Your Next Title—Talent Officer? – human resources departments develop a new title to promote recruitment

Your Next Title—Talent Officer? – human resources departments develop a new title to promote recruitment – Brief Article

Instead of being your company’s HR director or staffing manager, how about being your firm’s next “talent officer?” Does it sound a little out there? Sure it does. But then again, so did human resources in the late 1970s.

Talent officer seems to be the new moniker, intended to reflect HR’s pressing task of filling firms with bankable human capital. In fact,, an e-recruiting application service provider based in Austin, Texas, just held the first-ever Talent Officer Conference in June. At the invitation-only conference, executive-level HR professionals met to focus on dynamic shifts in the way employees are attracted, recruited, and retained in an increasingly competitive job market. According to, “These shifts include advancements in recruitment technology and the emergence of a new category of executive leadership: the talent officer.” In fact, HR guru John Sullivan (who heads the HR management program at San Francisco State University) signed on as chief talent officer in January with Agilent Technologies, Inc., a Hewlett-Packard spin-off based in the Silicon Valley.

Although it’s a new title to most, an informal poll of HR professionals shows that it may have kicking around for awhile–but perhaps more in the technology arena. “This title has been around in the high-tech world for at least six years,” says Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, based in Alexandria, Virginia. “I know. I interviewed for such a position [back] then.”

A quick search of Milwaukee-based shows no current listings with the talent officer title, although you can get a “staffing VP job or a strategic staffing manager” position.

Some like it. Some don’t

Do HR managers like the direction in which this new title would take them? “Let me see,’ says one HR manager, anonymously “I don’t think so.”

Adds Randy Britton, director of employee relations at Regional Medical Center at Memphis: “Reminds me of a company (which shall remain nameless) that advertised a trainer job with us a few years ago. They were holding ‘auditions,’ not interviews, for the job, and invited candidates to submit their videos or portfolios, not their resumes.” He wonders whether the trend is related to the circulation of management ideas from the Walt Disney organization, which refers to employees as “cast members.” “It seems that if the change in language is tied to some specific difference in the working environment, such as a different industry, a different culture or management style, etc., the difference in language could be meaningful,” says Britton. “On the other hand, if the workplace operates just like any other work place, [this title is] probably worse than ‘a rose by any other name.’ It comes off as an obvious and artificial attempt to manipulate employees.” Britton likens it to employers that call their employees “as sociates” but still treats them like machinery.

New title demands a new game

Because today’s greatest human-resources challenge is arguably the recruitment and retention of capable employees, shouldn’t your title reflect that? HR still is struggling to upgrade its image to that of strategic partner, and still is frying to distance itself from being viewed as the EEOC police. Does being the “talent officer” advance HR’s cause?

“We have chief knowledge officers. Why not have a chief talent officer?” asks Peter Giuliano, chairman of the Executive Communications Group (, an international consulting firm based in Englewood, New Jersey, which specializes in communications and leadership. He claims that in today’s employment market, you have to have an extraordinary ability to convince people to join your firm, even if it’s the furthest thing from their minds. HR pros have to be able to focus on fulfilling a need in the person–the need to do a job you have available. “So you want me to come to work for Corning? You want me to join General Electric?” Giuliano asks. “Well, you damn well better have a chief talent officer. That person had better understand that all the old ways of recruiting are meaningless today. Mass marketing on college campuses [no longer works]. It requires a one-on-one intervention, and then all of a sudden, the title isn’t so frivolous.”

Taking on such a title requires a fundamental shift in organizational thinking. The challenge is for the HR professionals themselves to begin acting like entrepreneurs more than ever. And they must have the support of their corporate officers to make it work. Giuliano adds: “Absent that, the title is a joke.” A job by any name is still, well, a job. You have to figure out if the title fits your company’s culture–or the one you’re trying to create. Do you go for conservative or new-economy chic? And does the title make your firm stand out from the crowd?

As marketing experts know, there’s a lot to a name. Choosing the wrong name can spell doom. It’s the same for titles. The way in which words are joined creates a lasting impression. Perhaps “talent” strokes an applicant’s ego better than “resource” does. If you’re a talent officer, you must hit the emotional drivers that attract the best people wherever possible. Then, you have to deliver on your promises.

Impact: HR professionals might want to recast their titles to reflect new-economy thinking. The best workers are being wooed by savvy firms that provide meaningful opportunities in which both sides can create economic value.

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