Taleo versus SuccessFactors

At the end of 2009, Bersin did a great analysis of the two organizations that I can’t really beat.  It’s a nice objective and score by score view of the vendors that is based in good factual data, and I’m going to take a different approach, but you should read Bersin’s post first.  From my point of view, the discussion of the two vendors is quite simple, and the decision around to who has the advantage is also quite clear.

Let’s start with their roots.  It’s quite clear that Taleo is based on recruiting roots while SuccessFactors has the Talent Management side.  Both have ventured into each other’s strong suite, with Taleo having an incredible launch into performance a couple of years ago.  However, as time has gone on and the market has assessed the product, it may actually have been too much innovation for the average HR department to adopt and absorb.  I still think it’s one of the coolest products out there, but the change may have been too radical or restrictive.  Traditional performance vendors that were more flexible in allowing people to stick with processes that were somewhat similar to their current states might have been more comfortable during the selection process.  While we all say we want drastic change, when functional HR people really get down to business, I’m not sure it’s true.

SuccessFactors on the other hand has been reaching into recruiting.  Their first couple of sales came in 2009 and the product is in its infancy.  What Taleo has spent a decade developing, SuccessFactors has been at for a few short months and the product shows its weaknesses.  At the same time, Taleo’s recruiting product shows the immense configurability and options that the market wants, but does not get with the Taleo Performance module – sort of a contradiction.  SFSF’s Talent side gives the depth and maturity that simply isn’t there on the SFSF recruiting end.

Next, looking at their market presence, you decide who has the advantage.  While Bersin points out that SuccessFactors is in every RFP for Talent Management, Taleo is also in every RFP for Talent Acquisition.  This is not scientific at all, but I’m going to say that SuccessFactors has the advantage here.  My argument is that recruiting is not so much more complex than performance, compensation, succession, mobility, etc, and that Taleo has much more to build.  I’m also going to say that traditional recruiting is much more of a commodity, and that the Talent Management side is often seen as more of a business transaction.  Recruiting does not come out of commoditization until you get to mobility strategy, and that is generally a TM function than TA (granted cross functionality).  Its generally going to be easier for SFSF to build TA than for Taleo to improve the TM functions.

Lastly, looking at leading the market segments they specialize in, I’m going to say that Taleo has a pretty healthy lead in the TA market, and while SFSF is omnipresent, they don’t have quite the dominance simply due to the larger number of players.  Still, I think overall I’m looking at SFSF to be positioned better in the remainder of 2010 as the economy picks up steam and budgets continue to return.

HR Leadership Selection

I’ve been talking lately about how individual contributors are not always the best leadersHere, Jeff Hunter talks about why sometimes the individual contributor can become a great executive, and some of the problems they must overcome to get there.

A Vice President of HR may be expected to have a great eye for talent, the capability to negotiate complex contracts, the analytical ability to assemble complex compensation structures and the knack for coaching CEOs to greatness. Everyone takes for granted that as one climbs the ladder that they have demonstrated proficiencies in an ever greater number of areas. HR writes job descriptions, selects talent, manages performance and compensates people based on this deeply held assumption.

Imagine an HR leader who has just one competency: coaching. Whenever a search firm is looking for talent, they always land on this person, because they have been a long-time leaders at a very successful company. And yet, as the firm digs into the individual’s back story, they hear a long string of complaints: doesn’t understand compensation, bad manager, doesn’t understand technology, etc. We know where this story ends: the search firm passes the individual over and heads to the vertically integrated example of “executiveness.”

HR’s obsession should be creative productivity: increasing the creative commercialization opportunity of their talent investments.  ((Hunter, Jeff, October 17, 2009.  “John Lennon’s, The Future Of HR and Talent Camp.”  Retrieved from http://www.talentism.com on December 28, 2009.))

I think Jeff is absolutely right.  We often think that we have to groom people and give them lots of experiences to be ready for leadership positions.  We’re adding to the idea of competencies and saying that additional strategic talent attributes are how many divisions someone has worked in, and if a person has and 2+ international assignments.

One of my first consulting gigs was with an organization where the EVP of HR didn’t really have an active hand in HR.  He had his group of 3 VP’s of HR who managed the day to day business.  Instead, this EVP was the executive coach to the CEO who wanted to turn this midsized company (7k employees) into a large company, and wanted to be the type of CEO who could grow and scale with it.  I’ve also seen EVP’s of HR where the core competency has nothing to do with compensation or talent, but is all about their ability to sit at the integration table during acquisition planning.

However, when we go out and look for senior HR executives, we stand by the old tried and true methods of someone who gets total compensation and talent.  Succession plans still go out and make people well rounded and provide lots of broad experience.  We don’t look at what the needs of the business really are, and decide if there are very focused areas of competency that need to be enhanced for the specific role in the organization.

The problem I think is simple.  Our senior HR positions are not written at a job description level in a way that reflects the reality of what the C-suite wants and expects from the person.  There is a job role that the incumbent will never execute upon because those jobs are really farmed out to the next level of HR management.  Instead, the C-suite wants an active participant.  Not somebody who can sit around and talk about HR, but someone who can talk about the business.  This does not always come from broad HR experience in multiple HR functions, in multiple corporate divisions, from several international assignments.  If you need an acquisition specialist, then you need someone who has gone through the acquisitions.  If you need a coach, then perhaps you need to go outside and find someone who has been through a high growth cycle with another organization.  Whatever it is, your senior roles need to reflect reality, not the standard job description that is in a random salary survey.

Defining Mobility

Talent is actually pretty tricky.  We seem not only to have problems defining talent and talent application components, but we seem to not know what some of those components even are.  I’m no making sense yet?  As anyone what are the components of a talent suite and you’ll get different answers – even though we’ve been buying and selling talent applications for years now.  Performance, compensation, succession, talent acquisition…   All of these are wonderful, tactical, and transactional processes.  But talent strategies were supposed to bring us to a “seat at the table” but all of these components that people naturally associate with talent are just the core activities behind the strategy.

I think that most people are not actually getting to understanding and executing on the realities of the strategy yet, but hopefully we’ll be there in the next few years.  Certainly there is an increasing surge of corporate thinking around this, and one of the first things that HR is talking about is mobility.  Unfortunately, we don’t really know what all this is yet – and many people erroneously think it’s just around moving people around.  Well, actually, it kind of is about moving people around.

When I think about mobility, I start thinking about employee career plans, and performance plans, and succession plans.  These are all just components of data on the employee record, but they are all linked to employee development and learning.  They identify where employees want to go, but conversely where corporations what their employees to go.  Not only are employees planning for themselves in career paths, but we are also planning for them in succession plans.  Everyone in contributing in multiple directions to identify possible growth scenarios for each individual employee.

At some point, there is an actual event.  Some business unit needs a new GM, or a new organization/store/plant is opening somewhere and we need to fill it with leaders.  This is where mobility comes to the front of the talent process.  Where the transactional processes that occur within the traditional talent application modules stop, talent mobility takes over as an execution arm to actually move people into the previously theoretical development opportunities.  Talent mobility is where the rubber meets the road.  If you don’t have a mobility strategy and process, all of your development plans, succession processes and performance transactions are for naught.  In the end, if you didn’t do anything but post a requisition and hire someone from outside because you didn’t have the visibility in talent to run cross functional queries around internal needs and fit skills to requirements, you completely failed in your talent practice.

HR talent applications are great.  But as with core HR applications, they help us store data and execute transactions on data.  They don’t replace the inner workings of making strategy come to life.  Operational staffing plans and projections don’t always link up to HR’s position management or talent acquisition’s forecasts.  We need our own tools to integrate with talent suites and keep us on the path to realizing the practice of talent’s full potential.