Predictive Learning

In todays L&D landscape, the way businesses determine who should participate in what training isnt far away from some sort of conjuring act. More often than not, the result of this is a mixed bag, and many of the L&D professionals I speak to tell me that the L1 scores (based on the Kirkpatrick model) are more often than not tending towards the lower end of the spectrum.

There are typically two ways a business determines training participation. One is based on mandated training (usually related to promotion/growth), while the other is nomination by the business manager. Both of these are based on picking up from a ‘menu’ of available programs, and neither really takes into consideration the actual learning needs of the individual.

This is where the idea of predictive learning comes in. The idea here is simple … today, with the technology available to us, especially in the Big Data/Analytics domains, the data about what has worked in the past in what context is available to the organization in a large scale. This data is available based on training, HR, and operations/business data. This rich data can be leveraged to determine what is the best training solution which would likely work in a particular employee context. Like Big Data, this neednt look at the reason (or connection) between cause and effect, rather, look at the linkages as they have been seen in the past.

An important aspect of this picture is that this shifts the focus from training and learning, and from L&D to the individual learner, and makes the entire process people-centric.

One concern with this, though, could be that the outcome of the requirements could be way too granular, and too tailored to individual needs, so as to be unviable from the delivery perspective. More about this later …

Technology & Performance Management

I am these days reading a book about Big Data, and going through some of the applications of the technology, I was thinking about some of the ways Big Data can be applied in people matters. I tried to google about usage of Big Data for Performance Management, and didnt quite find much (or maybe thats because the search terms show results for application performance management). One aspect of using technology in HR, I feel, is in the realm of Performance Management.

Today, appraisals are done in an objective manner, with ratings which try to capture achivements and performance. However, as we know, these are a sort of force-fit. What does a rating of “Exceeds Expectation” mean? Does this mean, for instance, that performance is high, or does this mean that expectations are low? Somehow, this seems to be like fitting a square peg in a round hole, or a round peg in a square hole, if you prefer it that way.

An alternative to this could be the usage of technologies like Big Data to handle this. To begin with, managers could have the option of writing their observations, along with specific examples or scenarios as part of the appraisal process. This kind of input gives us rich information about people performance. Instead of trying to fit performance into a quantitative scale, this has the possibility of giving us qualitative inputs into performance.

Add to this the fact that plenty of business-related data is available from finance, sales, and operations, and we have immense data, both quantitative and qualitative, with which to work. Using this data as the starting point, Big Data technologies could be used to build correlation between manager comments and business performance, and deriving employee performance based on this correlation. This has the benefit of giving a descriptive picture of performance, one which describes achievements in a more meaningful way which can be used to drive talent processes.

Theres much more that Big Data can be used for, as this post by @josh_bersin describes.

TM & SCM – Contd

Continuing from this post, I was thinking about more details about this parallel between Talent Management and Supply Chain Management. The first principle, from which I am trying to derive things here is that in both cases, there is a demand (in one case for talent, and in the other case for products), which needs to be met, and frameworks or processes put into place to match supply with demand. With products, the source of demand is simple to visualize. Not so with talent. So lets begin by taking a look at that.

The need of strategies, processes, and practices in the organization is to meet the business vision of the organization. To meet this vision, some work needs to be done by some people, and therefore, there is a need for people, equipped with the talent to do this work. So, the demand for talent arises from the work to be done to meet the strategic goals of the organization. Add to this the fact that there is specific talent available within the organization, and from there, its a question of trying to match available talent to the demand for talent, and based on this, determine what talent is required (in which area) to meet this demand. The supply of demand comes from employees, contractors, applicants, and L&D. I say L&D because learning is one way for creating talent supply to meet the talent needs of the organization.

Having said this, the basic concept which is the core for SCM is the concept of the part number. This is the unique identifier which tells anyone across the supply chain which specific material or product is being talked about. There needs to be a concept similar to this, something which uniquely identifies the attributes of the talent required (somewhat like part number which uniquely identifies the specifications of the material being spoken about). Different organizations meet this requirement in different ways. As you will read here, IBM solved this with the concept of JRSS, the Job Role Skill-Set, which is a composite of the job role, the role that an individual performs, and the skill sets that the individual has. This is the common identifier which can uniquely define what talent is being spoken of in the talent planning process.


A discussion I was having the other day got me to think about how Talent Management is based on principles which are analogous to other functions. And this brought me to the idea of the similarity between Talent Management and Supply Chain Management, in terms of principles. If we look at the essence of Talent Management to be about bringing the right people to the right roles at the right time, then we can, from there, start looking at the essence being to match the demand for talent with available supply, and building supply pipelines where there is a shortfall.

To begin with, one of the major conconers for organizations is uncertainty. If things were fairly certain, then there wouldnt be much to be gained by trying to manage talent, because things would be running pretty much the way they are running. The sources of uncertainty are many, but thats for another time. This uncertainty results in the need to identify, based on the organization strategy, and operating plans for the coming years, what the organization’s talent requirement is going to be. Given uncertainty, there is also the need to identify how good this estimate is. This is analogous to demand planning, where the need is to estimate how much demand the organization would need for which products, and the amount of uncertainty (sometimes measured in terms of probability) associated with that demand. Based on this estimate, one can arrive at the talent required to meet the strategic and operational plans.

With this forecast as the baseline, one can then look at the talent existing in the system. This may be the talent pool which is ready for the roles for which they are required. This is akin to the gross-to-net calculation which is common in all material planning (MRP) systems. At the same time, one also needs to try to identify how many people the organization wants to, or can, develop from within, to meet these talent requirements, and from here, derive what the hiring plan looks like. This is quite akin to make-or-buy decisions material planners regularly have to make, keeping in mind available resources to make. At the same time, this serves as the input to defining Development Plans, which is akin to creating Work Orders to meet the build requirements.

Traditional succession planning is about identifying which individual should be doing what role some period down the line, but this is problematic, given that after that period of time, either the person may not be with the organization, or the role envisaged may not be part of the role directory of the organization. So, instead of looking at an individual job and a particular person, one can look at a job family to be fulfilled by a talent pool. This is analogous to product-family or product-category level planning, because forecasting, and therefore planning at the aggregate level is more accurate.

HR Change Agenda

Over the last few days, two pieces have appeared in HBR, about the change agenda for HR. One is written by Ram Charan, which talks about splitting HR, while the other, written by Cathy Benko and Erica Volini, about what it will take to fix HR. At the most fundamental level, both these pieces acknowledge the fact that there is a problem with the HR function in the organization. And since they agree on that, they also agree that something needs to be done about it. And thats where, more or less, they move in different directions, as you would see from the blogs.

Lets step back, and take a look at some of the reasons why these problems are there, coming from the perspective of HR practitioners. The first aspect we need to understand is that in today’s world of business, with a steady level of complexity, and increasing levels of disruptive changes, HR managers need to understand details of the business, both internal and external to the organization. Only then can HR managers play a meaningful role in defining organization strategy. In other words, HR managers need to be at the confluence of business management, and people management. However, most of the HR practitioners I talk to are nowhere close to this point. Most HR practitioners are generalists, and not SMEs when it comes to business operations. This means that they need to take guidance from business managers, and formulate practices based on this guidance.

Because that might sound a bit abstract, let me take an example. Lets say a business manager decides that there are some skills lacking in his team. The manager would reach out to the L&D team, tell them what type of training is required, and the L&D team would search through a catalogue, identify the training, and execute the logistics to deliver the training. The L&D team, in this example, has no understanding of the reason for the training requirement, the objective that is to be met, or the outcomes that should come out of the training for participants. In this scenario, the team is essentially fulfilling requirements, rather than giving strategic inputs into the forecasting of medium- to long-term training needs, how these would help address business objectives, and address employee development.

To summarize, it is at the intersection of business and people management that there is a gap, and filling this gap is the need which needs to be addressed. To address this, we need people who have a sound understanding of the complexity and challenges of business, and how people practices can help to address those challenges and meeting that complexity. Whether this is to be achieved by splitting the HR function, I dont know, though the debate throws up more questions than just that. It raises the point that I am talking about here … that in stead of HR practitioners only taking guidance and fulfilling requirement, HR practitioners need to be in a place where they can add strategic value, and that this requires a change in the way HR managers look at the intersection of business management and people management.

Humility & Leadership

This one is something probably a lot of folks wont agree with. Something that sounds logical, and yet, something which is quite contrary to the popular picture we have built today. The idea that humility is a greater gift for leaders than arrogance is. Something I have read, and thought about before, and something which came up again in this article. The popular picture seems to equate arrogance with getting things done, and somehow, the assumption seems to be that leaders who are more humble dont command respect, that people dont look up to them. This, in my experience, isnt true, though we still hold on to this notion in spite of many case studies, personal experiences, and plenty of research.

The importance of humility is underlined by the business environment we are operating in. In the past, when business environment and markets were more static, leadership wasnt too complex a subject, but today, as forces working on a business, both external and internal, strategic or structural are far more diverse, the information and skills required by a leader to understand, assimilate, analyze, and act upon these is humungous. Its just not possible for many people to be able to do this, and that too, in double quick time. This is why, a leader needs the ability to be able to let go, so to say. To summarize, a leader needs to:

  • Understand that they dont necessarily have to understand all the dynamics and analyze their impact on the business.
  • Be able to accept that they need to rely on the advice of experts who are far more capable of handling these.
  • Build a team of capable, motivated people to support the decision-making.
  • Listen to the advice of these experts, even if the leader doesnt like it.
  • Learn to accept advice, and act upon it, while at the same time taking ownership of the advice.

All of this requires tremendous humility, as this requires the leader to accept their limitations, and to listen to, appreciate, and accept viewpoints of others. This also requires leaders to understand the importance of continuous learning, which is an important ingredient to continuous improvement. Most importantly, this requires the leader to let go some influence. All of these require humility in large doses.


Over a period of time, the concept of Talent Management has become a hot topic in HR circles, and many people are talking about the idea. However, I dont quite know any two sources which give the same definition of Talent Management. A number of things I have read include:

  • Talent Management is strategic while HR is transactional
  • Talent Management is about retaining high-flyers while HR is for lesser mortals
  • Talent Management is about managing skills while HR is about managing the policies related to people
  • Talent Management is old wine in new bottles
  • Its a term coined by clever management consultants to make a quick buck (no I havent read that but thats always a pet theory of quite a few people, isnt it?)

Are these true? I dont quite think so. To some extent, I feel Talent Management is the natural progression from the HR philosophy. Essentially, I feel the difference between HR and TM are more to do with how the organization looks at its main asset … people! In the earlier, HR world, people were one of the factors of production, and of creating value for the organization in a sort of undistinguished way, somewhat (though this is not exactly an accurate parallel, but just to create an illustration) like one machine is interchangeable with another machine, and none the wiser.

TM is based on the understanding that each individual is a distinct one, and each one has a distinct personality, a particular set of talents and skills, aspirations and potential which is unique to each one, and so, need to be treated iondividually. This means that the growth needs, based on their aspirations, would be different for different people, which means that development plans, both in terms of skills development and individual growth in the organization need to be tailored to the individual needs of the particular person. And this, I feel, is the primary difference between TM and HR.