The Killer App for Managing Talent

“The most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or nonbusiness, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.” – Peter Drucker, “Management Challenges for the 21st Century”

“The most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or nonbusiness, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.” – Peter Drucker, “Management Challenges for the 21st Century”

What Peter Drucker suggests in his oft-quoted book is to create smarter organizations by hiring the right people, giving them the training they need and providing them with avenues for sharing their knowledge so it benefits the entire organization. As applications are designed to work together to provide an integrated solution, it’s time for chief learning officers and top executives to start talking about this as a strategic issue.

You can think of this integrated approach as the place where three branches of a river come together. The first branch represents learning and the technology used to deliver and track training. The second represents elements of human resources including workforce planning, recruiting, resume filtering, career planning and performance management. The third branch is knowledge management and the software that allows workers to call up “knowledge pieces” (a white paper, a business plan, PowerPoint slides) from a data repository.

When these activities aren’t coordinated:

  • Organizations end up spending on overlapping and fragmented “point solutions” that don’t work together or share a common database.
  • Organizations may end up hiring people who cannot meet their future needs.
  • Training managers may not know which skills people will need to meet long-term goals.
  • Trainers risk training employees on topics that are no longer relevant.
  • Knowledge management initiatives may not provide information that supports training initiatives.

Blending the three areas avoids the problem of separate departments or separate initiatives that only serve the interests of one branch. The power of this approach comes from integrating those functions. For this integrated approach to become a reality, however, software vendors will have to build systems that bring all of these functions together.

When you look at the history of new enterprise systems such as CRM or HRIS, each category emerged during an economic upturn. CRM provider Siebel Systems, for example, was founded in 1993 when the country was climbing out of a recession. So don’t expect any significant action with human capital management (HCM) until late 2003 or 2004.

Some software companies are starting to build pieces of HCM into offerings. On the human resources and knowledge management side:

  • PeopleSoft has an HCM product that combines human resources, incentive management, learning and performance indicators.
  • Siebel introduced the Siebel 7 system, which has human resources and training components in addition to CRM capabilities.
  • IBM Lotus, with its Mindspan Solution, offers collaboration software, virtual classroom and instant messaging, which can supplement training and knowledge management.

On the e-learning side:

  • Generation21’s LMS is geared toward identifying and capturing work processes. Even though it emerged as an LMS, it is branded as “Total Knowledge Management.”
  • Vuepoint’s learning management system emphasizes “knowledge creation,” or learning that’s based on internal proprietary content.
  • Saba began including “performance management” in its model.

It will be some time before a vendor effectively pulls together an entire HCM software suite. Until that day comes, you can take the lead in creating an HCM orientation in your organization. Accelerate discussions with the people who head your human resources and knowledge management initiatives. Build elements of HCM into your learning strategy. Talk to training vendors about their plans for including human resource and knowledge management functions. And educate your top executives about the need to pull these efforts together.

Brandon Hall, Ph.D., is CEO of, a research and advisory firm in Sunnyvale, Calif. He is known for his benchmark studies and e-learning software comparison reports that help organizations develop their learning strategy. He can be reached at Additional research for this column was provided by Kim Kiser, senior editor with