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New Potential in Reach for Succession Technology

September 2, 2010
Related Topics: Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Policies and Procedures, Retention, Featured Article

In a recent blog post, HR software analyst Jim Holincheck explored what succession planning might look like once technologies such as social networking and talent management software have merged.

Holincheck, an analyst with the research firm Gartner Inc., imagines a hypothetical supervisor at an investment bank hosting a virtual meeting to review talent. Looking at a chart of the relative retention risk of high-potential employees, the supervisor and her team drill down into the case of “Justin,” who seems antsy for a promotion. The bank’s talent management software indicates Justin may be a good fit for a new opening in the Middle East, in part because the system notices from Justin’s social networking activity that he has been taking Arabic lessons.

This scenario, in effect, captures the Holy Grail of talent management software: matching the right people at the right time with the right job. But how close do current HR software products come to Holincheck’s hypothetical case?

While much of the technology outlined in the post is available today, a collaborative decision-making environment integrated with succession management is not, Holincheck says. “I did not write the scenario with specific existing solutions in mind.” 

Lisa Rowan, an analyst at the research firm IDC, agrees that while certain technology envisioned in Holincheck’s scenario is not currently available, most of what Holincheck describes does exist today.

“Being able to look at the high performers versus the medium and low performers and integrating flight risk and so forth, those kinds of things are pretty readily available,” Rowan says.

Vendors, too, agree that the technology is approaching the sophistication Holincheck describes. Steve Bonadio, vice president of product marketing for Softscape Inc., says his firm’s succession planning product does more than the traditional replacement planning: It identifies and tracks high-performing employees and enables executives to create development plans to help prepare select employees for critical positions.

“It ensures that there is an adequate pool of candidates on the bench so that if someone does depart there is adequate representation and the company can move on without skipping a beat,” he says.

While some products possess limited social networking capabilities, analysts and vendors agree that pulling information from external networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn is risky because of the potential for inaccurate information making its way into an employee’s company profile.

In the end, however, no technology can replace the human element in succession planning.

Claire Schooley, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc., sees good products coming out of companies like Halogen Software Inc., SuccessFactors Inc. and Oracle Corp., but says succession planning software is only as sound as the information it contains. Even the best product cannot replace the hard work that goes into creating high-quality talent profiles. These, she said, can be generated only with thoughtful planning and diligent data collection.

For example, if a company plans to expand internationally, profiles should contain information on employees’ willingness to relocate and languages spoken.

“The technology is not going to do everything for you,” Schooley says. “You have got to do the work of getting [the information] in place.”

Workforce Management, August 2010, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!

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