Talent management needs more tech investment, says PA Consulting

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Surveys repeatedly tell us that talent management is top of most CEOs’ agendas, yet their enthusiasm to invest in HR technology does not reflect this. Cath Everett reports. 

There seems to be a rather stark mismatch right now between chief executives’ desire to get talent management activities right and their investment in technology to help HR meet this goal, according to a recent survey by PA Consulting.

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It found that only 3.6% of CEOs and HR directors, at more than 70 organisations, had any kind of coherent approach for analysing talent-related data that they could use to predict which expertise they were likely to require in future and what skills gaps could hit their business performance.

Yet so many other reports suggest that the fight for talent at all levels of the organisation is a top agenda issue for CEOs, in order to ensure that the business remains competitive.

So why are they not prepared to put their money where their mouth is?

Poor relation

As Jennifer Cable, PA’s talent expert, points out: “The say-do gap is huge. It seems that talent management is belief led rather than metric led, but you name me another critical area of competitive advantage where activity is not being backed up with concrete data.”

A key problem, she explains, is that HR-related IT “seems to be a poor relation for investment”. But without embracing analytics, and big data in particular, employers are unlikely to be “agile enough to have a strong chance of securing talent in areas where there are growing skills gaps”.

The say-do gap is huge… you name me another critical area of competitive advantage where activity is not being backed up with concrete data.” – Jennifer Cable, PA Consulting

The idea is that analytics tools would help employers understand issues such as where best to invest in skills acquisition and where to focus on learning and development, while the introduction of big data-based systems could help with staff retention.

Big data systems would do this by trawling data from disparate internal HR applications, as well as external websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn to truly understand an individual’s background, experience, skills and interests and build up a comprehensive picture of them.

Starting point

This picture could then be used as a starting point for dialogue in order to ensure that their strengths were used to best advantage.

But Cable notes: “Absolutely no one is doing this today – it’s more of a cutting-edge idea. It’s about having the confidence to do it, but also about creating the business case for the expenditure.”

A small number of companies are “starting to take lessons from marketing”, she adds. This involves pulling data from disparate systems, ranging from human capital and performance management to training in order to create a single view of the employee – not unlike the customer relationship management systems of old.

“Just think how much richer and more effective conversations with employees could be if you had all of this information at your fingertips, rather than relying on a quick half-hour conversation during an appraisal. This kind of technology offers a massive opportunity for HR,” she concludes.

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