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The great talent database in the sky

August 2, 2009


Many HR departments are building talent databases. BusinessWeek.com, under the catchy headline “This is Not Your Father’s HR,” recently reported that these companies, encouraged by HR software suppliers, are hoping they’ll be able to tap into those databases to fill positions at the end of the economic crisis.

My prediction, quoting Richard Dreyfus in Jaws: they’re all gonna die.

The idea of an employee database wouldn’t be a bad thing if it were a starting point for a dialogue between the person looking to fill a position and the applicant. The focus of the software should be the enabling of the dialogue, not the database. The programs on the market, however are quite literally databases where employees provide data allowing the software to characterize, analyze, and search them – but the employees themselves are passive. The article points out that “Many companies are now venturing far beyond rudimentary personality assessments with newer ‘psychometric’ testing, which measures knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and personality traits as a way to determine a candidate’s compatibility with a position.” The software does the matching: you want your employee tall, blond and handsome, so the software finds you all tall, blond and handsome candidates. Welcome to the eHarmony of business, where lonely hearts find the traits they have been seeking. And so the HR department can now claim it adds value.

But psychometric databases are not the real world. Matching an internal person with a job opportunity is a lot more subtle than matching a set of attributes with a set of aspirations. No applicant ever fits the requirements perfectly. Any filling of a position involves not only compromises but also some form of co-creation, where the person hiring inevitably changes the job itself around the unique abilities of the applicant and vice-versa. The software that will focus on engaging applicants and job providers in a co-creation dialogue is the one that will win out.

Performance management is another HR area littered with ponderous, top-down, and ultimately useless programs. At least one software company is embarking on the co-creation journey, though. The Economist, in an article entitled “The Rypple effect,” features a piece of software that allows employees to solicit feedback from a self-constructed network of peers, a kind of real-time 360-degree feedback (e.g., “Did you like my presentation today?”).


With Rypple, employees are the ones framing the performance issue. HR and management can see how their employees define success and can coach in top-down fashion as needed. The basic service is free, and a more advanced version costs $2-5 per user per month. My money is on these guys.
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