Blog Post

Today’s Choice in Talent Management: HR Generalist or HR Specialist?

Cornerstone Editors

It wasn’t that long ago, perhaps just a couple of years back, that the talent management software buyer was buried under an avalanche of choice. There were dozens of vendors to choose from – small and big companies offering bits and pieces of technology to drive learning management, performance management, recruiting and more.

Remember these companies?

No single company effectively offered the full TM suite, but because these vendors were largely independent and laser-focused on their niche, product innovation was possible and client responsiveness was high.

Back to the Future – The Market Has Completely Changed

Flash forward to 2013 and the market for talent management software has fundamentally changed. After an intense wave of mergers and acquisitions, the buyer’s choice is radically different.

The way we see it, the choice is actually rather stark: HR generalist or HR specialist. You choose.

Let’s define our terms:

  • An HR Generalist is a jack of all trades, master of none. Their core areas of business are ERP, payroll and HRIS, and if they offer talent management, it’s often as an add-on or an acquired business, not as an organically grown solution.

For the generalist, talent management software is usually an afterthought, and often bounty from their latest merger, an inherited tool the generalist doesn’t know how to develop or manage.

  • An HR Specialist focuses on one thing and one thing only: developing talent management software and services that help clients source, develop, and engage their workforces.

Talent management is all that the specialist does, so you can imagine that rates of product innovation and client responsiveness are higher than for the pulled-in-many-directions generalist.

A Clear Choice

When considering an investment in talent management software, the buyer hopefully expects to realize real benefits in terms of workforce engagement, productivity and compliance. In other words, not just a checked box on a long menu of ERP items.

The differences between the HR generalist and the HR specialist are not only unambiguous, they are also important. There are at least four critical distinctions:

1. Client Service & Support

The HR generalist has a lot to support: different product lines, newly acquired products, merged companies, legacy software from a bygone era and a range of delivery models. If the client needs support on their performance management process and recruiting tools, they might need to call into multiple different call centers. Sounds daunting.

The talent management specialist, on the other hand, provides an integrated suite, ideally developed organically and under one roof. The client is supported by a single client success manager and a single point of contact for any product questions across the suite. One call, one vendor, one product, one client success model.

2. The Promise of the Cloud

The HR generalist typically tucks their talent management products in under the umbrella of a much bigger, more complex network of products and, importantly, delivery models. They might offer a legacy behind-the-firewall version of one product and a hosted version of another and maybe a software-as-a-service version of yet another. This is not only confusing, it completely goes against the very benefits of the pure Cloud or SaaS model.

The HR specialist, on the other hand, knows that the Cloud is not only the future of enterprise software, it’s also the present. Pure SaaS is a complete business model; it's more than just a check box on an RFP. Cornerstone has evangelized the Cloud model for more than a decade and we contend that the benefits include: client-vendor partnership, greater scalability, iron-clad data security, easy configuration, more control, faster and better product innovation and much more.

3. Product Innovation & Upgrades

The generalist ERP vendor must focus on integration of acquired bits and pieces; as well as integration of different product lines and delivery models from yore. Also, beware getting stuck on the generalists upgrade paths – which might be very different for payroll or HRIS than they are for talent management.

The talent management specialist, on the other hand, has none of these worries. Instead, the specialist can focus on rapid product development and deploying innovative new features. And every single client is always on the exact same version – that is, the most up-to-date version!

And product upgrades are more frequent and totally seamless for the Cloud-based specialist. Cornerstone releases new, opt-in product functionality on a quarterly basis. We believe that keeping up with the breakneck pace of information and technology in the wider world means being agile in our product development.

4. User Experience & Adoption

One further issue facing the HR generalist is that products tend to come in a jumble of different user interfaces. When your LMS and your recruiting system and your succession planning tool all come from different merged companies (remember our list of old logos above?), the inevitable differences in user experience can befuddle end users and drive up support and training costs. Also, is this the right way to encourage widespread, weekly use of the talent management suite?

The HR specialist, on the other hand, delivers a single product suite across all areas of talent management in the same user interface with the same user experience and the same password for employees, managers and administrators alike. That’s a big deal – if it’s easy and engaging, user adoption rates will go through the roof.

That’s our take on the critical questions buyers should be considering as they evaluate the market for talent management solutions. After all, it’s a market that has changed dramatically in the course of only a few years. From an ocean of choice and smaller vendors, we’ve moved to a clear decision between the HR generalist and the HR specialist.

After all, you wouldn’t expect your family practitioner to perform neurosurgery or a fast food cook to create a sushi masterpiece, so why leave your talent management to a generalist?

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