Can e-learning ride the Talent Management wave?

ELN3At the end of the month, I am presenting on ‘Talent Management and e-learning’ at the eLearning Network in London. The organisers have assembled a great line up, including Meena Anand (Head of Capability Management for Standard Chartered Bank) and Mouchel Parkman’s Jane Smith. Other luminaries include Saba’s Paul Salmom and Sian Jones of IBM’S Human Capital Management Consulting Group.

Okay, there are semantic issues involved (are we really talking about Talent or Human Capital? Let’s call it HCM/TM), but it’s an interesting topic. For me, there is great opportunity for e-learning professionals in what I would call Human Capital Management. However, there is also a threat.

There’s no doubt that the HCM/TM market is growing rapidly. Yankee Group’s research on this from last April suggests the global market will nearly double to $4bn by 2009.

Gartner’s Jim Holincheck tempered this optimism with caution in December, however. He pointed out – rightly – that if the economy slows down, HCM/TM initiatives not clearly linked to business objectives will face the axe first. Shades here of KM during the late ’90s and early ’00s.

So lots of growth with the potential for a crash – sounds a lot like e-learning about 7 years ago.

What’s the opportunity for e-learning professionals (now older and wiser) this time around?

Josh Bersin has pointed out the links many times, and they’re clear: HCM/TM is based on understanding skills and competencies. It’s also best implemented through technology. E-learning professionals should be well grounded in both these areas. That makes the opportunity clear: make yourself the person who best understands how to implement the technology that will help your organisation benefit from a good understanding of its employees’ capabilities.

What are the potential threats?

There is always the possibility that someone else will get there first and grab the glory. That’s not really a threat, it’s just reality in a growing market.

There is a more insidious threat though: that e-learning professionals might attempt to take a short-cut to competencies and destroy their chances of success with HCM/TM. Over the past few years, I’ve worked with a number of organisations that have attempted to put together a competency framework on the quick by reverse engineering it from course outlines. On the face of it, it seems reasonable: the courses describe the competencies employees require, and those they can expect to gain. Aggregate these competency requirements, and you end up with a competency framework.

Not quite.

You end up with a list of competencies. A good competency framework will describe the entire set of skills required in a profession, and how they are evidenced in behaviour. A list of competencies built from a course catalogue will only list the skills that people have been trained on.

Furthermore, a list of competencies is not a framework. It is a list. To make it a framework requires work to grade them and show how the behaviours associated with each grade. The result – the framework – is a powerful tool for personal development plans, appraisals, succession planning, employee assignment and every other part of HCM/TM. But it only works if it’s built in the first place, and built right.

E-learning professionals with a solid understanding in competency frameworks can certainly ride the HCM/TM wave. In fact, with their existing connections within their organisations and understanding of implementing skills-based technologies, they should be leading it.

The eLearning Network say this day ‘promises to be one of the most valuable in the eLN calendar’. If you’re interested and would like to more, visit:

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