Selecting a Talent Management Technology Vendor

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If you are in the market to buy a new Talent Management Technology product, there is no shortage of advice on how you should conduct your selection process. I know this because I am one of the people who preaches about “best practices” vendor selection methodology.

The process usually goes something like this:

  • Define your goals. What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Evaluate your current state. How are things being done today, what are the points of frustration, what can be improved?
  • Design the future state. What parts of the current state will stay, and what will need to change?
  • Document all of your functional and technical business requirements (often a list of 300+ requirements)
  • Conduct an RFI to narrow the field of vendors. Use “deal breaker” criteria to develop a short list.
  • Issue an RFP to get detailed proposals from the short list. Have them respond to each of your requirements.
  • Select the final two to come in and make presentations, perhaps a full day of meetings to cover everything from technical architecture to the product road map to the customer service model.
  • Pick your winner, but negotiate with both finalists to get the best deal, and just in case the number 1 choice does not work out.

This process is painful for just about everyone involved. I have stood by it as the best we can do because it enables an organization to get internal stakeholders aligned, but all that really means is managing internal politics.

With the right kind of leadership, I think we can do better. I am not suggesting we throw out the baby with the bath water, but there are a few fundamental flaws that can be addressed. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. You absolutely need to start by defining your goals and objectives. Are you trying to solve for just one functional discipline? Will you be looking at the other functional areas next? If you are trying to find a full suite, what is the relative priority of each function?
  2. Step 2 should be to narrow the field. Trying to narrow the field based on RFP responses is a joke – many vendors have marketing machines that stamp out the most positive answer to anything you can throw at them. It is almost impossible to differentiate based on these written responses. Do some research to find the vendors who cover your functional needs and are in the right price range. Check with your competitors, ask some consultants; there is enough information out there you should be able to create a short list.
  3. Get to know the vendors. The final selection is never made based on a feature – it is always about the people and the culture fit. Take some time to set up calls, web meetings and demos, meet them at conferences, maybe attend a few user group meetings. Don’t worry too much about “being sold;” if they are using smoke and mirrors, you’ll be more likely to see through it if you know them better. They most definitely want to get to know you.
  4. While you are narrowing the field and meeting with vendors, you should concurrently be working on a future state design and business requirements. But don’t get carried away. You don’t need to define 300+ requirements to select a product. The reality is, most vendors will say “yes” to everything you come up with anyway. It is less important to know the “yes/no” and more important to know “how” a product meets a need. You should define broad areas of functionality that are important, and then flesh out how well the products deliver on that functionality during demos. This will also keep you open to functionality you never knew existed.
  5. Using your research and the process for getting to know the vendors, you should be able to get to a finalist group of 2-3 products. You may still want them to complete the full RFP in order to get commitments from them in writing as to what their products can do, pricing, SLA’s, etc. But instead of using it to down select, use that information to help guide your line of questioning during the final demos. I also strongly suggest that during the finalist demo days you schedule some time for hands on exercises by your users.

At the end of the day, whatever solution you pick, there will most certainly be gaps and challenges along the way. The decision you have to make is which set of gaps you want to handle, and more importantly who you want to handle them with.

Andy Rice

Andy has played an instrumental role in the success of his clients, working with Fortune 500 companies and other organizations on critical initiatives including integrated talent management strategy and planning, talent management transformation, change management, business process improvement, and technology selection and implementations.

Topics: Talent Management, HR Technology