The Folly of Total Talent Management and the Uncertain Future of Work and Technology

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In my recent post “Total Talent Management: Chimera or Change?” I presented my latest  position on the concept of total talent management (TTM), revealing my stance as a TTM-skeptic rather than a TTM-denier. But now TTM appears to be a topic I cannot put to rest. The TTM-deniers have it much easier — they don’t have to think about it. But I do.

I did a “verbatim” Google search of the term and found fewer than a mere 10 pages of search results (the news search was even less, and the number of searches was not adequate for it to register on Google Trends).  

The first use of the term, as far as I could determine, was in 2008. But it meant HR and talent management of employees (hiring, performance, compensation, learning and development, etc.).  

The next usage was several years ago, where TTM was identified with talent acquisition and the roles of RPOs and MSPs in securing both contingent as well as permanent talent.  

A 2015 report by ERE and Staffing Industry Analysts states that “total talent management refers to an employer’s practice of routinely considering TOTAL TALENT when it comes to talent acquisition or management.” The report also states that “total talent management describes an approach whereby organizations think about talent in the broadest sense incorporating both employed and non-employed labor. In terms of how prevalent organizational use is of non-employee labor, it is both broad in the categories of labor used and, collectively, substantive.”

So back then, in 2015, we not only had an emphasis on the blending of categories of labor (permanent, contingent, alumni, etc.), but also the expansion of the concept from just talent acquisition to talent management (post-acquisition). In this context, we are probably also talking about the inclusion of already employed or engaged workers in the enterprise that can be evaluated for new job roles or engagements.  

All of this sounds very tasty — like Mom’s apple pie. The proof, however, will be found in the pudding.

My main problem with — or skepticism about — the TTM idea, as discussed today, is that it fails to take account of two important variables — time and technology. Over time, technology changes what is possible, and more of what is possible becomes actual (imagine the world before the internet over 20 years ago and where we are today). So what will happen in the world of talent engagement and management over the next 10 years? I am not hearing too many predictions. If Ray Kurzweil can predict “the singularity” occurring in 2045, surely someone can offer some predictions about what talent engagement and management will be in 2026.

I certainly have no idea of what will be going on in 2026, but most of us would agree that we are at a point in time where how we define and categorize work and work arrangements is, after decades of stasis, starting to change rapidly and unpredictably (and will do so in a kind of co-evolution with new technologies — big data, cognitive computing, etc.). So I think it is folly to believe that somehow new taxonomies of work and work arrangements are going to emerge by simply integrating workforce engagement and management frameworks and systems (the old plumbing) of today. While some solution providers, such as certain VMS players, are seeding the ground for a whole new forest by approaching talent ontologies and talent networks, this is really just the beginning of an extensive set of developments that will take time to play out and take shape. In the meantime, infrastructures will change, HR and procurement professionals will retire and new blood and brains will bring new ideas and models.

What lies ahead in 10 years — what it's really going to be — is almost impossible to imagine and is impossible to predict at this time. There's going to be enterprise talent management, but what will it be? 

Perhaps for the enterprise of future, the idea of TTM will be subsumed by something we might call dynamic talent management (DTM) — not so much an enterprise’s “stock” of rented or leased talent but rather its “flow” of the diverse capabilities and services that can be arranged and paid for by the minute, by the hour, by day, or by an output or result. I know it’s fanciful, but it’s just an alternative scenario that may stretch our minds a bit and cause us to question our latent assumptions. And as just one of many possible scenarios, it can only be regarded a possibility, not a folly.

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