Process Is Key to Successful Talent Management: Linda Brenner, Managing Director of Designs on Talent

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives. TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and the process by which talent is recruited, developed and transformed.

Today’s guest is Linda Brenner, Founder and Managing Director of Designs on Talent and Skillsify. Her journey emphasizes that regardless of the size of the company, people without process will fail, and process without people will fail. To hear the entire show, click here.


Linda Brenner is the Founder and Managing Director of Designs on Talent and Skillsify. Brenner hails from a deep background in retail and HR, having worked for The Gap, Pepsi and Home Depot. Approximately ten years ago, she launched HR consulting firm Designs on Talent, and approximately three years ago, started Skillsify, a technology business.

“We help organizations improve their results in hiring and retention,” describes Brenner.

She remembers thinking that large companies with sizeable HR departments had an easier time when it came to talent recruitment and management. What she learned over time is that companies of all sizes struggle with insufficient resources; HR staffs are trying to do too much and accomplishing too little. As an example, Brenner explains how Home Depot’s HR team of a few thousand was still not truly sufficient to handle 400,000 employees.


Big companies can often spend a lot of money driving talent management and retention programs — including engagement surveys, leadership development programs and high potential recognition efforts — for their people. Meanwhile, she asserts, most small companies may not have the infrastructure or resources to build such programs. But they do have a key differentiator. “What the small companies have that the big companies don’t is a founder-led culture or a close connection to the person that built the business. Having that interaction with senior leaders can be very inspiring,” says Brenner.

Brenner continues, “Our belief is a brand is nothing without brand managers constantly managing it, expanding it, evolving it. Our position is that these intangible assets are powered by nothing other than people. These are very critical roles in key functions in the business. We’re trying to help companies identify the value of these intangible assets in the business.”

Designs on Talent typically asks a client company to describe their culture and often receives answers that conflict with their findings. Brenner explains, “A company will describe themselves as innovative but there’s a real risk-adverse culture. People are scared to make decisions…It’s a consensus culture. It’s the exact opposite of what an innovative business needs to be doing. So that’s the dichotomy I find fascinating – what we say our culture is but what it really truly is.”


Brenner says changes are underway in the HR profession. But what she is seeing in many companies is transformation, yet no processes. “They’ve done the reorganization, they’ve changed peoples’ titles, and they’ve implemented technology. But they haven’t defined new processes, they haven’t clarified roles or responsibilities, and most problematic is that there are no clear measures of ‘what good looks like,’ particularly for individuals,” explains Brenner.

Because Brenner focuses primarily on talent acquisition, she often hears companies say they need to transform HR, which typically means letting people go and then rehiring. Brenner says, “Bringing in new HR people and replacing old ‘bad HR people’ without clarifying what the role is, what the metrics are, what the processes are, and where they start versus where other teams begin…If none of that is defined, even the greatest people in the role are going to struggle and perhaps fail.”

If roles and responsibilities and measures of success are unclear, Brenner believes, people will migrate toward what was always done or what we like to do. This can be applied to any department in a company, not just HR. There really has to be 100% clarity in regard to roles and responsibilities.


Brenner asserts that “Talent acquisition is one of the hardest roles in business today. There are so many moving parts: people, process, technology, integration, vendors, metrics and compliance. Everybody is a stakeholder. Everybody touches talent acquisition, either as a hiring manager, senior leader or internal employees applying for different jobs.  Everybody has a point of view about how it should be done. Even when it’s done great, it could still be quicker or cheaper or better in theory.”

A big challenge for those in the role of talent acquisition according to Brenner is in establishing a defined process. “How is this supposed to work? How is our executive recruiting supposed to work?…What metrics are we tracking? What tools and technology support the process? And likewise how is hourly recruiting supposed to work? How is professional recruiting supposed to work? What is the college campus effort supposed to be?” are questions Brenner believes HR needs to answer.  The lack of strategic thinking and establishment of processes makes an already difficult job of recruiting even more challenging.

Brenner emphasizes, “A lot of recruiters feel their number one responsibility is to please the hiring manager.  But in the end, without a standard, scaleable, measurable process you cannot track anything, you cannot drive continuous improvement, you cannot be efficient and you absolutely cannot be that effective.” When clients are asked what they think ideal results look like, Brenner hears a variety of vague and disjointed measures of success, which she attributes to the lack of process. 


“What’s key is not doing talent management the same as it was always done in the past. The big thing we have to address is the fact that being a leader of creative and knowledge workers – PR, marketing, IT, R&D or engineers — is very different than leading a team of industrial workers [such as] call centers or restaurants. We cannot apply the same model of work constraints to creative workers. It’s illogical to say ‘you have to sit in your cube from 8 to 5.’ How leaders lead those kinds of teams is a completely different beast,” stresses Brenner.

Most of the Designs on Talent team previously worked for larger companies where they sat through long meetings, sat in their cars for hours commuting and paid their dues. At Designs on Talent, the office is entirely a virtual one. Their meetings are done electronically. They utilize their own self-directed learning and development app, Skillsify, which can help improve skills like collaborative management.

Skillsify was developed and is owned by the Designs on Talent staff. “It came about from being annoyed with seeing the same problems everywhere we worked. We were determined to web-enable some solutions,” explains Brenner. The app is used in developing job descriptions as well as detailed interview questions and answers. The process works to determine not only the right questions to ask, but also the best answers for which to look. This knowledge helps recruiters make better selection decisions.  

What are You Reading?

Brenner is reading, 11/22/63 by Stephen King about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

How Can People Connect with You?

Via or

Remember, do what you love….and show the world how talented you can be, today.

Date: February 2, 2015