Why Talent Management Metrics Suck
Mark Vickers | i4cp
June 03, 2010
I know he stole it from the great Peter Drucker, but for years now I’ve heard this constant refrain from my boss: “What gets measured, gets managed.” I always want to respond, “Stop already! I get it! I got it the first thousands times, too!”
The crazy part is that sometimes I still ignore that advice. Managing people is, after all, about much more than metrics, and you can’t reliably measure everything that’s important. What’s more, you don’t want to become one of those soulless, number-crunching automatons for whom numbers are all that matter. At the same time, I also believe that managers responsible for talent who ignore all metrics do so at their own (and their organization’s) peril. And now I, appropriately enough, have the numbers to prove it.
First, let’s state what most enlightened managers already know and what various previous i4cp studies have demonstrated: Companies that are higher market performers are also more likely to say they’re good at managing talent. That is, good talent management seems to pay. Our newest study, Talent Management Measurement, corroborates this.
But is metrics a critical piece of the puzzle? To find out, we asked about firms’ “workforce measurement strategies,” which we defined as “disciplined and cohesive efforts – as opposed to ad hoc efforts – to gather and use employee-related metrics in the organization.” Sure enough, higher-performing organizations are more likely than lower performers to have metrics strategies, and those that excel at talent management are nearly twice as likely to use workforce metrics strategies to a high or very high extent.
So, yes, our study supports the notion that what gets measured (in this case, your workplace talent) gets managed more effectively.
The bad news is that, although Drucker’s wisdom has become a management truism by now, the vast majority of firms are still mediocre or worse at workforce measurement. In fact, a paltry one fifth of all our study participants said that their organizations have such a strategy to a high or very high extent. (Perhaps we should all take a moment to envision Peter Drucker sadly shaking his head at the state of talent management circa 2010.)
Bottom line: most organizations have a problem with measuring their talent, and we have some ideas for solutions to this problem. These ideas are still percolating amid the corporate practitioners participating in i4cp’s Talent Management Accelerator, which is studying best practices around this issue. i4cp’s Human Capital Management Practice Leader, Mary Ann Downey, states, “Talent management measurement isn’t exactly uncharted territory, but it hasn’t been executed very well, either. Practitioners still have an awful lot to learn from one another about what works in the real world.”
i4cp’s study of this subject is far from complete but, so far, there are some tantalizing clues about what distinguishes firms that use metrics well from their not-so-competent counterparts. One characteristic of higher performers – in terms of talent management prowess – are that they tend to focus on certain outcomes more than others, especially these four:
- Leadership success
- Robustness of talent pipeline
- Overall employee engagement
- Management satisfaction with the talent management process