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What Is Talent Management and How Is It Different From HR?

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They might as well be sisters.

They look alike. They sound alike. They steal each other’s clothes all the time. If you don’t know them personally, it can be difficult to know which one is which. (But man do they get irritated when you can’t tell them apart!)

HR and talent management aren’t exactly the same, but they sure are similar.

what is talent management?

You’ll see a lot of overlap between Capterra’s directories of talent management software and human resource software.

But what is talent management, really, and how is it related to traditional HR?

If you’re unsure, you may take your people management in the wrong direction for the type of company you have. If your people management methods are ill-suited to your employee base and company goals, you’ll find yourself veering off track fast.

You need to understand the difference in order to find software that helps you push your company to achieve your goals.

What is talent management?

Wikipedia defines talent management as “the anticipation of required human capital for an organization and the planning to meet those needs.”

OK, so, what does that actually mean? Talent management is best understood as a shift in thinking around the hiring, training, and retention of great employees.

It changes the focus from, “Is this person a good fit for this role?” to “Is this person not only a good fit for this role, but also for the company as a whole, and for future roles they may inhabit?”

Talent management is an organization-wide, holistic strategy for hiring, training, and retaining top-performing employees.

You may be thinking, “But wait, isn’t that exactly what HR is?” Not quite.

Think of talent management as HR’s younger sister. They have a ton in common, but talent management is a little younger, a little less experienced, but a little more friendly.

What is HR?

HR—you’ve known her forever. She’s mature and responsible, but maybe not quite so trendy as talent management. Still, she was here first and most people compare talent management to her anyway.

Human resource management is all about thinking of your employees as a resource.

Who works best where? How can I move people in the most efficient way? How can employees best serve the business?

Talent management and human resource management do the same type of thing at the end of the day (managing your employees), but the approaches differ. Let’s see what else is different about them, and how you can tell the sisters apart.

How talent management and HR differ

Talent management and HR are both about managing people, but they split in several key areas:

  • Structure: Hiring, training, and retention are centralized in the HR department. In talent management, many of these duties are split into their own departments or committees, spread across the company. In this way, the whole organization is responsible for, and has a stake in, these activities.
  • Responsibilities: HR is more focused on administration. HR departments deal with pay, personal time off, benefits, and complaints. Talent management is almost singularly focused on helping and improving the top talent in the organization. Think professional development versus tracking attendance—both are important to a company and both are about people, but one is far more clerical.
  • Implementation: Talent management is strategic, often manifesting as a company-wide, long-term plan closely associated with overall business goals, while HR is more tactical, dealing with the day-to-day management of people.

Which do you need?

That depends on your business.

It’s not that HR is better, or talent management is better. They’re two different approaches to managing the people who work for your company. You may even need both to accomplish the growth and development goals your company has.

When deciding if your small business needs to focus more on one or the other, consider what you want the department to achieve, and how the department will fit in with your overall structure and culture.

Need a more laid-back approach that focuses on employee development? Talent management sounds about right.

Need a clerical, objective-focused group that will manage frequent administrative tasks? HR is your best bet.

Need both? Then have both! There’s no law that says you can’t.

Which software do you need?

Other than the semantics of HR and talent management, the biggest difference between the two is in the type of software you should look for.

If you determine you want an HR focus, you should look for software that takes a more administrative direction. You want features that roll benefits tracking, leave tracking or scheduling (depending on if you’re a full time or shift-based business), and payroll into your employee life cycle management.

If you determine you want a talent management focus, look for software that has performance tracking features, or an employee self-serve portal, to help the department feel less closed off and more integrated with your employees’ lives.

And if you’re somewhere in the middle? Figure out the exact features you want (this guide can help) and find software that suits your needs, regardless of its HR or talent management branding. Check out this list to help get started.

How do you define talent management vs. HR?

Have you had any experience implementing a talent management plan at your organization? Do you define it differently? Tell me about it in the comments below, or tweet me @CapterraHalden.

Looking for HR software or talent management software to help your company? We have free directories for both!

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About the Author

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen writes about HR and eLearning at Capterra. She’s a graduate of Agnes Scott College and a TEDx presenter. You can follow her on Twitter @CapterraHalden, just don’t get her started about her zombie survival plan.


Talent Management is strategic in my Organization, very different from other HR activities. focused on person fit with job, Team, organization. trying to develop the potentials of all staff and keep them engaged with job redeployments, transfers etc but mainly developing the high potential employees by applying specialized TM programs and letting them know they are Talent Managed.

Sophia, that’s a great point: Talent Management is at more of the strategic level, while HR tends to be more tactical.

HR is quite administrative – pay, grievance, hire and fire. TM is more seeking out specialized needs of a job that require certain skills and expertise. Today we can easily manage these jobs with online software like SUTIHR, this really makes our job simple.

A really interesting article JP, especially from an HR perspective which is often seen as the traditional function and talent management is the more strategic piece that is fed out into line management. We deal with HR Directors everyday making recruitment decisions so they definitely still have involvement in talent attraction. HR Directors today are also trying to become less functional and more strategic. My HR colleague Anja wrote a piece on this recently which may be of interest to your readers:


Great article that articulates the differences and notes there needs to be a synergy. I have found my greatest success (and the organization’s greatest success) when Talent Management engages with HR.

Rod and Janet,

Thanks for the thoughts!

Talent Management become a term to be recognized; when people were regarded not a “labour overheads” but as prime resources to be leveraged The “talent” professional has bargaining power at the job interview and the entire employee life-cycle and hence the distinction between employees who we cannot afford to lose ( or it is difficult to replace) VERSUS those who are mere numbers on the payroll

[…] Medved, Content Editor at Capterra, points out the main differences between talent management and HR […]

Terrific article. TM is still a “function” of HR as it is concerned with the employee life-cycle. An executive TM & HR posting at Johns Hopkins, for example, notes, “integrate [TM] practices across the entire employee life-cycle.” In many organizations, functional (and even departmental) demarcations have become blurred, line managers’ increased involvement in Training & Development being a case in point. I have two thoughts. First, HR’s “tactics” and TM’s “strategies” can both apply to activities such as HR recruitment sourcing and onboarding. This is because employee engagement is needed for development, and the necessary strategies and tactics to enhance perceived organizational support, ensuring optimal engagement, are both employed before an employee’s first day. Second, HR is no longer being viewed as a cost center; it is now leveraged as a profit center. As a knowledge partner, HR activities (e.g., discipline, leave) add value to the organization by gauging development needs and sentiment to inform strategy collaboratively. Finally, TM should be concerned with an entire workforce, not “singularly-focused on…top talent” as alienating staff can have consequences.

Kevin, fantastic points. I especially agree that TM should be concerned with the entire workforce. When this post went live a couple years ago I think there was still the propensity in TM circles to focus on top talent vs. the company as a whole which has I think, thankfully evolved.

Hey Medved, great article on Talent Management and the difference between HR. At Freshteam, we have come up with an explanation for “What is Talent Management” and we have indeed worked on an infographic on the difference between Talent management and HR 🙂 You can check it out below!

Now I can clearly see and understand the distinct difference between HR and TM. With TM’s focus on hiring, training and retention of top performers at a strategic level rather then at a tactical as in HR, organisations will be able to excel much in their operations.

JT Nangolo, Oshana Regional Council, Namibia.

@Rod I am sorry I am not able to find the link you shared in the comments section here. Would request you to please re share.

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