Q&A with Karen Minicozzi: Why HR Should Place Talent Management at the Core

Karen Minicozzi is vice president, human capital management product strategy, for the EMEA region at Workday. Having spent more than 15 years as an HR practitioner, Minicozzi understands the talent challenges facing HR leaders, and will be discussing those issues and more at Workday Rising Europe in Barcelona this week. In this interview, she discusses the democratization of talent management, and why HR shouldn’t think about talent in isolation.

Industry experts, including Josh Bersin, have talked of a shift away from traditional talent management to more people-focused initiatives. What does this mean for talent programs in the future?

Karen_Minicozzi_Workday_Headshot
Karen Minicozzi

I think it’s about eliminating the narrow focus on traditional talent management and creating programs that enable and engage every employee across the business. Traditional talent management is about process automation and tends to focus on a small number of identified “high-potential” employees. But a smarter approach is people enablement—allowing every employee to discover, explore, and even create career options. In other words, it’s where all the touch points of an HCM system work together to help both the employee, and the business, grow. In my experience, engaged employees drive better business outcomes and are more energized and enthused about their work and their employer.

What role does technology play in driving better employee engagement?

First, it requires having a system-of-record that’s rich with data about your employees: when they were hired, promoted, their unique skills, what languages they speak, what their career interests are, and more. That data holds the key to a far more personal and engaging experience, and lets you evolve your system-of-record into a system-of-engagement. Finding that balance is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in a system that doesn’t know who you are.

Think about your experience with consumer applications—if Netflix didn’t have the data about your transactions and your browsing preferences, it would never be able to make meaningful recommendations to you. In the same way, a system that, for example, holds only holds HR data, but doesn’t know the transactional history and career trajectory of each employee, can’t make meaningful career recommendations, or help a manager understand who the company might be at risk of losing and recommend ways to mitigate that risk. All it can do is automate basic processes.

“I think the question we have to ask first is, ‘If developing our talent is so important —and it is—why are we doing that in isolation?'”

HR leaders have often sought to understand talent in a silo, including using talent management technologies outside their core systems. What’s the problem with this approach?

It’s important to understand why HR leaders have been forced to look beyond their core systems-of-record to try to understand talent. Their legacy systems are often an amalgamation of multiple systems from the 1990s or early 2000s that were not built for change, and lack the agility and flexibility to keep up with modern organizations.

When you consider the pace of business change today, the rigid nature of such tools effectively renders them obsolete. Businesses, searching for the ability to explore talent globally, are forced to choose a standalone talent system. The end result is multiple user interfaces and disparate systems which must be reconciled—meaning none of the data is real time. That ultimately creates an inability to truly engage employees and managers wherever they get their work done—whether that’s the desktop, mobile devices, or a combination—because multiple apps are required.

So, while using a standalone talent management system may seem like it helps HR leaders achieve the goal of talent management, it is not going to drive better business outcomes. They will not be able to measure end-to-end processes to truly understand the ROI of programs like talent acquisition or learning.

What does the alternative look like, and how can HR go about placing talent management at the core?

I think the question we have to ask first is, “If developing our talent is so important —and it is—why are we doing that in isolation?” We need to move to an era of enablement for everyone, with personalized experiences and a complete view of all HR data to help us better engage employees and also make smarter decisions.

So, what, exactly, is a personalized experience? It’s when employees feel that the system knows who they are through various phases of their careers. They get a warm and personal welcome from their managers as they onboard, they are connected to colleagues and mentors during that process, they are asked how they feel in a pulse survey sent after their first day or week, and they get learning —real learning, not just compliance documents to read—sent to them so they can ramp up quickly in their new jobs.

Then, after they have been in their positions for a while, HR can send more learning that targets career development, and employees can begin career exploration by seeing where others like them have progressed through the organization. HR can send another pulse survey asking how employees feel about their career opportunities and react accordingly. It is this kind of personal engagement that draws people in, keeps them curious, and provides the input needed to drive the business forward.

What does the future look like with talent at the core?

We’re already starting to see organizations moving from systems-of-record that are essentially periodic data-capture tools, to systems-of-engagement, such as Workday, that consistently engage employees. With one user experience, they’re engaging with candidates, moving them through onboarding, and providing them with just-in-time learning through rich interactive content and video. This approach provides the opportunity to measure the quality of hires over time as they move through the organization, are promoted, and become managers and leaders. That level of analysis is impossible if your talent acquisition, recruiting, core HCM, and learning systems are in silos.

This approach also provides HR teams with the opportunity to build a long-term strategy based on employee empowerment and enablement. Taking a short-term approach by bolting on additional functionality to existing HR systems actually has a long-term negative impact. It will hinder HR’s ability to engage the workforce, which in turn impacts the effectiveness of the HR function in providing business leaders with the workforce insights that shape business strategies.