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September 2012 Newsletter

The Limits of Talent Management Technology


The human resources department is last frontier for implementing big technology platforms.  This is quite evident in the HR technology marketplace, particularly those firms specializing in talent management.  IBM just purchased Kenexa, this followed on the heels of SAP purchasing SuccessFactors and Oracle’s purchase of Taleo.


From a business perspective this allows the big three enterprise technology providers to upgrade the quality of their HR service offerings. But it also speaks to the degree to which these companies believe they can still penetrate the untapped market either through continued selling of the standalone software as a service, or packaging it into an enterprise software solution.


There is no doubt that these services increase the efficiency of processing HR transactions for the full array of talent management functions (e.g., employment, onboarding, training and development, performance management, and succession planning).  Moreover, they enable the collection of lots of data that drive compliance reporting, organizational effectiveness and HR analytical activity.


The classic concept of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) certainly applies to HR technology software. So does the continued need for human interaction.  Let’s see how these apply to some of the major HR IT applications:




Technology makes the searching, sorting and narrowing the thousands of job candidates to a manageable few.   Most systems also allow for remote employment test administration. They even handle all the time consuming email communications to candidates and hiring managers. All of this helps recruiters handle their job requisitions faster.


Technology also improves the quality of hire.  By providing recruiters with a short list of seemingly qualified applicants recruiters have the opportunity to conduct more in-depth interviews.  Employers need to take caution in taking technology as a pure efficiency driver, but to view it as a way recruiters can add greater value to the employment process. 


While many of these firms offer packaged pre-employment tests, it is still incumbent on the employer to use tests that have demonstrated job relatedness. Simply picking tests from a catalog is no substitute for conducting the research on what the job entails (job analysis), what tests will measure the right competencies (e.g., knowledge, skills, abilities, or personality characteristics) and predict to the desired behavior (e.g., job performance, retention, promotability).




HR IT allows for systematic collection of the necessary information to pay new hires and provide them with their benefits (e.g., insurance, retirement savings) and necessary resources (e.g., computer access, safety, work uniforms). It can also provide new hires with information to start to their understanding of how the company operates.


What it can’t do fully is to assimilate new employees into the organization’s culture. While technology may be able to match new employees with mentors, it cannot make this relationship a beneficial one.  This still requires the careful selection of potential mentors and building their competence to mentor appropriately.


Training and Development


Technology has greatly changed the tracking and delivery of training and development programs. Supervisors and subordinates can select courses and content, which are related to both the job and organizational level. Course material can be distributed on-line and in digestible chunks, thus providing the employer with less costly options than traditional classroom training.


What technology can’t do is have supervisor-subordinate discussions about what training makes the most sense and after the training has occurred, how subordinates can integrate the newly acquired skills or knowledge.  Further, the technology does not supplant the assurance that the training material is of sufficient quality. 


Performance Management


Again, technology can be very effective in alleviating some of the burden on supervisors to complete performance appraisal forms.  Technology allows for the creation of appraisal templates that best fit certain jobs and can even help supervisors in writing their narrative comments.  It also allows for the rapid reporting of compliance, thus making supervisors more accountable for doing this administrative assignment.


But this technology is no substitute for the personal feedback and discussion between the boss and the employee.  What makes performance management effective is not so much that the form is completed, but what and how information is communicated and acted upon.  This requires building supervisors skills in conducting feedback sessions, understanding the drivers of poor performance, and awareness of how poor performance can be turned around.


Succession Planning


Technology is great in helping capture what are strengths and development needs of the current and future leaders. Visually depicting this in organizational chart formats and providing the ability to conduct “what if” scenarios as people are moved to other positions is a real plus.  Tracking the development of high potential leaders is also a benefit.


But the technology can’t identify a company’s core leadership values and competencies. It cannot assess who possesses these qualities or who needs development.  Nor can it coach and mentor people to reach their full potential. This takes the human element.


Concluding Remarks

Before installing technology to solve all of your talent management needs, get your non-technology talent management processes in order.  Build a solid foundation of competency models, criteria for hiring, promoting and developing. Focus on improving the quality of boss-subordinate interactions and creating a greater sense of trust among all employees.  All of these will help not only build a solid basis for the talent management technology to flourish, but it makes for a smoother transition from the old ways of conducting talent management activities.



Pragmatic HR Consulting creates talent management solutions that really work. Primary focus is on the measurement of people, jobs and the organization and improving organizational effectiveness through aligning leadership, building high functioning teams and leaders and creating meaningful talent analytics. For more information: carl.greenberg@pragmatichr.com, 636-751-6522.