Sizing Up Talent

Online talent profiles can help you take stock of your labor pool and identify employees who can meet future workforce needs.

By Drew Robb Apr 1, 2011
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Hoover’s Inc., a Dun & Bradstreet subsidiary, describes itself as a company that delivers “comprehensive insight and analysis about the companies, industries and people that drive the economy, along with the powerful tools to find and connect to the right people to get business done.” To achieve this, it provides access to a database covering 65 million businesses and 85 million people. It takes a skilled and motivated workforce to provide that service.

“You can’t attract and retain talent unless they are constantly challenged and feel they are growing, either for their next job inside this company or their next job when they leave,” says Robin Hamel Pfahler, SPHR, Hoover’s human resources leader. “Everyone wants to know what they can do this year that helps them be a stronger candidate.”

But a talented workforce can be wasted if a company doesn’t know what skills its workers have.

To get a clear picture of its employees’ skills and to find the right people for projects, Hoover’s uses Zapoint SkillsMapper and an internally developed employee appraisal system to ensure that its employees are continually challenged in their roles and that they are progressing along their chosen career paths.

If your employees feel that way, your company is likely to keep its talent, according to Pfahler. “If not, your company is hitting a big roadblock.”

To avoid hitting roadblocks, talent profiles have become an important part of human resource management.

“If I can get my talent profile right,” says Kim Seals, a partner and global leader for Mercer’s Operations and Technology Solutions segment in Atlanta, “I have a great source of information about the people in our business [and] how to move them around to fill key jobs.”

Gathering the Data

HR executives in many organizations have some sort of talent profiles in place, whether they call them that or not. The problem is usually not a lack of data, but that the data are spread out in too many locations. Typically, a recruitment tool stores resumes, payroll keeps employees’ salary histories, the learning management system tracks courses employees have taken, the performance management system houses employee assessments, the human resource information system houses employees’ personal information and job roles, and so on.

If HR leaders don’t establish a central repository for talent profiles, managers are left with “bits and pieces of information that are stuck in different systems,” Seals notes. “It becomes a challenge to piece it all together.”

Online talent profile tools pull employee data into one secure, central location where the profiles can be viewed by employees, managers, hiring and succession managers, and project leaders. Some of these tools offer features that automatically remind employees when to update their profiles and that track whether this task has been completed.

Executives in the Chicago-area accounting and consulting firm Corbett, Duncan & Hubly PC found their data on employees’ skills inadequate when they began trying to develop future leaders from among a 60-person workforce.

“We were not able to quickly identify the next set of leaders,” says Bernie Lietz, chief operating officer. “When we sat down with people on a one-to-one basis, we discovered that even our experienced employees didn’t know what it takes to get to the next level, and did not have some key skills that they would need.”

Pfahler says the demand for talent profiles at Hoover’s came from both employees and managers: Employees were saying they didn’t feel that their careers were being adequately developed, and managers wanted the best-trained employees. Everyone agreed on the importance of developing employees’ skills. But without an accurate inventory of what skills they had, and a list of the skills required for given positions, there was no way to smoothly develop employees for advancement.

“From a talent perspective, the more well-rounded our team members are, the more valuable they are to the organization,” Pfahler says. “We needed to find a way for them to understand what was available, where they can use their talents and what skill sets they were missing for the jobs they wanted.”

Setting Up a System

Jason Corsello, vice president of products and technology for Knowledge Infusion, a Minneapolis-based human capital consulting firm, says organizations go through four phases in creating online talent profiles:

Collecting employees’ basic information and talent attributes, such as name, role, skill set and contact information.

Pulling data from other sources, such as recruiting software, to provide employees and managers with richer information on skill sets, job experiences and professional certifications.

Providing more information to managers about areas such as performance ratings and compensation.

Collaborating with employees so they can edit and update their profiles and share information about their work. From an employee perspective, others in the organization “see the core data about who I am and what I do,” Corsello says. “I can use it like Twitter within the enterprise, so people can see which projects I am working on or if I just posted a document. This starts to become an employee-directed profile where I can showcase expertise and direct my career.”

Employees are interested in taking control of their own profiles and career paths, rather than expecting the employer to take care of them for life, Corsello says. HR professionals are encouraging this change.

“In our conversations with team members, we tell them that career development is something you own, [and that] you have the most vested interest in making sure you are developing and growing in the directions you want,” Pfahler says. “Your boss won’t necessarily know what it is, but you do. You have to figure out what that path is and find out how you can align where you want to go with what we offer as a company.”

Different Approaches

HR professionals can take a variety of approaches in sharing and using profiles to meet different business objectives.

Hoover’s and Corbett, Duncan & Hubly, for example, use software and maintain talent profiles for their entire staffs.

New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc.’s succession planning activities, however, don’t require complex software: The Brighton, Mass.-based company has 4,000 employees, but 80 percent of them are hourly employees working in manufacturing. New Balance executives evaluate mid- and top-level leaders against a set of managerial and executive competencies using a nine-box grid. The data are entered into a PowerPoint file and reviewed by vice presidents.

“We have the benefit of knowing who the people are and being able to get away with using PowerPoint templates, while larger organizations would have to embed the information,” says Daryl Juran, who oversees the learning and occupational development functions for New Balance.

Corbett, Duncan & Hubly is using the eSuccession module of Halogen Software Inc.’s talent management suite. The Halogen software is hosted on a virtual SQL server and was installed in a few days. The price for the suite, $15,000 to $20,000, included a week of optional on-site training for the system administrators. Annual maintenance fees covered the recent implementation of the eSuccession module.

Lietz worked with the director of HR to develop talent profiles that include soft skills such as leadership, conflict management and resolution, and supervisory skills, as well as hard skills such as the employee’s knowledge of the tax code. Employees identified as having the potential to be a manager or partner can be placed in a talent pool to receive training and mentoring.

“It is certainly a motivator to include someone in a talent pool and let them know they have been selected for extra training and development,” Lietz says. “From a management point of view, it’s good to have a plan in place to start to develop our people. We also know that the competencies we are developing will help us achieve our organizational goals.”

Unexpected Benefits

Unlike Corbett, Duncan & Hubly, Hoover’s opted to use a hosted tool. To make it easier to implement, HR managers first used Zapoint to pull employees’ data from LinkedIn and then allowed employees to modify the data as they desired.

“It is easier to edit than to create a profile from scratch,” Pfahler explains.

She says having the profiles has produced benefits throughout the company. Employees now have more control of their careers. Having information on employees’ skills also makes it easier to assign staff to projects—and assignments can be made more quickly. For example, knowing who can speak Mandarin might be useful for managers doing business in China.

The profiles also assist in creating requirements that affect recruiting strategies. Before making the next hire, you can see where the skills gaps are in an area and make sure some candidates have those skills, Pfahler says.

She identifies another benefit to the profiles: transparency when it comes to promotions. Creating profiles helps counter the perception that certain people are favorites or that office politics play a role in hiring and promotions. At Hoover’s, employees can go into the system, compare resumes and see why one person is more qualified than others.

It lends “acceptance and legitimacy” to the hiring decision, says Pfahler. It lets people who did not get the job see where they stack up against the person who did. Then they can add projects or education to their development plans.

The author is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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