle, which I lately experienced at a global internet company.

Having just concluded my work at a global non for profit with a very strong diversity footprint I approached my manager at the consultancy firm where national talent acquisition strategy was my main focus and asked her about diversity: Doesn’t that belong in here?” Her reaction was “no, I’ve never heard anyone think of diversity and inclusion as part of their talent strategy. Not now, and likely not for many years, it is not so business relevant.” Well of course she was wrong – today Diversity and Inclusion is very core to this whole set of processes (or should be).

Today almost every major corporation has a “VP of Talent” or “VP of Talent Management” and this person’s job is to manage some combination of the HR functions shown above. In some cases the company brings performance, succession, and leadership development together. In other cases the L&D team is integrated as well. And in many companies today the recruitment or talent acquisition team is also part of this function.

But what is the role software has played throughout?

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Integrated Talent Management: One Year Later


Businesses and human resources departments have been heavily focused on building talent management strategies. Originally they were conceived as programs to help manage people from “pre-hire to retire,” and they gave birth to a profitable software industry that helped refocus HR departments, and have educated CEOs and business leaders about the importance of talent.

As the scarcity of talent gets worse, as the world of work becomes more contingent and the disparity between highly skilled and others grew, the need to attract top people is bigger. An organization’s ability to attract talent (the right people, not just anyone) is now one of the biggest differentiating factors in business.

There is a fast-growing new marketplace for tools and vendors which help you assess your culture and find people who “fit” – fit with your strategy, your culture, your team, as well as the job. New talent analytics tools and strategies now help you figure out who fits, find people who fit, and make sure you know how to keep people who fit.

With all these changes, and an accelerating need for new young leaders, is “talent management” as we define it working? As I go around and talk with business and HR leaders, I am left with a big question:

Do today’s “talent management” programs, as defined, work? Have all the companies who purchased and implemented talent management software truly transformed themselves? Have we really built the “talent-centric” organizations we talked about over the last decade?

My answer is simple: the world of “talent management” shifted under our feet. “Talent management” strategies we conceived in the last ten years are rapidly becoming out of date. A focus on “pre-hire to retire” is becoming less relevant, stack ranking and performance management is being totally revamped, corporate training is undergoing a total transformation, and the concepts of “staffing and assessment” are being replaced by a focus on corporate culture, engagement, work environment, and empowerment.

As I look back to when I started working in the field full time, sometime in 2004, I realize that while most of it was important and fundamental, almost all of it has changed today.

What are the opportunities the next decade will bring?

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Sitting by the Side of the Road (Off topic)

This will be a post completely off topic, but I really wanted to capture the result of an evenning of casual encounters among travellers, an exit from darkness, connection through art and definitely a night to remember.

I hope it will say something to everyone as it did to all of us that night in Villavicencio.


I like sitting by the side of the road, having a smoke while everything flies by.
I like openning my eyes to realize I am alive.
I like dealing with the ocean’s backwash, it is then that you really need to sail in boats that won’t crash against anything.
I like living tormented by the sense of being, although I think this is the most difficult part.

We live in times, in which no one will listen,
in times in which we fight against one another,
in times of selfishness and greed,
in times in which we are always alone.

I should simply declare myself incompetent in every subject that is valued,
I should simply declare myself innocent, or I will have to become reckless and callous.

I don’t really belong anywhere, I consider myself alive and yet burried.
I made you a  music playlist, but time seems to have placed me somewhere else.

I will have to do what I shouldn’t, I will have to do good and cause damage.
Don’t forget that forgiveness comes from the spirit, and that making mistakes is a part of being human.

It is not good to make enemies that can’t measure up to the conflict,
they think they are at war, but they will pee on their pants like children running in a hunted house. They will immitate the artist, make it look like everything for them is shining while they are full of envy.

I was the sad and charming type, listened to The Beatles and hoped for wonder.
Books, songs and pianos. Movies, betrayal, mysteries. My father, beer, pills. Riddles,  bad whiskey. Hate and love, all scenarios. Hunger, cold, crime money and my relatives… they all turned me into the complicated type.

If you see me on the street sometime, give me a kiss and don’t worry much. If you notice I am thinking of something else, nothing bad happened, it was just the breeze. The breeze is there when the death in love flies by. It floats around me like a murderous angel, but don’t be affraid, it will fly by too. She is part of my destiny.

I like sitting by the side of the road, having a smoke while everything flies by.
I like remembering what is forgotten, to recall my old dreams when back at home, when I was just a little one that played outside.

No one promised me a bed of roses, I am only talking of the dangers of being alive.
I am not here to entertain anyone while the world is falling appart.

I like sitting by the side of the road, and I like that you are sitting next to me tonight.
I like sitting by the side of the road, and if you could sleep every night in my arms.

Sitting by the side of the road is not only more entertaining, it is also cheaper.

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Off Topic: Adventure, Science and Exploration



What does it mean to explore? What does it mean to adventure? Walking an off the beaten track road you begin to realize: The Search is what you would naturally undertake when you are not sunk in the everydayness of your life. To be aware of the possibility of the Search is to be on to something. Not to be on to something is to be in despair.

The Search is existential. Exploration, science and adventure is how we search not just for answers but for better questions; It’s how we rage against the darkness, how we battle against ignorance, make inwards against dogma.

Exploration is how we map the world; Science is how we come to understand it; Adventure is how we come alive. These are our tools against meaninglessness.

Adventure, science and exploration, put men on the Moon, built marvelous jetliners, inversed us in virtual realities and help us make sense of the world; Their consequences being technological marvels, extend our imaginative capacities and help us overcome all of our limits.

As the poet Yates wrote “The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharp” and growing sharper they have! Through the scientific process we have expanded our minds and we’ve built instruments such as microscopes and telescopes that pierce the Micro and the Marco engorging our perspective and doing so blasting new tunnels in our minds. We satiate our curiosity by getting outside ourselves, beside ourselves, creating cognitive appendages, taking us to spaces and places beyond the mind, the world and wonder.

Adventure is about expanding our minds; the outer journey IS the inner journey. We seek to expand the boundaries of our humanness, the repository of our knowledge to become more than what we are. Although the Space Age has been seeking all along, but it wasn’t so much the expansion of physical space as it was the expansion of the mind.

When we dream of Space, we dream of transcending, we dream of what we might become.

*** Thoughts triggered by the life-long inspiration of science and travel provided by a pilot born in 1932: My grandfather and the first Mexican astronaut, Rodolfo Neri Vela.***

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