The Talent Crisis in Your HR Department

Forget the global war for talent — for now. There’s a very real talent crisis within HR departments.

According to a study by The Hackett Group, executives say they’re getting talent management support from their HR departments less than 35 percent of the time. Only 13 percent of the executives at the 145 companies surveyed for the report — titled “Cracks in the Foundation: Closing the Critical Skills Gap Undermining Business Capabilities” — said HR provided a full range of services.

The root of the problem is an HR role in transition, slowly moving away from its traditional, employee-centric focus to an analytical and organizational role.

“It’s no longer about nurturing and developing the employee,” said Michael Janssen, chief research officer for The Hackett Group. “It’s much more about serving the organization in a broader context and trying to deliver business results.”

The Roots of the Problem
The specific gripes that business leaders cite bring the problem into clear focus.

Seventy-nine percent of business leaders are dissatisfied with HR’s efforts in collaboration and knowledge sharing , 75 percent report displeasure with HR support for retention and 70 percent for learning and development.

Traditionally, HR’s strength has been in carrying out transactional processes, said Harry Osle, The Hackett Group’s global HR practice leader. But as business has demanded more from the HR department, HR has stumbled.

“For years, HR professionals have been talking about moving up the maturity curve into the talent management arena,” he said. “This is where HR tends to struggle because attracting and retaining top talent is the key. HR struggles there because they don’t fundamentally understand how to retain some of these individuals.”

Retention and collaboration — and some higher-level aspects of employee development — are complex, non-transactional processes that require a sophisticated understanding of the business function as well as a comprehensive integrated talent management system. Many HR departments lack the talent, capability or resources to respond.

Poor retention is a manifestation of HR’s problem.

“They really struggle because they don’t do a very good job of helping the functions understand the career pathing of individuals,” Osle said. “It’s more than just compensation. Where you lose your top talent, it’s because the organization does not do a very good job of helping the individual understand what their career path looks like.”

Know Your Audience
While filling the HR talent gap identified in the report requires a long-term solution, there are a few fundamental things HR can do in the short term. The first is to look at each function — such as IT, finance or marketing — and understand its distinct needs.

“For instance, if I’m supporting the operations side of the house, there are some leadership competencies and skill sets that cut across the entire company and the organization, but there are some skill sets and competencies that are specific to the function,” Osle said. “One of the basic things HR can do is help the organization understand what are the leadership competencies and what are the function-specific competencies that are needed across the organization.”

That understanding and tailored competency are the basis for other talent management functions such as performance management, employee development and career pathing. “In the short run, that’s something that can be easily done, easily addressed and that creates the foundation for everything else,” Osle said.

HR also needs to think with a marketer’s mind. “Help each one of the functions understand what services you do provide and what services you’re capable of providing,” Osle said. “First and foremost, understand your strategic plan and promote that within the businesses. It’s OK to say you don’t have these services today. It’s even better to say, ‘I don’t have the services today but I will have them tomorrow and this is what the plan is.’”

As business leaders’ expectations for HR service change, and dissatisfaction rises in the short term, it also bears remembering that HR has a responsibility to educate business leaders about the critical role they play in talent management.

“It’s realizing that HR can’t do this by themselves,” Janssen said. “You as a business need to be stepping up and partner with them in the equation. If you expect HR to do it for you, it’s not going to happen. You’ve got to be there as the role model.”

Mike Prokopeak is vice president and editorial director of Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at