Posted by: Ron Hanscome | October 5, 2009

Ruminations on HR Tech Part 2: The Wrong Question

Day 2 of the show began with the Industry Analyst Panel. With “moderation-plus”  by conference host Bill Kutik (he not only moderates, but participates in the topics as well), the panel (Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates, Jim Holinchek of Gartner, IDC’s Lisa Rowan, and the inimitable Naomi Bloom) did a great job of covering the major issues of the day. As a past participant in this and many other Kutik panels, I appreciated the high level of interaction and discussion between this year’s members.

Among many things of interest in this year’s discussion, I want to focus on the final question posed to the panel members as time was running out: “Who among all of the talent management providers has the broadest set of functions?” It’s a question of extreme interest to the audience, and thus one that Bill probably had to ask — but for those organizations contemplating an investment in integrated talent management software, I believe it is absolutely the wrong question. Why? Let me explain…

  1. The question itself smacks of the desire for the easy “silver bullet’” fix to a very complicated issue — “OK, we really need to pull all of our talent management processes together on a common platform, so let’s find out which vendors have the broadest footprint and buy one of those. Next issue?”  As you might expect, real projects are much more complex than this.
  2. Breadth of functionality is not the driving issue for TM purchases — it is breadth and depth together. If I’m the head of HR with complex needs for recruiting, performance management and learning, I don’t want to have to choose which function suffers. The reality of every TM consulting project I have been involved with is that  the project team starts out wanting to buy as many functions as possible from a single provider, but this ideal often breaks down as project participants dive into the functional capabilities of the applications, and are unwilling to settle for less in a particular area.The practical end result from a project standpoint is usually a fragmentation of TM purchases, with two or at most three functions being covered by one solution, and the others by a mix of ERP/core HRMS, outsourcing, and point solutions.
  3. Breadth of coverage is not equivalent to thoroughly and consistently integrated functionality — just because a vendor offers an “integrated” suite,  that doesn’t mean that the granularity of the data or number of functional “leverage points” will be sufficient for your needs.
  4. The question doesn’t take into account the unique business requirements of  your organization or it’s industry segment — it is a very general response

So, what then is the right question that you should ask? It’s one that can’t be properly served by a high-level, “easy” answer:

  • What vendor solutions will best meet my firm’s unique set of prioritized needs?

Getting to the answer of this question will require you to do some work, and answer a number of lower level questions:

  1. What are the business objectives that the HR strategy is supposed to support or enable?
  2. Which TM functional area or areas  are the highest priority? (This will enable to you look for the solutions that have the best chance of solving your areas of biggest pain first)
  3. What are the business requirements by functional area? (every firm has unique requirements based on industry, geography, and culture)
  4. What level and extent of integration is needed to tie TM functions together? (the devil is really in the details with this one)
  5. What metrics are needed to properly measure the impact of TM for your organization? (understanding this will drive requirements for the underlying analytic platform)
  6. What is my organization’s risk tolerance for adoption of new technologies and/or privately held vendors? (cuts to the heart of vendor viability and your own org culture)

As you can see, getting to the right answers for these questions is not necessarily the easy road — but I believe it is the best route to take to get to an answer that will actually help your organization.

Closing Caveat: To be fair, many of these points would likely have been made by the panelists if they would have had some time to further explain their answers, and I know that they are well aware of the complexities involved. I just couldn’t resist using this as springboard for my “soapbox du jour.” As always, questions and comments are welcome!

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