The Top 25 Debate

On April 18, 2010, in Top 25 Talent Management, by John Sumser

debate-250pxOur List of the Top 25 Influencers in Talent Management generated its share of controversy. The measurement and assessment of influence is in its very earliest stages. Much of what you see in our various list projects boils down to experimentation This article includes a dialog with Marc Effron who helped us create the initial input for the Talent Management project.

The way that Traackr (our technical partner in the project) builds their lists is by beginning with a list of key words. We work to make sure that the key words are representative of the general area we are investigating.

That list is spidered, those results are analysed by machine to determine the top influencers.  Influencers are scored on the basis of reach (size of audience including traffic, social networks on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook), relevance (degree to which their content matches the key words on the list) and resonance (number of mentions and inbound links).

We put Marc Effron (who you might remember from the TOP 100 project) in charge of developing the list of keywords. Marc is one of the clear definers of the science of Talent Management. We’re indebted to him for his help.

Once the process was nearly complete, Marc was given access to the list and offered the opportunity to comment.  The dialog that followed is illuminating. Marc’s feedback helped the Traackr team tweak the final output. I think you’ll enjoy that conversation.

Hi John

Thanks for letting me review this.  Here are my candid thoughts (sorry if they’re too candid).  My reaction is that, to our earlier discussion about the narrow focus of TM, this list more accurately reflects “general HR presence in social media” than anything else.

Some names, like Josh Bersin and Joh
n Sullivan seem reasonable (although Sullivan is really more recruiting focused).  But others leave me, and probably others, scratching my head a bit.  For example, a number are primarily focused on compensation which, while very important is outside what the vast majority of people would refer to as “talent management.”  Others just seem not to be actual influencers, but merely to have a high count of on-line interactions. Are they popular? Sure.  But influencing the field?
The other challenge is the omission of the vast majority of people who are widely acknowledged influencers in the field.  They tend to be the more senior practitioners and consultants, so probably either got to social networking late or aren’t yet there at all.  Examples would range from Marshall Goldsmith to Jim Shanley (former SVP Leadership at Bank of America) to Roger Cude (VP Talent at Wal-Mart) to Annmarie Neal (VP Talent, Cisco) to  others you might know J.
So that’s my reaction.  Curious as to your thoughts




I think your view is spot on. Remember, what this measures is the online influence of the people involved. So, if you were to Google talent management or to wander through the various aspects of talent management online, these are the people you’d encounter.

It doesn’t mean that they are the ‘right’ ones or that they are the most influential over all. It certainly doesn’t mean that their definitions of talent management are the most useful or even the most widely adopted. They are simply the most influential people in the arena online.

The dichotomy that you point out is powerful. I think of it as the sort of disintermediation that has happened elsewhere.

Traditional type experts who are academics or practitioners working in a small environment are not what someone who wants to learn about a topic (Talent Management is just one example) fined when they go online.

While some are indeed outside of what ‘people would refer to as talent management’, they is well within the sweet spot of the search terms you used to define the arena. So, my guess is that ‘most people’ is a group of folks who are focused in their expertise and not fundamentally visible online.

There are all sorts of issues with this (fairness and ‘rightness’ are not on the list). I think that you and I might do well to continue this conversation over several emails and publish it along with the list.

This is the complaint that many people whose empires were overturned by Google make. All you can see online is what’s online. Its relative importance is a mathematical function. This is in spite of what seems right. Ultimately, the more traditional experts will understand that their feudal empires are being taken from them by a new crop that uses the Internet more effectively.

What do you think?



Thanks for the thoughts on this John.  I definitely agree that it’s not an issue of fairness or rightness — let the popularity chips fall where they may.  My concerns would be in two areas:

  1. The talent management area is the last, best hope for HR to redeem its tattered reputation in many companies.  To do that, we need to ensure that we advance fact-based thinking and practice (the original goal of the NTMN)  in the TM area, rather than follow the “shiny object” path that HR has often followed.  The “no one knows if you’re a dog” nature of the net means that popularity can easily be interpreted as fact-based authority, when it could just as likely measure entertainment value, fad idea or even just ease of use of a site.  To use a tired phrase,

HR’s entire existence is at an inflection point.  On one side lies true business influence and on the other side lies the end of the function within 5 – 8 years.  If on-line popularity will be what influences thinking in HR, then our odds are 50/50 at best.

2. The accuracy of whether this measures total influence on thinking is another concern.  One interesting fact I learned from my publisher editor at Harvard Biz Press is that HR professionals are one of the largest buyers of professional books.  While overall book sales are falling precipitously, HR pros continue to buy.  This one fact suggests that if someone wants to learn about HR topics, on-line might not be their only resource or represent what influences them.  I could suggest that “total number of influencing interactions” would be a better measure of Top Influencers.  This would be the total of size of your social network (could be facebook, linked-in, twitter, etc.) + number of people you spoke to about HR issues during the year (HR conferences or gatherings) + number of people reading your books or articles.  To say that one blogging post equals the influence of someone reading one of Ulrich’s books seems to miss what influence is.

Those are my thoughts for now!




I am afraid that the question is larger than ‘popularity’. Your arguments echo the hopes of all of the institutions that have been disrupted by democratic publishing and communications systems. While I agree with you that today’s universe of online influencers is not a representation of the complete set of influencers, dismissing it as a popularity contest misses the point as well.

Something is happening that isn’t getting mainstream media attention. It isn’t being noticed by the ‘academy’. The professional associations barely acknowledge it.

The center of influence in all professional associations has shifted. Where it once was the province of single personalities with ideas that just happened to all be book length. Today, expertise is becoming democratic.

I am not saying that Dave Ulrich is not a powerful influence on HR. He’s in the same class, in my opinion, as Frederick Taylor… a powerful, important historical influence. It’s just that things have moved on and a new generation (of which you are a part) is taking the mantle. I’m sure that this coming generation will venerate their ancestors every bit as well as their ancestors did.

Meanwhile, smart people who actually work in the field are generating an action-based view of the arena from their work and publishing it as they go. To suggest that this isn’t ‘fact-based’ is as silly as suggesting that all of the books purchased by HR professional are. The net does require that its users be able to distinguish among competing authorities and not everyone is skillful in that arena. The medium through which information is distributed is hardly a guarantor of fact, reliability or validity.

That the profession will increasingly depend on information obtained online from authorities who work primarily in that medium is a foregone conclusion. I’m less sure than you that it heightens the risk of HR’s demise. What I am sure of is that lists like this will increasingly approximate the real sphere of influence in the industry. Five years from now, this sort of ranking based on the facts of the Internet, will be highly evolved. The nuance that the current results admittedly lack are rooted in a couple of things:

1. The techniques of measurement and definition of influence are in their infancy. It takes repeated hard work to iron out the sorts of issues we are discussing. Your comments and concerns will get seen and incorporated in the rapid evolution of the measurement of professional influence.

2. The organization itself is changing rapidly as the result of the same dynamics that are changing the nature of expertise and influence. Whether there is a role for HR in its current form is subject to debate. Certainly, many of the people who emerge as online influencers think that a revolution is brewing, imminent and going to happen because of social media. Another serious subset of the people on this list are actual revolutionaries in the profession.

Thanks for your help pulling the list together. It’s not possible, currently, to measure all influence everywhere, It’s useful to remember that this measures online influence. The question, as we’re debating it, is ‘how important is that?


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