Integration: The Key to Talent Management
by Lois Webster

Managing talent always has been a priority, but not necessarily a strategic role for human resources departments. That is changing. In many companies, talent management is often its own division within HR - a division likely to encompass recruiting and hiring, training and development, aligning and measuring employee performance against corporate goals, determining compensation, planning successors to critical positions, and gracefully moving employees from active to retirement with little or no negative impact on the organization.

Strategically directing and integrating this talent ultimately supports companies in achieving their business objectives.

The definition of talent management can differ widely from company to company, since each organization's structure and implementation is unique. Accordingly, there is no industry standard for talent management or significant research to define its best practices. In some companies talent means only high-performing and high-potential employees. In others, the word talent includes all employees, who, through careful selection, placement, ongoing development and engagement, have the capability to drive the company's performance. These disparate definitions determine the activities and configurations companies establish and then implement when developing their people.


The structure of talent management has changed in the past decade. Then, HR functions were managed as stand-alone departments. HR employees worked independently, without much collaboration or knowledge of what the functions and groups required. Worse, talent management lacked integration with the company's direction for the future. This meant employees rarely received direction and support to help them understand how their roles impacted the organization's goals and outcomes.

On the other hand, interdependent human resources efforts can be highly effective. In this design, all talent management assets fall under one senior HR leader who coordinates these roles and promotes business strategy execution. For instance, the competencies that are used to ensure the company has the right set of skills for future success are the same ones that form the foundation for selection, learning and development, performance management and management succession.

In 2004, John Deere consolidated several of its HR functions into a talent management organization. "We made a number of fairly visible gains. We upgraded our succession planning process and created more awareness and knowledge of our succession planning pools. We now have 38 standing talent teams to review high-potential employees and succession planning, where previously we only had one or two groups," said Rick McAnally, director of human resources, compensation, benefits and integration at John Deere. To be most effective, all talent management functions work together toward the singular goal of preparing a company's workforce to meet future business objectives.


Technology provides the means to integrate all talent management processes and communicate interactively with the workforce. The benefits of an integrated talent management system include:

1. One integrated database.
All parts of the human resource life cycle, from acquire to retire, are managed on one employee database, allowing for tremendous economies in time and accuracy. Changes that occur in the workforce, such as promotions, new hires and terminations, are available to every HR function in the organization. The profile, goals and development plan for any employee are updated at the same time with consistent information. For instance, a mandated ethics training module tracking report will no longer state that an employee has not completed the course when the employee was terminated six months ago. One database means more accuracy and hundreds of man-hours saved by not having to upgrade stand-alone systems with redundant information.

2. Cross-functional data exchange.
An integrated system is organized to let all components of talent management exchange information. For example, the recruitment software exchanges information with the workforce planning software. This helps create employee profiles that are linked to individual development plans and performance goals. "The huge benefit of this type of system is the ability to tap into it from anywhere. When everyone is working on the same system, it's ensuring consistency across the whole enterprise," said Randy Elders, director of performance support and organization development at Spartan Stores.

3. Analytics.
These linkages allow the leader to query the system for cross-functional relationships and produce reports with business significance, such as:

a) Did recruitment meet the workforce planning goals this year? What is the company's progress over the past three years? Is this on track?

b) What is the status in acquiring employees with the competencies needed in five years?

c) Do individual performance goals align with those of the CEO?

d) Given the company's competency requirements for competitive success in five years, where are the gaps and what skills are needed to hire? What skills does the company need to develop internally? Are development plans reflecting appropriate actions?

"The speed as to which the data is available is another benefit," said Elders. "Now, with better and more comprehensive availability of data, we are able to make more data-based decisions rather than only subjective decisions." Thus, talent management technology makes it easier for executives to assess, develop and motivate employees.

Partners in Success

What elements create success in talent management? It's critical for CEOs to have a fundamental belief that employee performance is a key to the company's success and be willing to emphasize the development and management of the company's human capital. Further, the HR organization needs to have a vision for the power of integrated talent management. HR leaders then work with the CEO to understand the direction of the company and translate that into a talent management strategy.

To carry out the strategy, HR executives identify the next management layer down that shares the vision and has the ability to execute on it.

"Look at talent management structure as focusing on the needs of the corporation from the standpoint of the future. What are the critical positions today and how are they expected to evolve tomorrow? Do we have an overall view of potential employees who can develop into those roles in the next several years?" said Badri Narrayen, director of HR and organizational effectiveness at Lafarge North America.

By committing to using technology that supports and facilitates current and future talent management visions, companies are supporting talent management function and structure. Additionally, by focusing on the entire talent management process, organizations can reap the benefits of an integrated and collaborative team.

[About the Author: Lois Webster is CEO and general manager of LearnShare LLC, a full technology company that specializes in the development and implementation of integrated software and related professional services.]