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Choosing a talent management system


One of the really big decisions in an HR leader’s career is choosing a new talent management system (TMS). Making that decision may seem straightforward: assess your needs, see a number of software demos, and then pick the vendor that best matches your needs. However, in my recent study on the topic I learned the road to a good decision was much more crooked, and picking the right vendor is only half the battle.

A lesson to remember

Bill Kutik is the father and co-chair emeritus of the HR Technology Conference and has been an HR technology columnist for HR Executive Magazine for 25 years. He has long been known as a curmudgeon and industry skeptic. Kutik’s single best piece of advice about selecting a TMS is this: “Technology won’t solve your HR problem.”

Now, don’t be mistaken, Kutik is a huge believer in the power of technology to make HR better. However, simply buying new technology won’t solve HR’s problems; nor is poor software the main reason why talent management systems fail to deliver. The most common reasons a TMS goes awry are:

  • Lack of clarity about HR strategy leads to implementing a system that does not deal with the issues of greatest importance to the business.

  • Poor processes mean that the software cannot efficiently deliver the results expected.

  • Lack of buy-in, due to poor implementation or poor cultural fit, leads to limited adoption of the software by end users Choosing the right technology matters, but it won’t be effective if you are not good at strategy, processes and implementation.

One of my favorite pieces of advice on selecting a talent management system comes from IHRIM board member Nov Omana. He suggests asking for a small budget to hire an expert to help map out what it will take to get the results you need from a new TMS. In other words, rather than just making your best estimate of how much work needs to be done or making the big investment in a consultant to help you through the whole process, engage an expert for a short time to be sure you get off on the right foot.

The need to be iterative

You shouldn’t see a bunch of vendor demos before you know what you want; but you might not know what you want until you’ve seen a bunch of demos. You should map out your processes before assessing software choices, however sometimes you should change your processes after you’ve picked your software so you don’t need to customize the software. You need to know your requirements in significant detail (e.g. do we handle multiple currencies); however too much focus on detail will distract you from what is really important. What does all that contradictory advice mean? It just means that you cannot always follow a tidy orderly path from requirements to selection to implementation. You need to iterate back and forth; exploring your way to the best answer rather than marching straight to it.

“After” matters as much as “before”

Vendor selection decisions usually focus on the features and cost of the software. However, my research showed that one of the factors that mattered most to HR leaders who had implemented talent management systems was after-sales support. It is easy to underestimate how much you will rely on your vendor. HR professional Shirley Birtel says that during Gentex Corporation’s TMS implementation, “I called [the vendor] so many times I lost count.” The success of the implementation came down to the vendor’s ability to respond quickly and completely.

HR leaders should zero in as much on a vendor’s record in providing truly excellent after-sales support as on the features of the software. The way to do this is to seek out other companies who have used the software, not just the references the vendor gives you. These days, with so many HR technology user groups on the web, there is no excuse for not digging up a good number of references, and to seek ones whose needs are similar to your own.

It’s a bright era for talent management software

We need to focus on what can go wrong in getting a new TMS so that we avoid painful mistakes. However, much can go right and there is good reason to believe it will go right for you. Halina Pupin, an independent specialist in HR technology implementation, said, “There is so much terrific software available now, it’s really encouraging. Even compared to just five years ago, we’ve seen fantastic strides forward.” Talent management software is ready for you, just be sure you are ready for it before you start calling vendors in for demos.

(For a copy of the report email me at


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