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What’s in a name?

Posted by Mark Bennett on February 25, 2008


Seth Godin’s idea about changing the name of “HR” to “Talent” might work best when combined with the notion of branching HR into a professional practice (“HR”) and a decision science (“Talent”.) “Talent” would focus on what Seth describes – doing “something amazing” by figuring out how to get the most out of talent. “HR” would focus on delivering the best programs for making that happen. Each is important in what it focuses on and they depend heavily on each other, This focused approach also helps address Seth’s point that a name change can end up just being spin unless you change what you do.

The idea of branching HR into a professional practice and a decision science has been getting more attention recently and more companies are beginning to adopt this approach. Mercer Human Resource Consulting published a 2006 point of view,HR Transformation v2.0: It’s all about the business” that suggested “bifurcating” HR as a way to provide better focus on both the strategic talent decision needs of the company as well as the continued needs of the company for improved programs and services. “Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital“, by John W. Boudreau and Peter Ramstad, discusses the development of a decision science for talent, evolved from the HR professional practice, with the objective of improving organizational decisions regarding talent. It draws a parallel with the development of the finance decision science from the accounting professional practice and of marketing from sales. Both finance and marketing have enabled more effective decision making, while accounting and sales continue to improve delivery of programs, measures, practices, and so on.

What’s interesting that Boudreau and Ramstad note, and relates to Seth’s (and others’) observation of what needs to change in HR, is that the development of the finance and marketing decision sciences occurred when the markets they work in started to become an increasing source of competitive advantage. Many recognize that we are now at the stage in the history of business where the talent market is becoming more the source of competitive advantage. While some can question whether a name change can help at all, Seth is correct that a name change can trigger the change in thinking required in order to focus on what needs to be done differently. That change, with the right leadership, could be best done in the context of a new Talent department that functions in synergy with the HR professional practice.

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