Are We Ever Going to Learn the TM Lesson?

Perhaps the two most striking observations by this attendee while sitting in the HR Technology® Conference’s “Fourth Annual Talent Management Panel” were that the message was still the  same as in past years — know your business and its goals before you buy — and that the room was still just as crowded, with a standing-room-only crowd lining the walls.

Clearly, the message has yet to be fully absorbed. Consider the second half of the session’s title: “How Talent Management Failed and How to Fix It.” For such a panel discussion to draw this kind of crowd, the pain points around integrated-TM failures and fears of failures are still pretty acute.

Guided by moderator Jason Averbook, co-founder and CEO of Knowledge Infusion, each of the four panelists — Mary Beth Drake, vice president of HR planning and services for The McGraw-Hill Cos.; James Dwyer, vice president of HR operations and service delivery for MetLife; David Klein, manager of co-worker services technology for CDW; and Michael Peterman, director of HR administration for the Four Seasons hotel company — pulled no punches in relaying their pains. All four, as billed, had failures to share.

By varying degrees, those failures sounded similar: inabilities to put infrastructures in place before entertaining vendor bids; no core data, such as skills and competencies, business goals, etc., gathered beforehand to build a system on; allowing vendors to make incorrect assumptions that their would-be clients had their houses in order; the list goes on.

And by varying degrees, the warnings resonated with ones issued to standing-room-only crowds of the past: know your business goals going in, know what you want the tools to do before taking them on, make sure everyone in the organization is speaking the same talent-management language.

And this gem from Dwyer: “”We drank the magic juice from the vendors and let them convince us they could solve all our issues. Don’t drink the punch.”

To put it “shortly and sweetly,” said Peterman, “we weren’t ready to implement a talent-management system [several years ago]. Make sure you have your house in order and make sure your data is very clean.”

He went on to describe the scope of his company’s failed attempt to streamline and perfect its TM strategies among 85 hotels in 38 countries and some 35,000 employees. “We basically broke perfectly fine software by not reconfiguring it properly to meet our needs and business architecture. It’s kind of a mess right now at Four Seasons.”

For years, said Drake, “every time we would talk about talent management, we’d talk about five or 10 minutes about business strategy and then start looking for vendors. The business-strategy discussion needs much more time and focus.”

“At the end of the day,” she added, “know what you’re after and what the vendors are after. Know what the vendors can do and what they can’t do.” No one vendor can do all aspects of the talent-management space perfectly, she added. “No one can do it all.”

It’ll be interesting to see where these echoed warnings land, and whether integrated TM will ever be the success story that was anticipated some five or so years ago. Let me just say that when Averbook asked for a show of hands from totally satisfied customers, only one hand in that sea of people was raised.

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