Kickstart HR

If you’re reading this column, chances are you survived your company’s annual budgeting process. Congratulations.

I’m certain it wasn’t easy — no budget process in this volatile climate is — and given the lumps you may have taken in the negotiations on dollars and cents, the last thing you likely want to hear about is funding.

But would you be interested if there were an alternative approach to fund your talent management programs that didn’t involve the relentless back and forth of traditional budgeting? What if there was a way to take funding power out of the hands of sometimes-distant executives and put it into the hands of those who care about and directly benefit from it?

Take a look at the online funding platform Kickstarter. The site, launched in April 2009, connects artists, photographers, authors, musicians, designers and filmmakers with investors willing to back their projects. Since its launch, 2.5 million investors have pledged more than $350 million to more than 30,000 projects.

In the past, a musician, designer or filmmaker had two ways to fund their work: either find an established player such as a record label, film studio or deep-pocketed angel investor to front the cash or go it alone and rack up crippling debt while eking out a meager living in the hope of making it big.

What makes Kickstarter successful — and so different — is that it removes the middle man — and it literally is sometimes just one single man with the power to decide — and replaces him with a crowd of passionate small investors.

The results have been astounding. A movie producer used the site to raise more than $400,000 for “Anomalisa,” a new animated movie written by Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter best known for such offbeat moves as “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” In May, Boston-based musician Amanda Palmer way overshot her initial goal of $100,000 by nearly $1.2 million to fund her band’s new album and tour.

But that pales in comparison to the staggering $10.2 million raised in just more than one month by California-based Pebble Technology to produce a wristwatch that syncs up with your smartphone to access apps, download and change watch faces, control your music and alert you to incoming calls, emails and messages.

The Kickstarter approach is intriguing for talent management for a number of reasons. First, it’s simply another viable funding route. That’s a good thing in a do-more-with-less environment.

Budgets remain tight and lingering economic and fiscal uncertainty mean operating margins are razor thin. Instead of depending on corporate funding for a targeted recruiting effort or an interesting new but untested technology, talent managers can go to multiple sources and ask them to front the cash directly.

But it’s not just about funding. Asking individual line leaders to dig into their operating budgets ups the stakes dramatically — and that’s a good thing. When they vote with their precious dollars, that ensures you are tightly focused on driving the results they’re looking for. Done successfully, it’s a way to build the partnerships with business leaders we always talk about and create and sustain long-term results from talent management programs in the process.

But it’s not just about alignment. By putting projects out there, you’re showing your business partners and the organization at large your team’s innovative and creative ideas. In the process, you’re also raising the profile of all the other work you do.

As talent management evolves from a tactical executor of traditional HR to a strategic enabler of organizational capability, the skillset of the talent leader needs to evolve too. You need to have the HR chops or at least the savvy to surround yourself with people who do. But you also need the kinds of executive-level skills that are not part of the traditional HR toolkit, such as idea generation, leadership vision and solid marketing and communications abilities.

You can have the most effective, efficient and innovative talent processes, but if you’re not continually making the case, then next year’s budget process won’t get any easier. Instead of a kickstart, you might need a jumpstart to get things moving again.

What are you doing to kickstart HR for the coming year? Drop me a line at I’d love to hear what you’re working on.