What’s in a Name?

Josh Bersin, the founder and owner of Bersin by Deloitte, wrapped up 2014 in a LinkedIn article by asking, “Is corporate talent management dead?” Although I firmly believe the answer to that question is a resounding NO, many of the points he makes warrant further consideration.

To begin with, there is without doubt still a major problem with talent scarcity among organizations in the 21st century. It seems to be harder and harder for organizations to find the talent they need, especially as an increasing amount of work becomes contingent and the gap between the skilled and unskilled continues to widen.

Much of the focus in recent years has become more nuanced towards not just finding any talent, but finding the right talent, which explains a lot of the talk around assessing fit and organizational culture, empowering environments, and employee engagement. This leads Bersin to declare that “talent management” is dead and should be replaced with “people management.”

Anytime a new phrase comes along, there is a certain level of resistance to it. Back when talent management arrived on the scene (circa 2004), many thought it was a poor choice – recruiting talent is something Hollywood does, not businesses. Still, everyone eventually became used to the phrase, although the particular twist it brought with it was the need to integrate what were various isolated aspects of HR, so the buzz phrase became integrated talent management. But it could just as easily have been integrated human capital or integrated human resources.

It was the desired integration function that spawned what is still a red-hot talent management software industry. As Bersin writes, “The goals of integrated talent management were lofty: give companies an integrated view of capabilities, leadership gaps, succession pools, and even talent needs for the future.”

Bersin asks the question, “Are we all just ‘talent’ to be used by our employers?” Well, in a sense, yes! And before workers were “talent” they were “human capital,” and before that they were “human resources.” We can call workers whatever we want, and calling them “people” doesn’t take away from the organizational need to manage them for organizational success.

I think what Bersin is trying to say is that what really matters is how we treat people when we manage them as vital components of an organization. What was missing from the early conceptions of integrated talent management and the technologies that sprung up out of it was the whole notion that while we could come up with ways to integrate the silos in HR departments, there wasn’t a clear way to put employee happiness into the mix beyond compensation management (a rather dim view of happiness). It’s not that people didn’t think about it; it’s just that there wasn’t a solid way to make that part of the technological solutions. But that is what has changed with the growing importance of social networking aspects that allow people to really connect with each other.

If the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of treating workers like expendable commodities, then by all means let’s swing that pendulum back the other way, recognizing the dignity and worth of all humans by paying more attention to the very things Bersin highlights – empowerment, engagement, and culture. That’s something we can all participate in right now, regardless of what label is applied to it. After all, as Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Whether you call workers human resources, human capital, talent, or people, they must be treated with dignity and respect.

January 14, 2015   Updated :March 17, 2015   talent management, talent management trends   

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