© 2008, AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association 241
The Role of the Human
Resources Group
I want bigger margins than anybody else, and to accomplish this we
have to have great people and train them better and faster than
everybody else. We need to have educational programs that are focused
on key business issues and problems, the things that matter. HR’s role is
to help me solve these problems.
Larry Bossidy
n today’s business literature, “talent management” is a very hot topic.
It has been the subject of many global surveys, dozens of books and
articles, and many training programs. Some define it as succession plan-
ning; others as developing high-potential employees. Some companies
have invested millions in buying and developing systems to keep track
of talent.
Every company pays at least some lip service to the concept. Some,
like Larry Bossidy, see it as an executive responsibility. Others, such as
Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel writing in The Leader-
ship Pipeline, say that it is a responsibility of all levels of management,
starting with the board of directors and continuing down to the first-line
For many, talent management is the prime responsibility of the
human resources and training organizations within a company. In its
highlight report on talent management, the Institute for Corporate Pro-
paints an “ideal scenario” of the future where “talent manage-
ment becomes highly integrated and spreads to all levels of the
Talent management processes, tracking of talent, and talent-related
strategy are interwoven with business strategy and everyday manage-
ment functions. Functionally and philosophically, all the once-
disparate areas that comprise talent management have been brought
together. Talent management is an umbrella that covers recruitment,
retention, and engagement. Also, functions such as performance man-
agement, training and development, leadership development, and suc-
cession planning...have been wrapped into talent management.
These and other affected functions, such as workforce planning,
talent acquisition, and retention initiatives, are reciprocally tied into
talent management’s recordkeeping and reporting. Line managers and
HR personnel can easily see data on all aspects of talent management,
per employee or broken out by group. All the areas that affect talent
are part of a comprehensive talent strategy and are leverage[d] to
work together.
University of Michigan professor David Ulrich defines the vital
roles that the HR group must play in any organization, and the HR
practices that will “ensure that people and organizations perform at
their best.”
These roles include:
Coaching Organizational Leaders: Ulrich argues that HR leaders
are in a prime position to coach the organization’s leaders on their
behaviors and their actions. “HR players are in the ideal position to
do executive coaching because they are outside the career politics
(e.g., not after the senior leader’s job), have training in the human
side of the business, which enables them to observe unintended
consequences, and offer insights not often shared with the business
Acting as the Organizational Architect: “They help turn general and
generic ideas into blueprints for organizational action,” says Ulrich.
“They help identify choices not evident to the business leader about
how organizations might be better governed. They come to the
management meeting understanding business realities and organiza-
tions and ensure that dialogue...focuses on the right issues.”
Facilitating Action: Having a good blueprint is not enough. HR
needs to go beyond the role of architect and actually facilitate the
changes in structure and behavior defines by the blueprint. Ulrich
states: “HR facilitation has a legacy in organization development
242 AMA Guide to Management Development
© 2008, AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association

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