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The Chief Talent Officer – A Common Role by 2015

by Kevin Wheeler on August 27, 2009

jigsawpuzzleThe current economic situation underlines how difficult it is for organizations to retain the employees who generate revenue and develop new products and services. The best often leave, while those less motivated or less capable hunker down and stay. Ideally, an organization would have solid data about revenue generated by specific employees and functions or about products and services designed and delivered. However, most organizations can’t even assess who the best employees are in a quantitative way. Assessments are subjective and highly influenced by personality and circumstances.  Massive hiring followed by equally massive layoffs are the norm without regard to actual contribution to revenue or future growth. Surprisingly, this has been accepted by investors and analysts up until recently. Now, the focus is moving toward a more conservative and sensible approach to people based on data, planning and business objectives.

The Four Basic Elements of Talent Strategy
Organizations have four basic practices at their disposal to deal with talent: (1) the ability to attract and acquire, (2) the ability to develop and provide competency, (3) the ability to engage and excite so they are and remain committed, and (4) the ability to measure performance and provide feedback to adjust recruitment and development practices. Together these comprise the building blocks of a talent strategy.

An organization that had such a talent strategy would have the fewest number of employees possible with a largely outsourced or in-sourced group who conducted non-strategic and transactional work. By using contingent labor and carefully monitoring when to high additional regular staff, they could enjoy much more stable employment cycles and weather recessions with less trauma and less loss of talent.

Where is HR?
One might expect human resources to step up and claim responsibility for this, and a handful of HR chieftains have tried. Unfortunately, HR is mired in legalese, labor law, and in a general belief that their role is to make people happy and feel good no matter what the business reality might indicate. HR has consistently failed to show strategic initiative and a “can do” spirit. Many, some say most, HR people are process police who focus on doing something “right” rather than on doing something that has an effect on the bottom line.

A small number of organizations have made a first attempt at establishing such a function by finding people, often without HR backgrounds or credentials, and putting them into roles where they will have responsibility to craft these people strategies. These people are often those who have demonstrated their business credentials, perhaps by running a business unit or by their involvement in product development or customer service. Many of them have also spent time building work teams, grappling with the internal people issues in teams, and who have an understanding of the external trends and issues that are changing the nature of work and the ways people want to engage in work. The role is sometimes called chief talent officer to give it a “C-level” title and to give it more respect.

The Chief Talent Officer
A chief talent officer has to influence management to implement the integrated people strategies that will keep a sustainable workforce in place no matter what happens to the economy. This is not an easy job but the integration of recruiting, development, engagement and performance is what talent management is really all about. It’s also about getting the mix of regular employees and contingent workers right. Those organizations that get these mixes right will enjoy long period of employment stability, harmony, and productivity. We have some examples today: Toyota is one. Toyota retrains during slow times, has had very few and very small layoffs, and focuses on process improvements and job enlargement rather than mass hiring. IBM, over the years, has also focused on internal mobility and employee development rather than on mass external hiring. These sustainable practices are good for the economy, good for people, and good for profitability. A successful CTO has to be far more than an HR generalist, a recruiter,  a trainer or a process integrator.

A talent officer is the general and strategist in charge of the supply of what is becoming the rarest resources an organization has – skilled, committed workers. Their job is to understand the objectives of the company, architect the strategy to find or develop the people who will be needed to meet business objectives, and redeploy people efficiently and effectively when their initial objectives are achieved without losing them to the competition.

By 2015 these roles will be common in large companies and many smaller ones will use consultants to help them architect similar strategies.

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