The Digital Era isn’t coming, and it’s not just getting started. From a technology perspective it is fully established, with roots that extend back to the middle of the twentieth century, and a future that extends as far as anyone today can imagine. Ongoing advances regularly remind us that the most profound changes are still to come.

We tend to think about social and digital technology more from a personal or consumer perspective than their business or professional applications, but as the Digital Era continues to progress, many of technology’s most profound impacts are likely to be in the world of work. In addition to changes in product and business development, knowledge management, data analysis, and other operational processes, transforming talent management will be a key priority for organizations striving to be employers of choice.

The human capital implications of social and digital technologies impact virtually everyone, regardless of the type of organization they work for, their profession, their functional area, or their career stage. That means that the talent management functions in all organizations, as well as the professionals who staff and lead them, have a critical role to play in ensuring the efficient and effective transition and transformation from Industrial Era models and processes to their Digital Era upgrades.

It’s no surprise that talent management has already become more “high tech.” Many employment related activities have been digitized, and there has been a corresponding increase in employee self-service. It’s important to remember, however, that digitization is not the same thing as digital engagement, and that the rise of “high tech” solutions doesn’t necessitate the loss of a “high touch” approach to managing an organization’s human assets.

Transforming talent management requires digitization, to be sure, but it also involves leveraging social and digital technologies in ways that promote and enhance communication, collaboration, and engagement – not just between an employee and the organization, but between and among employees themselves.

In this post I present some of the ways in which social and digital technologies are transforming talent management throughout the employee life cycle. It’s important to note that everything I describe is currently possible based on available technology; however, not all of the practices are fully developed or widespread. In fact, many of them haven’t progressed past the idea stage yet. Today’s tools and technologies are much more advanced than the individuals and human systems that could (and should) employ them. Most organizations are still getting started with their digital transformation efforts, and the degrees to which they’re leveraging new technologies in conjunction with their talent management practices vary widely.  But the effective deployment of new technologies is on the radar of all top talent management professionals, so it’s just a matter of time before these ideas become realities.

Talent Acquisition

The logical place to start when talking about the impact of social and digital technologies on talent management is talent acquisition, where the greatest advances have been made. Anyone who has searched and applied for jobs in the past 10 years is very familiar with how technology has transformed the application process, which in most organizations (and virtually all large ones) is now almost completely digitized and automated. Job boards, like Monster and Career Builder, were early players in the digitization movement, but they have been struggling to maintain their relevance in the past five years due to the rise of social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter (which are also used for job posting and advertising), as well as career site scraping services like Simply Hired and Indeed. Both social networking sites and search engines are now used for candidate searching and sourcing, particularly for hard-to-fill roles with unique skillsets.

There are other ways in which social and digital technologies are impacting talent acquisition that may not be as well-known or commonly understood. Social media sites in particular (such as Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest) are a great way to promote an employer’s brand and offer realistic previews of work life, people and culture in organizations. Online games and simulations can also be used to get a sense of what working for an organization would be like, and give organizations themselves an opportunity to determine if a prospective candidate would be a good cultural fit and potentially successful.

Some employers are recognizing the value of digital alumni networks or communities to maintain strong relationships with former employees. One of the primary motivations for doing this is that the employees may return one day and/or make referrals to or from their personal and professional networks. Similarly, talent networks enable organizations to establish and maintain relationships with professionals in key areas like IT and engineering, even when there isn’t a current opportunity to have those folks be a part of the organization.

Social media has actually transformed every stage of the recruiting process in significant ways – so much so that the traditional recruiting funnel can be recast in “social” terms. At the top of the funnel are activities like social advertising (i.e., placing job ads on social networks like Facebook), social sourcing (i.e., searching for candidates who meet certain criteria on networks like LinkedIn), and social referrals (i.e., having current employees share position openings with their online personal and professional networks). And at the bottom of the funnel is social screening (i.e., reviewing a candidate’s public activity in social networks to identify potential hiring risks).


Helping new employees make the transition into their roles and responsibilities, as well as learning the culture of the organization and how things are done, is another way in which social and digital technologies can enhance processes and improve the employment experience for individuals. Anyone who has started a new job in the past decade is probably familiar with how digitization of various activities, such as payroll set up and benefits enrollment, has transformed the new hire experience. But there are lots of other potential applications, some of which have already been implemented, but most of which will be developed in the years to come. For example, virtual new hire groups can be formed in an organization’s intranet, with chat and/or discussion features that allow new employees to help each other navigate their initial experiences. The intranet can also be used to facilitate virtual buddy systems and enable mentors to help new hires learn “how things work around here.” And a variety of wikis can focus on the things that are most important for new employees to learn and know, particularly with respect to specific policies and procedures.


Learning management is probably the second most advanced area when it comes to adopting and adapting to new technologies. As with recruiting and other processes, the initial advances are in the area of digitization, with social software applications evolving next. One of the obvious digital impacts is the increased use of elearning and online learning platforms with self-paced study. There are also countless instructional videos on the web, both free and fee-based, that address a virtually unlimited range of topics. And we can’t forget MOOCs – massive, open, online courses – which have proliferated in the past couple of years. Finally, many organizations have also started to leverage tablets and other mobile devices for learning, as well as using simulations and games to help employees develop specific skills.

In addition to offering training through a variety of multimedia channels, organizations are increasingly using a range of digital tools for assessing employees’ skills. They’re also allowing employees to play an enhanced role in identifying their key skill sets and training needs, and can even have them create their own learning and development plans. Allowing employees to take a more active role in their own learning and skills management enables organizations to develop and maintain a more complete and accurate knowledge and skills database, which in turn enables them to maximize the value of the workforce in which they’ve already invested.

Formal learning management systems and platforms are also beginning to incorporate social technologies in a variety of ways. Promoting connections and interactions among participants, as well as with the instructor, can enhance the learning experience both during and after a course. Creating course-based cohorts that allow people to continue to interact with each other via a digital community – even when their shared learning experience is face-to-face – can promote both knowledge transfer and retention, in addition to increasing commitment and engagement through interpersonal connections.

Informal learning – which is now also referred to as social learning – is greatly enhanced by social technologies as well. In fact, this is probably the greatest opportunity and area of growth for organizations of all types and sizes. Through private social networks, intranets and other internal platforms that have incorporated social technology elements, organizations are better able to facilitate employee learning as they perform their job duties and complete work activities. Along with the networks themselves, features like advanced search, identified subject matter experts, digital communities of practice, wikis and more enable employees to access and learn from colleagues who are not just next door or down the hall, but even in another city, state or country!

As organizations move forward with leveraging technology to enhance learning initiatives, it will become increasingly important for them to address issues related to digital literacy and digital competencies. For the past several decades we’ve generally taken what I refer to as an LIY, or Learn It Yourself, approach to digital knowledge and skills. Although organizations may invest in teaching someone how to use a specific application related to their job, they make virtually no investment in helping individuals learn how to use general digital tools like Microsoft Office and even email. Left to their own devices, most people – and I include myself in this group– are much less efficient and effective at using these tools than they could or should be. As our tools get even more sophisticated, we need the foundational knowledge and skills to be able to use them well – and this foundation should probably be provided via more formal training. In other words, many people need to be “taught how to learn” in the Digital Era. If organizations aren’t going to provide the formal training workers need to do that, it’s probably in an individual’s best interests to pursue those kinds of development opportunities on their own.

Performance Management

Performance management is also being transformed by social and digital technologies. Going paperless is now a standard in many organizations, but the changes are evolving beyond that. Specifically, because of more advanced technologies, performance evaluation doesn’t have to be a major bureaucratic process that only gets completed once or twice a year. Now managers can capture and provide feedback to employees nearly continuously, so that they always know how they’re doing and where they stand. This informal feedback can also be directly fed into the formal performance management process, which can help increase completeness and accuracy and minimize surprises.

Although most people don’t think of performance management as something that can be fun and energizing, new features like gamification and social recognition are intended to do just that. There are a variety of software platforms (e.g., YouEarnedIt, WooBoard, Small Improvements) that digitally leverage game elements and social tools to enhance an organization’s performance, rewards and recognition initiatives. The goal of these platforms and tools is to increase employee morale and engagement, which in turn can increase employee citizenship behavior and job performance. What many of them offer is a social “atta girl/atta boy” system that enables any employee to provide thanks or recognition to any other employee who has helped them or someone else in some way. Employees collect badges and points for the positive impact they’ve had on clients and colleagues, which can be converted into specific rewards. These rewards can include company-oriented items like extra time off, lunch with the CEO, and branded swag, as well as valued personal items like dinner and entertainment certificates, tablets, and high-end cookware. The platforms are very flexible, so organizations can leverage them in a way that best fits their culture and employee populations.

Career Development

As noted earlier, new social technologies, particularly those that allow employees to create and maintain their own organizational profiles, can enhance an organization’s efforts at helping employees develop themselves as professionals and manage their careers. With a more complete and accurate skills database and employees who have better tools and more motivation to engage, organizations are better able to assess the skills of their workforces and develop more sophisticated approaches to planning, staffing and career pathing. More effective systems that are better populated with current and accurate employee data provide a stronger foundation for organizations to create more reliable and flexible succession plans.

Social and digital technologies also better enable employers to identify high potential employees by leveraging more data points, applying sophisticated analyses, and eliminating the biases and errors that can come from human judgment alone.

A company called Fuel 50 has a solution that demonstrates how digital technologies can facilitate career engagement and planning in organizations. They have taken career counseling to new levels. With traditional, paper-based approaches, counselors guide individuals through a series of card sorting exercises to identify their most important values, aspirations, desires, etc. The resulting card stacks are then fed into a system and analyzed, and counselors schedule follow-up appointments to discuss the results. Fuel 50’s platform not only digitizes the exercises by using tablets, it enables counselors to provide feedback and discuss the results and their implications with individuals in real time. Not only that, the data gets fed into a system that can help an organization with staffing, career pathing, and succession planning. This is a great example of how high tech can also be very high touch.

Leadership Development

There are also several ways in which the implementation of social technologies can enhance an organization’s leadership development efforts. Leadership blogs, for example, can help more junior leaders learn from the philosophies, styles and experiences of more senior leaders. Leaders at all levels can form virtual support groups with their peers to discuss specific challenges and opportunities, and can also form cross-generational and cross-functional mentoring groups. Organizations can further enhance mentoring efforts by adding more opportunities and channels through which mentors and protégés can communicate with one another, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of their interactions.

Both within specific tiers and across tiers, leaders can also form groups to share best practices. And of course junior leaders can access leader wikis and other tools to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to increase their effectiveness and be more successful.

Everwise, for example, is building an ementoring platform that uses data and analytics to create the best possible matches between mentors and protégés, as well as a variety of software tools (and more analytics) to facilitate the process and ensure it is meaningful and successful for both parties. They also emphasize their use of “real people” in conjunction with technical tools – yet another example of the necessary interplay between high tech and high touch.

Final Thoughts

In addition to transforming talent management, social and digital technologies are changing the nature of work itself. Those changes have extensive human capital management implications, ranging from human capital strategy, organizational structure, and staffing – to job design, training and development, performance management, and compensation. I’ll address those changes in a future post. In the meantime, as always, I welcome your comments and questions.

Original post on the Denovati SMART Blog.