by Kelly Cartwright
[editor's note: I asked Kelly, who is this week's Top 100 Influencer and a seasoned player in the Talent Management scene, to respond to the most recent Top 25 list. Here are her thoughts.]
I find lists irresistible. Even on the busiest day, it’s impossible not to stop for a moment and click to a “Top Ten or Top 100” list. It’s curiosity. It’s human nature. If you agree with the results, you feel smarter and somehow validated. If you disagree, you can indulge in the belief that you know just a bit more than those who rank the best places to live, healthiest fast foods, or worst Super Bowl commercials. So of course HRExaminer’s recent Top Online Influencers in Talent Management is worth a look. It’s well-intentioned, thoughtfully executed, admittedly imperfect, and at the same time very useful.
John Sumser serves up the list with his own grains of salt. He questions whether talent management has any meaning. He looks at assumptions underlying the rules of influence today (“If you want to be a thought leader, thought is less important than volume”). He acknowledges that today’s situation will not remain forever (“But it’s going to be with us for quite a while”). In a field where list-makers often take themselves and their opinions very seriously, there is a refreshingly honest perspective at work in the HRExaminer effort. It does not pretend to lay down the law; rather, it is simply engaging in the conversation. I’m happy to add to that conversation, and I’ll start by asking, does visibility = influence?
As a talent management consulting business leader, I spend most of my time working with our consultants and our clients. From the client perspective, I know that there is a clear business aspect to what influence really means. I would ask, “if someone is highly visible online as a talent management thought leader, has that person caused organizations to make decisions based on their knowledge?” Does the work of the influencer shape companies’ initiatives, drive their budgets, or support their technology decisions? Is the influencer changing how money is spent? For many of the online influencers, the answer is a definite yes. But not all cases. Visibility is only as useful as the credibility to back it up. Visibility, longevity, and quality of thought leadership are all important. These are the characteristics that support the logic, and the business cases, for setting strategies and budgets.
I’ll sprinkle a second grain of salt regarding the definition of talent management. It’s true that many buzzwords grow in meaning until they become so general that they stop meaning anything at all. Talent Management has not lost its meaning, if for no other reason than that there is still much room to grow and much work to do. Companies are still spending money and making strategic decisions based on a very specific idea that disparate functions of HR need to work together if they are to deliver business value. Companies are working hard today to bring those processes together under the umbrella of one function and they are still referring to that function as talent management. This may change over time, as all things do, but talent management today is a term and a discipline that is very much alive.
Finally, I would question the idea that a “top” influencer is even possible to identify. Many of those who achieve prominence as online influencers are researchers, analysts and industry pundits. This is not a bad thing at all. Many major strategic decisions and initiatives are launched on the basis of the business case rooted in the research of an industry thought leader. Their visibility, however, is only part of the picture of what influence means. The decision makers and executives who commit to talent management strategies are just as important, and so are the people working at the line level who bring those strategies to life. The questions I bring up about influence are not new. John asked them himself back in February 2010 in his post “Reconsidering Influence.” It’s worth a look.
So, why are we so interested in an influencers list? First of all, it’s a list (and lists are irresistible)—and it’s a good list. It does a great job of keeping score. If we can objectively measure electronic and social media visibility, we certainly should do so. For those who simply want to learn, this is a place to start. Even for those who are seasoned veterans, there are more lessons to be learned. Did you know that Tom Hood of the Maryland Association of CPA’s is a top online influencer in Talent Management?
Explore a little bit and you can see why. Our industry is always more than we think it is, and we should appreciate the influencers who show us that every day.