Talent Management: Leveraging "the Most Vital Part of the Company" to Seek Results

John Hollon

I get asked this question a lot: what is the key to great talent management?

It’s a good question, of course, but it really leads to another, more specific query – what should HR be doing to foster great talent management in an organization?

Far too many human resources professionals seem to be focused on the various moving parts in their companies, but for all-too-many, not enough of this effort is directed at growing and developing talent to help drive the organization’s future growth and prosperity.

Jack Welch, a man who knows a little bit about developing talent from his many years as CEO of General Electric, once said that, "HR matters enormously in good times. It defines you in the bad."

I’ve heard "Neutron Jack" speak many times, and I know that he appreciates what HR brings to the table. But, he has also been critical of the lack of impact HR has in so many organizations, calling HR the "backwater of most companies."

To his way of thinking, HR should be "the most vital part of the company," as important as finance. He draws this analogy: If you were managing a baseball team, who would you rather talk to—the team accountant or the director of player personnel? To Jack Welch, HR is the organization’s director of player personnel, and just as important to a business as it is to a baseball team.

So, just what is it that HR needs to do to fulfill that "director of player personnel" role and become a company’s key to great talent management? Believe it or not, I found a great list of the elements recently in a press release sent out by global consulting giant Mercer to tout a training workshop.

In the press release, Mercer listed "the five key roles senior human HR leaders must play before, during, and after mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity." Now, I’ve been involved in a few M&As over the years, so I have a pretty good sense of how HR can make them go better. Here are the five roles Mercer listed:

1. Serve as a trusted adviser to executives and the deal team.

2. Be the HR/people subject-matter expert.

3. Provide timely and actionable input before, during, and after the deal.

4. Help shape the post-close organizations, and,

5. Manage the intense flow of information and related employee activity.

Yes, this is a great list of what HR should be doing during a merger and acquisition, but
something else struck me about the list, and maybe it did you as well.

Not only is this is a great list of things that HR should be doing during M&As, but it also a great list of what HR should be doing regularly within the company to drive the organization’s talent management development process.

This list might have to be fiddled a little, but the general direction is right on the money.

Yes, HR should serve as a trusted adviser to executives and managers on how the organization develops talent.

  • Yes, the HR staff should be the subject-matter experts when it comes to talent management. They need to be the "go-to" people any time the company needs help with the talent management process.
  • Yes, HR should be constantly providing timely and actionable input before, during, and after any talent management program is launched.
  • And yes, HR should be managing the intense flow of information and related employee activity around the organization’s talent management process.

It’s clear to me that this list is exactly the "director of player personnel" role that Jack Welch felt HR should be handling.

"The best HR people," Welch said, "are a kind of hybrid: one part pastor, who hears all sins and complaints without recrimination, and one part parent, who loves and nurtures, but gives it to you fast and straight when you’re off track."

That’s the classic HR role of course, but the classic notion of human resources fits perfectly into the modern need to be able to more effectively develop talent. That’s because talent is today, as it has been in the past, the great differentiator. Great talent can drive a company into stratospheric growth, as Apple, Google, GE, and others illustrate all too well.

They know, as all smart companies do, that the key to great talent management is an organizational process that is focused on nurturing and growing great talent. And in all great companies, that responsibility falls largely on the HR professionals in their much-needed role as "director of player personnel."

Jack Welch is right—HR does matters enormously in good times, but it means so much more in the bad. Yes, great HR can define a company when times are tough, because developing great talent is something that the very best organizations do every day of every year, in good times yes, but especially, when things are bad.

If your HR staff is not at the center of your talent management development activities, then perhaps you should either change up your HR staff, or, restructure and refocus your talent management organization so that they are.

HR is the lifeblood of every organization, as people like Jack Welch and other great managers know so well. You would be well served to heed their advice and make it the lifeblood of yours, too.