talent management

Talent Management Is Dead; Long Live Employee Experience

Human resources is having a moment.

OK, let’s be honest. HR has been having a moment for a while now. Not a good moment, per se, but not a bad one either. It’s undergoing some pretty big changes. It’s no longer busy only pushing papers and filing promotions; it’s also being asked to do more work. Bigger work.

Talent Management Is Dead

The war for talent created an atmosphere of competition. It’s no longer enough to simply staff your organization. Talented people know their value and want a bigger buy-in. They don’t just want a job — they want to be sought after. They want a place to grow and learn. They want work-life balance. They want to be a part of something bigger than their job title.

And who could blame them?

So as the story goes, staffing became recruiting, recruiting became talent acquisition and talent acquisition became talent management. And everyone became obsessed with engagement. For better or worse, the power has shifted. It’s no longer candidates scrambling to get jobs, but organizations pulling out all the stops to keep their top performers and to recruit the “pink unicorns.”

Deloitte research has found that these days “companies are increasingly judged as social enterprises — entities whose mission should combine revenue growth and profit making with the need to respect and support their environment and stakeholder networks.”

Organizations know people don’t want to be managed, much less referred to as “talent.” It’s also clear they don’t want to be treated as “capital.” But what are people looking for? In a word: More. Talented people are now looking to join a company, not just take a job. They’re interested in more than money and perks; they want the chance to do meaningful work, to become their best and be a part of something.

They are looking for an experience.

Experiences Are Better Than Things

The “experience economy” is the shift from an economy based on consuming services or owning things to an economy powered by investment in experiences. The argument is that businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself — “the experience” — becomes the product.

This shift first took place in the marketplace with millenials. Ticketing company Eventbrite’s nationwide research indicates that “three out of four millennials would rather spend their money on an experience than buy something desirable.” And millennials now make up one-third of the U.S. population.

Experiences Aren’t Just a Marketplace Trend

The new wave of sought-after talent isn’t only interested in buying experiences; they want experiences in their places of work too. For companies this means bringing the same thoughtful attention to the employee journey that’s given to the customer journey. It means designing meaning at every level and touchpoint of life at work.

“Millennials today have completely different expectations. They are OK with less perks. … You treat them well, they stay. You don’t treat them well and pay them well, they will wave you goodbye,“ says Jim Viaz, assistant manager of human resources at the global food and beverage company Mondelēz International.

With the stakes so high, it begs certain questions: What does treating people well look like? How do we build moments of meaning into the employee lifecycle? How do we create communities of authenticity and transparency? And what’s standing in the way of all of this?

Employee Experience Isn’t Easy, But It Is Simple

These are big questions for anyone, let alone a department that has seen so many changes that most of the time it’s just trying to keep up. But the answers to these questions are also surprisingly simple.

Katrina Kibben, founder and CEO of Three Ears Media, breaks it down nicely: “Better managers equals better experience. Better work, better pay transparency, better talent. It all adds up. Somewhere along the way we got it all wrong, thinking we could buy pingpong tables and make an experience.”

“Managers” implies “leadership,” and leadership exists across an organization. That is to say, creating an experience isn’t an HR program. It’s not some magic trick you can perform that will transform an organization into a place where people want to be. And it’s not about values on a wall either. It’s about leaders modeling the behaviors they want to see and creating a culture and a community people want to call home.

“Culture doesn’t come from HR,” says Sarah Morgan, an HR professional and founder of the blog The Buzz on HR. “Culture comes from leadership at all levels. No matter the size of the organization, HR programming cannot overcome leadership that isn’t committed to positive contributions, fairness and development.”

Are Companies Willing to Go the Distance?

Employee experience isn’t rocket science.

Janine Truitt, chief innovations officer for Talent Think Innovations, says it could be a simple fix if companies “paid closer attention to the needs of their employees instead of force-feeding culture, values and environments that aren’t conducive to the success of all people.”

In other words, things change when organizations put their money where their mouth is, when they trade in pingpong tables and kombucha for honesty and transparency, when they choose to acknowledge that HR has more than a branding or PR problem, when they come to see that HR doesn’t have a problem at all.

HR has an opportunity.

As Truitt says, “We must seek to understand the pitfalls and barriers that exist for various groups of people and actively create an assimilation process — an experience — that makes employees of all kinds feel included, valued and empowered to come as they are.”

Come as you are. What could be a more inspiring battle cry?

Long live employee experience.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2015, and substantially updated in September 2018.