Survey Talent Management Systems a Source of Frustration

By Staff Report

Dec. 4, 2007

HR executives seem to be generally satisfied with the way in which health care benefits and pension plans are administered, but they are not altogether happy when it comes to handling talent management.

These are some of the findings in the Watson Wyatt 2007 HR Technology Trends report, which surveyed 182 large and midsize companies with median HR budgets of $1,668 per employee; the median HR budget in the United States is $1,633 per staffer.

Survey participants cite frustrations with process efficiencies and quality of services as the primary reasons for their dissatisfaction with talent management administration. Much of the discontent is embedded in the relative newness of comprehensive talent management systems, says Nov Omana, founder of consultancy Collective HR Solutions.

“We have been perfecting health care and pension plan administration for quite some time,” he notes. “That’s not the case with talent management, so we still have some ironing out to do.”

Another likely culprit for the dissatisfaction is that sometimes vendors peg themselves as comprehensive talent management suite providers when they really are not, deflating client expectations when the systems don’t perform accordingly. 

Technically speaking, a true talent management platform should cover five key areas: recruitment, compensation management, performance management, succession planning and career development.

“I can’t think of a single provider that performs all of these functions,” Omana notes. “There are some that do a beautiful job at several of these tasks, but not all five.”

The Watson Wyatt report, released in late October, also reveals that succession planning, specifically, is slated for a dramatic transformation. Some 33 percent of survey respondents say they plan to drop manual entry succession planning systems in favor of automated technology platforms, according to Brian Wilkerson, national practice director for talent management at Watson Wyatt.

Many employers let succession planning languish, but that’s changing based primarily on pressure from company boards of directors who seek a talent pool and an increased awareness of the correlation between sound succession planning and a company’s financial success.

“When you think about it, succession planning is one of the most critical aspects of talent management,” Wilkerson says. “Companies that have a strong program in place are ensuring a stable future for themselves.”

Brian Stern of the Shaker Consulting Group says he is not surprised by the pending evolution of succession planning programs. He notes, however, that there could be bumps along the path because—unlike recruiting or compensation—succession planning means different things to different companies.

“Talent acquisition, for instance, has very specific goals, such as how many people a company wants to hire,” Stern says. “Succession planning is fuzzy.”

Some companies will want it as a tool for simple tasks, like planning who will assume responsibilities once a certain individual retires. Other employers, however, will leverage succession planning for more complex strategies, like identifying and developing high-potential groups within the company.

Stern suggests that employers pinpoint exactly what their needs are before embarking on any upgrades of their succession planning systems. “That way companies can avoid unpleasant surprises along the way,” he notes.

—Gina Ruiz

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