Do You Speak ‘Talent’ or do You Speak ‘Business’?

These days you need to speak both, argues columnist and CEO Marie Crespo.

It seems that even after ten years of trying, most talent specialists and the parts of the organization with a more directly commercial focus still really do not understand each other. That’s according to a recent article in HR magazine by Chris Roebuck, ‘Bye bye, HR business partner. Hello, HR entrepreneur’.

Professor Roebuck, who is  visiting professor of transformational leadership at Cass Business School, suggests that while the business partner model for HR has been around for at least ten years, and has improved both transactional and transformational HR delivery, it has ‘not led to improving organizational performance to the satisfaction of many CEOs’.

Why is that? In my view it’s because talent specialists and people in the organization with a more commercial focus – what is often termed ‘the business’ – tend not to speak the same language; they come from different cultures and their activity is usually measured using different metrics.

Sales leaders and many members of the C-suite – including the CEO and CFO – understand hard numbers that help interpret the commercial success of a business. HR and L&D (learning & development) tend to measure their performance in other ways: usually in relation to retention, hiring, development and compensation and benefits. Which is not to say that either side is wrong: they’re just different approaches that remain inefficient if undertaken in isolation.

Professor Roebuck advocates a focus on ‘business-driven prioritization, alignment to key objectives and delivery with clarity and simplicity’. He argues that ‘HR must take a proactive, not reactive, approach as a key part of the business, not a separate “partner”. Many insightful CEOs say this is what they need – and if HR can’t deliver, they will get someone who will.’

He is frank: ‘In reality, CEOs don’t care about HR best practice: they just want the best bottom line. HR must reflect this by thinking and delivering in an innovative business future-driven perspective, not a traditional risk-averse HR process/legacy-driven one. We must be HR entrepreneurs, not just business partners.’

I realize that I’ve been talking at length about talent-related issues in a column that is usually devoted to sales, but the two are inextricably linked. Today’s complex organizations can’t operate at peak efficiency unless all elements are tuned to function in harmony. The current trend is calling for increasing co-operation, collaboration and interoperability between different parts of a business, most obviously between sales and marketing, but also between sales, purchasing and other operational sides of the business, and between the business and the talent specialists. And this extends beyond the organization to encompass partnering between two or more companies in a bid to create value in new and exciting ways.

In these lean times, Professor Roebuck’s declaration that the ‘HR entrepreneur’s single objective is to support the maximization of organizational performance’ chimes with many of us – especially those of us interested in running effective sales organizations. In my view, driving performance, maximizing organizational efficiency, and delivering long-term sustainable revenue growth are the priorities for all of us in business right now, though different functional specialisms clearly have their own ways of contributing.

If Professor Roebuck is right – and he cites a ‘potential underperformance by most organizations of between 15% and 25%’ as a result of the misalignment between HR and the business – there are potentially huge gains in value to be derived from bridging this gap.

How will this impact the sales organization? Unless we can bridge the gap in understanding, then very little! HR and L&D specialists are justifiably very interested in tools that can help them deliver their objectives and quantify their performance. Take my own field: assessments and related diagnostics have been around for a while now.

However, the problem remains that, while many of these tools deliver in terms of talent management, they tend to operate in isolation from the rest of the business. This, in turn, encourages silos and entrenches the very inefficiencies we’re trying to eliminate.

But how much more valuable are tools that help bridge the gap in understanding between the talent specialists and the operational business? How useful would it be if everybody sitting around the boardroom table could look at the same picture – for instance a talent map of the sales organization, the commercial powerhouse of the business – and understand what the implications are in commercial terms?

The ability to see an instant snapshot of the sales organization’s performance potential, the numbers and percentages of salespeople who are high-performers, above average or below average – and exactly what it will take to drive the organization forward – is already with us. At, we’re already beta testing tools that enable clients to determine how their own sales organization compares with the global sales population, ie the general level of competition in the marketplace.

Eventually, we will also be able to translate talent data into fiscal metrics that are readily understandable by the commercial parts of the business. Then the talent specialists and the business will really be speaking the same language!

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Mar 19, 2013 - Mar 21, 2013, Barcelona, Spain

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