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Talent Management in the Social Networking Age

by David Ludlow | SAPinsider

January 1, 2012

Social networking is changing how employees want to interact in the workplace. With so many ways to represent themselves on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, employees want more control of their personal brand in the office as well. Looking at how HR-related business applications will need to change to meet employees' evolving expectations, this article explores the three core concepts behind a next-generation talent management solution.

A new way of working is emerging rapidly in the enterprise, fueled by instant access to information on mobile devices and ongoing information-sharing through social networking. The prevalence of social networking and collaboration systems outside the workplace is changing how individuals, regardless of their age, expect to interact with technology and colleagues on the job. HR-related business applications will need to change to meet these evolving expectations.

In recent surveys of employees from various companies, SAP found a striking similarity between user expectations of HR-related applications and those from social networking. We heard sentiments such as "I like people to recognize my contributions," "I need a work environment that fosters my professional development," and "Collaborating with my network of colleagues helps me get my job done."

Employees told us that they no longer consider an annual review adequate to accurately gauge their performance; they crave more frequent feedback, including recognition for their contributions and accomplishments, from both managers and peers. Employees also want to collaborate and network with their colleagues as easily as they do with friends on Facebook.

All of this is good for business because it indicates that employees are more engaged in their work. Unfortunately, many of the HR systems in place at companies don't support this model. The existing systems are more focused on enforcing HR processes rather than supporting people in how they want to work. As a result, the HR organization is often seen as administrative and an enforcer of tedious rules and not as an enabler of employee engagement and business success.

SAP has established three core concepts that next-generation HR solutions should focus on to address the current needs of the HR organization and give employees more control over the management of their performance (see sidebar). HR solutions should:

  • Be people-centric, not process-centric or role-centric
  • Emphasize networking and collaboration between workers in the context of their performance and goals, rather than function as a static warehouse of employee information
  • Provide insight for everyone, including employees, managers, and HR

Leveraging these core concepts will provide next-generation talent management that will help companies empower and engage their employees and increase the efficiency of their workforce for optimal performance.

Let the Feedback Fly

In our recent surveys, we found that the biggest disconnect between what employees want and what employers are delivering involved feedback on performance. Employees want clear objectives that map well to their daily duties, and they want frequent feedback on how they are performing against those objectives. Many employees set goals with their managers at the start of the year and don't revisit them until months later when the employee and manager may not recollect the motives for those goals — but that is changing.

In fact, it's not just managers they seek input from. Just as they do on Facebook or LinkedIn, employees want frequent input from their co-workers and peers about their tasks and projects. They see success being judged horizontally as well as vertically in today's interconnected environment. In the interviews SAP conducted, workers said that they need to know whether they are doing the right thing sooner rather than later.

The next generation of talent management solutions should allow users — all people within a company — to create their own profile within the HR system, rather than having an HR representative create it. That profile may include work history, details from a user's LinkedIn page, or other more company-specific information. With a profile in place, an employee would be able to work with his manager to set and load objectives into the HR system and even make them visible to other internal users for comment and feedback.

For example, imagine that an employee recently took a course to develop a core skill to help him grow professionally and meet an identified objective. The employee could post this information on his profile and his co-worker could then comment that she thinks the course would be useful in achieving that objective, or she could suggest another course that might help. More senior employees could provide insight or mentoring advice to junior workers in this format, and the employee's manager could also offer thoughts on the course.

It's an informal but easy and direct method for the manager and employee to have an ongoing dialogue about the employee's path and objectives, and it would all be captured within the central talent management system. Think of it as "mentoring 2.0." That level of attention and feedback can create more engaged and smarter employees who better understand how their daily work relates to their big-picture goals and who continue to learn along the way. This type of solution would enable collaboration at the core of their work and also within the context of their goals.

At a higher level, members of the HR organization should also be able to see that employees are receiving feedback from managers and peers. A top priority for HR is gaining deeper insight into what individual employees do and where their strengths lie, so by monitoring employees' progress in this way, HR can provide more appropriate career and development opportunities. This is not possible when these performance-related discussions take place behind closed doors or even around the water cooler.

Familiar Feel Fuels Adoption

In developing these core concepts for a next-generation talent management solution, SAP worked closely with customer co-innovation partners of varying sizes. One message that came through loud and clear from those customers was that users would rather access an application that looks, feels, and functions more like a social networking site than an enterprise application.

Specifically, users want to be able to choose which information they make public and which information they only want to share with their manager. By creating their own profile and sharing only the information they select, the employees would be able to build their own personal brand within the company, just as they can on their personal social networking pages.

Workplace Networking

The combination of the user-created profile, the sharing of personal objectives, and the collaboration both at the core of and in context with an employee's goals and performance is the cornerstone of next-generation talent management solutions. These solutions will let employees work collaboratively and learn from each other, all in a single application, and will lead HR away from systems that are focused on storing static data and providing insight primarily to HR or managers.


David Ludlow ( is Vice President of Solution Management, focusing on the global human capital management (HCM) solution strategy and direction for SAP. He leads the team responsible for determining the future strategy of the SAP solutions portfolio that enables organizations to attract top talent and manage a borderless global workforce. David has been with SAP for over 10 years and has more than 20 years of experience in the HR/HCM solutions space, holding various positions in product management, product marketing, and product strategy. He has a degree in business administration from California State University, Chico.

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