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Musings from the Bersin Impact Show

April 15, 2009

Follow-up post can be found here with some of the stuff I really liked about the show.

Many of the thoughts in this post will eventually make their way into more expansive posts, but I wanted to share some thoughts:

Talent Management is dead.  Dead and buried, a relic of time when HR planned succession, identified “high potentials” and otherwise treated employees like a bunch of children.  I continue to be amazed that these models ever existed; I’m even more amazed that they still exist given the continued and ever expanding options for personal self-expression, content creation, professional development, and overall autonomy that the web offers.

I’m more amazed still — if that’s possible — that Bersin is still pushing Talent Management.  Josh, dude, you are smart guy.  You need to read the writing on the wall and start evolving your message.  I know that the Saba’s and Plateau’s of the world make for a nice analyst meal ticket, but continuing to endorse their world view is bit like pushing “wagon wheel” makers when the world is driving the Model T.  Turning the Saba’s of the world to social media, social networking, and social talent development (not management) is going to be like turning the Titanic in the North Sea in Winter.  Time to jump for a life boat while you can.  The future of work is not “command and control,” it’s “co-create and collaborate.”  Guess which camp Talent Management lives in?

I saw more suits today than I have seen literally all year.  Who the hell wears a suit to a conference?  Apparently the same people who talk about managing people like they are physical assets.  I’ve covered this disconnect in a previous post about Human We-sources.  I swear I didn’t hear the word “empowering” once all day (except maybe by the Cornerstone guy who seemed like he knew his shit).  It was all top-down, “suit” kind of thinking.  Which I guess is why they were in suits.  Maybe sometimes you can judge a book by it’s cover.

Learning and HR Professionals are, by and large, technology neophytes.  No more than 10 ppl were live tweeting the event despite requests by Bersin to do so.  Dozens of people had their laptops open in every session I attended, yet at most one or two people were tweeting with me.  WiFi was free and relatively easy to connect to so I don’t think that was a barrier.  With 300-400 people here, a cadre of 10 Twitters is woefully low.  And those that did tweet typically had followers in the 10-30 range suggesting they were really quite new, maybe even started during the show.

Apparently, very, very few HR professionals are aware of ONA – organizational network analysis.   In one session I attended, the three presenters who were experts in talent management and leadership development hadn’t even heard of ONA, let alone used it as part of their process.  Absolutely mind-blowing. The basic gist of ONA?  Aligning and developing networks to deliver on organizational objectives.  Figuring out who within the network is a key connector, key contributor, who adds energy to the team, who drains energy…  Identifying and overcoming network barriers to success.   In other words, social network management.  Seems kind of related to talent management, doesn’t it?  You know, since we all work in teams on everything we do?

Further, the research shows that identifying and overcoming network issues is far more important than identifying “top performers.”  Worse, when you actually do a true network analysis, what you find is that so-called leaders are often leader by title only and significant percentages – as much as 65% – of key contributors don’t show up in the rosters of formal talent management solutions.  Why?  Because research shows that most managers can’t even identify half of the key contributors on their team and are quite frequently working on their perception of value add, rather than hard data.

My point?  Virtually everything about Talent Management as it’s practiced today is flawed.  Yet we keep spending butloads of dollars and time on the same tired approaches, happy in the self-delusion that as long as we are doing something about talent, then we must be doing something right.  For anyone not in HR, current models just feel wrong at a gut-level.  For those of you that may need deprogramming, read anything by Rob Cross or Sal Parise.  And then make sure to come back here and thank me for slapping some sense into you.

Anyway, I’ll be posting a lot more on these topics in coming weeks.  I’m just struck today by how far we have to go and how few HR folks are ready for what’s coming.  It makes me wonder what role they will really play in the transition to “co-create and collaborate” models, or whether they will mostly be marginalized as functional business units or IT address the changing nature of work without them…

10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2009 10:48 pm

    Ok, now I’m sure my dream job involves working with you. 🙂
    I need you for about a week at my company so we can get fully onboard. We’re like one foot on the train and one off. No HR, just Talent Development (not mgt.). Fully wanting us to integrate digital into our work but not exactly sure what that will look like.

    Looking forward to your detailed posts about the topics in this one.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      April 16, 2009 9:16 am

      Thanks for the kinds words. I don’t think your company is atypical. A lot of folks are struggling with this. I’d suggest looking at what Cisco and Best Buy are doing as examples of how to rethink management / employee relations. Very different businesses and yet they have both “cracked the code” I think of what future work will look like. At the very least, they are moving in the right directions.

  2. April 15, 2009 10:57 pm

    I really liked the post, but I would disagree with one point, that is IT stepping in to the void left by HR if HR fails to understand and interpret the new ways of working and managing. In my experience, most IT shops will be almost entirely consumed with mundane, and ultimately unimportant issues like single-sign-on, disaster recovery, security, and backup policies. While some or all of these are necessary evils to corporate IT, they don’t do a thing to support the organization’s true mission. There is great opportunity for HR in this new world, we will see whether HR recognizes this and seizes upon it.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      April 16, 2009 9:31 am

      I hope they do too Steve. This is HR’s world to own. What worries me though is that I’ve been saying this now for about 18 months and very few companies seem to be “getting it.” It may just be that it’s too early so I still have hope.

      On the IT front, I think I’m seeing slightly different things. I’m seeing IT groups install Sharepoint, develop Social Media strategies, and determine the web 2.0 toolkit. Ideally, the HR folks and line business should be creating requirements and IT depts should be helping to fulfill their needs through technology. Unfortunately in a power vacuum and in the absence of any real input from their colleagues (who typically don’t know enough about web 2.0 to provide any real value), IT groups are just doing their own thing and standardizing on tools that make sense to them – which is why so many orgs are stuck with Sharepoint when it’s not really a good fit.

      So at the very least, IT groups are running the show on the tools front at the moment. And of anyone in the org, they also “get it” the most. I’m not sure it’s a huge leap for them to start defining strategies in how to use those tools – which starts getting to the heart of what HR *should* be doing. Maybe one too many leaps of faith in this analysis?

      What’s disappointing is that HR folks should be leading this charge. I have no idea what they are waiting for. I know it’s hard to adapt when things change, but this new world offers so many opportunities and possibilities – it’s almost like we’re discovering a new country where we’re able to finally see and recognize the greatness in ourselves and our people. I think this is where most of us would live if given the choice.

  3. April 16, 2009 11:25 am


    When I asked the question yesterday in my tweet, “is talent management dead” , I fundamentally agree with your commentary that talent management as it is delivered and implemented today will and needs to vastly change as we move forward.

    While I believe social networking & social collaboration are at the heart of the effective engagement and development of talent, I do believe the current concept of “talent management” will remain. Organizations will still need to manage formal learning, track performance objectives, track applicants, pay for performance, workforce planning (if you consider this a TM process) and so forth. Whether these “processes” are truly the management of talent has been argued by many before, and hence why I would argue that social networking & social collaboration are set to change the way we acquire, develop, manage, and reward talent. (and why my firm is focused on this paradigm shift)

    Good or bad, “command and control” as well as “co-create and collaborate” will continue to exist for years to come, the question is how we collectively push the envelope and where necessary blend the old with the new.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      April 16, 2009 12:03 pm

      I think I agree with most of your points David. I’ve been a big fan of blending formal and informal on the learning side of this equation for some time – since like 1998. I can see where this may have value in talent models too.

      Maybe it varies by industry or type of network? Maybe for process or manufacturing sorts of orgs where the work is known and the work outputs are easily quantifiable, more formal talent models make sense.

      I think though that for a lot of knowledge work, skills and competencies become very challenging and work outputs vary hugely based on a number of factors “outside” the individual, including their networks, organizational alignment etc… Maybe in these sorts of companies and for these sorts of networks, it’s more of a bottoms-up, emergent kind of talent “management”?

      Today it seems to me that we mostly have a “one size fits all” model that is heavily focused on “I know best” management mentalities. To the extent we can blend these models with more emergent, bottoms-up talent models to better map to organizational network models and the characteristics of the work interactions, I think we’ll all be better off.

      Based on what I’ve read of your site and in you blogs, it seems like you’re already doing a lot of work on these fronts. I’ll be sure to follow your work going forward. You look to be doing some cool stuff.

  4. April 16, 2009 4:28 pm

    Great post! I think in general every traditional silo within an organization needs to adapt and change. As one commentor pointed out, most IT departments are simply there to keep the systems running…NOT strategically connect the systems to the core business and devise success USE strategies. And for many of the same reasons HR, in many orgs, STILL just pushes paper and has become the gate keeper of human beings…treating them like just another piece of equipment on the shop floor.
    The MOST interesting thing that I’ve seen is strangely obvious. Small businesses seem to thrive just fine without all of the paper pushers. Actually, everything is just outsourced and so they don’t interfere with the actual business work that needs to get done. Once a medium sized biz becomes a large biz that’s when all the trouble starts.
    Why don’t small businesses need training departments? Especially in the software and Internet dev world…everyone just knows that you will learn what you need to know to get the job done.
    Great stuff! Glad to hear your voice coming through loud and clear in the eLearning community!

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      April 17, 2009 10:23 am

      Thanks Brent. I agree with the idea that this is not limited to HR. I actually wrote a post a few months back called “Running Your Business Like a Community” which touched on the same idea.

      Great points about small businesses. Given that most big companies are really just collections of small companies or initiatives that run like small companies, I wonder if we couldn’t just train and develop them that way?

  5. April 17, 2009 1:31 pm

    I sat in a presentation of a talent management system last Fall and after being shown how skills could be categorized and people identified for progression, I had one question. How can you prepare for a job that does not even exist yet? Many of us are doing work that we would never have imagined one or two decades ago. How about a professional social media manager (a position I saw advertised this week)? Imagine a talent management system in 1999 that was preparing junior journalists to become a newspaper’s (what’s that in 2020?) full-time representative in Second Life.

    You cannot use an accountant’s rear view perspective to prepare for an unknown future. I think it’s better to nurture a mix of people with a variety of skills, experiences and attitudes, much as nature does with ecosystems. A biological model trumps a mechanistic one in adaptation to change.


  1. More Musings from the Bersin Show « Social Enterprise Blog

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