090710 Three Legs

On July 9, 2009, in Industry Analysis, John Sumser, by John Sumser

Three Legs

There are three separate components of any HR organization: the Generalist function, Learning and Development (Training-OD) and Talent Acquisition (Recruiting). For much of the discipline’s history, the generalists owned the career track. Both Recruiting and Training were castaway elements from a career track perspective.

As the question of “Talent Management” became a legitimate conversation in the boardroom, the generalists began to lose ground. What was once a position of significant influence, the generalist’s credibility suffered sustained erosion as benfits adminsitration, paryroll and the treaasury functions of the pension plan were outsourced. Dismissed as a “transactional” player, the generalist role has fallen on hard times.

In hindsight, it’s not really a surprise. Organizations can easily be lumped into one of two large categories. They either develop or acquire talent. Once you undrstand which kind of a company it is, you’ll know more about the way that HR works internally. It’s either a make  manufacturer or a buy.

Companies that favor development have less sophisticated talent acquisition functions. It stands to reason that the entire HR structure is going to be different based on the fundamental people approach. If the prevailing view is that people can be developed internally, the company will focus on flexibility and potentials. A development oriented company is unlikely to have deep sophistication in the details of job descriptions unless that has to do with career path questions.

It’s the difference between farming and hunting. Both are great ways to feed the family. But, hunters make bad farmers and vice versa.

On the other hand, an acquisition oriented company is going to have deep and rich recruiting skills and an underdeveloped training function. If you want to see state of the art aggressive recruiting, you’re looking for one of these companies.

The notion that a single kind of talent management strategy makes sense in both cases is making the rounds these days. The only way that the idea can really make sense is if the only question is which technology to use. In the trenches, the optimal use of resources is going to be driven by the organization’s predispositions and market orientations rather than abstract ideal of talent management.

Partly, it’s a holdover from an earlier era. Today, HR leadership emerges from either Recruiting or Development and rarely from the generalist track. Where recruiters had no future, no career path, they are now routinely embraced by business leaders. More paternal leaders, coming to understand the need for talent pipelines, draw their HR leaders from the Learning crowd.

The industry that supports HR practitioners, as usual, is caught with aging and outmoded stereotypes. It’s really amazing how far out ahead of the suppliers the industry gets. It creates weird feedback loops and very unusual communications processes. Part of great product development involves figuring out how to close the gap and stay current with the market.