It’s talent management. No, wait, it’s competencies!

What’s the top issue for personnel development in 2007? It’s talent management says a survey of 35 top HR personnel. Excuse me, no, it’s competencies, reply 275 training professionals, also via a survey.

Of course, they’re both wrong.

The truth is that surveys cannot defined terms well enough for these terms to mean anything to the respondents. They’re just ticking the box that sounds right. According to’s write up of ORC Worldwide’s survey that highlighted talent management:

Talent management is the top strategic HR issue that companies expect to face in 2007, according to a recent survey by ORC Worldwide. Specifically, respondents say they are concerned about acquiring, developing and retaining talent at all levels of the organization.

Hhm … ‘acquiring, developing and retaining talent’, so if the same pool had been asked about recruitment and learning and development, they would have ranked these functions top of their list? I don’t think so.

Meanwhile, we have IDC’s bi-monthly survey for Chief Learning Officer magazine. This shuffles last year’s top 5 issues, to put competencies at the top.

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely believe that both competencies and talent management should be top of the list not just for the HR/L&D field, but for anyone interested in organisational excellence.

It’s just that having lived and breathed this for the past five years with InfoBasis (which provides talent management software) and for even longer in my role on the steering committee of the SFIA Foundation (which provides a competency framework for IT professionals) I am a little wary of the current level of interest in talent management / competencies.

Put it this way: InfoBasis has grown organically at a healthy rate over those five years without the need for hype, but instead through organisations showing a true understanding of the potential benefits of talent management and competencies.

The upside of the current hype is more interest in our software. The downside is more insidious.

I think it is likely that the current heightened levels of interest will draw in suppliers whose work is only tangentially related to talent management and competencies. They will market their products and services to ride the current wave, and when their clients see what they get, the result will be inevitable: disillusionment and misunderstanding.

That would be a pity. There is too much for organisations, industries and indeed entire economies to gain through a clear understanding of their people’s capabilities to squander that potential advantage for the sake of some mis-applied terminology.

Technorati tags: Competencies, Human Capital Management, Talent Management

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