Talent mobility is the opportunity to use the internal human resources inside a company, matching the capabilities, skills, talent, and career aspirations of those individuals with the needs and goals of the organization. While the concept of talent mobility is popular right now, basic questions remain about the who, what, where, and how of moving talent into, within, and out of organizations with ease.

In a recent #SmartTalkHR webinar, Career Pathing and Talent Mobility, Key Priorities for 2019, I talked about the workplace trends that have brought us this far, the roadblocks to talent mobility success, and a few examples of approaches to the problem. The following is a recap of those comments. You can view the webinar in its entirety, here.

Workplace trends

There are some interesting trends that have been happening in the workplace in the last few years that are contributing to the growing need for effective workforce mobility programs. Some major trends that we’ve been following, include:

  1. The evolution from career ladders to career lattices
  2. The gig economy
  3. Talent shortages and rapid employee turnover

#1 The new career path

A long time ago, career paths were very linear and specific. This may still be true about some of the skilled trades where you begin as an apprentice, advance to journeyman and finally become a master tradesperson. If you walk up this path, it is very specific and scripted. And while this is still true for the trades, other types of jobs are not quite like that today.

People no longer climb a career ladder, but instead they scale a career lattice. You might be jumping sideways today and tomorrow you’ll move up, then you’ll go down because you're developing a new skill, and then you're going to move back up two steps. And so, it's not a simple, easy conversation about what that kind of career mobility looks like.

People no longer climb a career ladder, but instead they scale a career lattice. @beneubanks #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart https://bit.ly/2K9Q8C4

Not only is the trajectory of a career changing, employees have changed how they view their careers. Gone are the days when a person joins a company and obediently follows the development opportunities and 10-year career trajectory prescribed for them. Employees feel some ownership over their careers, and—perhaps more importantly—if they don't feel like they have some say so, they'll leave and look for an employer that does allow them growth and choice.

#2 Gig economy

The growing gig economy has had a considerable impact on internal mobility and career development policies. We did some research a few years ago and we found that the people who are participating in the gig economy tend to be those who already have a full-time job. In many cases, they're doing this additional gig outside their working hours as a way to fulfill a passion in addition to a way to earn some side income.

Beyond income building, gig workers are looking for ways to explore skills and develop the new talent capabilities that their full-time job doesn't. When we started doing that research, I fully expected to find that taking on gig work is all about the income. While that's part of it, it's not the full picture. These people are looking for an outlet for their creativity or an opportunity to develop themselves in ways that they can't do in their full-time jobs.

#3 Talent recruitment and retention

There are actually more jobs open today than there are candidates or unemployed individuals to fill them. If we could snap our fingers and put every unemployed person to work, we still wouldn't fill all the job openings. The pressure on the sourcing and recruiting side is creating an opportunity for us to improve retention. No one wants to recruit and backfill a role because they lost a key person.

If we could snap our fingers and put every unemployed person to work, we still wouldn't fill all the job openings. @beneubanks #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart https://bit.ly/2K9Q8C4

The challenge of employee engagement is not new. Over the past 10 years, some companies have found the right blend of initiative and are really rocking it. But the majority of companies are struggling to get everyone on the same page.

The data says that about 30 percent of employees are really engaged and the rest of them are passive or completely unplugged from the business. Our research shows a really clear connection between talent mobility, development and engagement, and also between engagement and the business results.

Solutions for talent mobility and engagement

Given these challenges, employers are responding to the needs for talent mobility and employee satisfaction in a variety of ways—some more effective than others. We found that employees actually fall into three buckets in their approaches to talent mobility:

  1. Passive. Completely ad hoc. This approach requires that a person be in the right place at the right time and that the managers involved make the connection. The focus is about reducing turnover and little else. It's not very strategic.
  2. Active. Looking for talent mobility solutions. This is the biggest bucket and where most companies fall. While companies are focusing on talent mobility, most are not getting great results because the approach is completely top down. Employers at this stage haven’t found a way to integrate what the employees want. In this group, employers are really focusing on increasing engagement. They offer development and growth as a way to increase engagement and retention, but that's about it.
  3. Strategic. Growing, developing and improving employee skills over time. In many cases, these companies actually use technology to support this. Whether it's building skills inventories or offering insights into the open jobs, they're using some sort of technology to support their efforts. Strategic companies are focused on what the employees want. They factor in what the employees want when they're making decisions about where to put people and career trajectories.

Business realities for talent mobility

We conducted a study earlier this year called Disruption That Drives the Need for Rescaling Not Scaling. We surveyed employers and employees. And seven out of ten employees in the study left their jobs because they saw no career advancement opportunities ahead of them. That doesn't mean there were no advancement opportunities at the business. It could be that those organizations did have opportunities, they just didn’t create a transparent and supportive environment where employees could find the opportunities and pursue them.

Related content: 5 Steps to Launching a Scalable Career Coaching Program

Not surprisingly, 95 percent of those surveyed said that they'd be willing to stay longer in a job that offered growth and career mobility. Almost all those people would have been willing to stay longer if employers had offered them some sort of growth and mobility in the business. According to 93 percent of people who took a new job last year, found one outside of their companies. Seven out of 100 people stayed inside their business to take that new job, a promotion or a lateral transfer. The rest of them went outside the business. That's a huge missed opportunity.

Talent mobility and career development are recognized as critical components to talent retention and yet many companies are struggling to make this a reality. Let’s explore some of the obstacles to talent mobility that exist today.

Talent hoarding

Regardless of the data, there are plenty of reasons talent mobility initiatives fail. A major obstacle to talent mobility is talent hoarding. Managers who create obstacles to losing team members to other departments or business units are called talent hoarders. High performing companies are more than twice as likely to prioritize mobility of talent inside the business, while low performing companies are more likely to have a culture of talent hoarders.

Talent hoarding isn't just a thing that annoys the people who are being hoarded, it's bad for the business as well because it leads to exactly what talent hoarders are hoping to avoid—loss of valuable employees who leave to pursue career development elsewhere.

Meaning and purpose

Dan Ariely, a Professor at Duke University, found that those individuals who understand the impact their work has on the organization, or on the project they’re involved in, are twice as productive as someone working at the same company or on the same project with no such visibility. People are more productive when they understand the end result and know the value their work will have.

This ties in with the mobility conversation because when we create opportunities for people to see other parts of the business, when we create opportunities to develop them across the company, or across functional and business lines, it can create more value for them—resulting in higher productivity.

Fear of employee turnover

Similar to talent hoarding, the fear of losing employees is a factor for companies struggling to institute effective talent mobility solutions. First of all, managers and executive fear upsetting employees if they apply, but are not chosen to fill internal roles. Well, you know what, if you hired someone outside the business, and that employee found out he wasn't even considered, he's probably going to leave anyway.

Related content: Retention Strategies in the War for Talent

The one thing you can do when employees apply for internal roles, and aren’t selected, circle back with them and offer training for the skills they lacked. That way, you can show that you have their best interests at heart and the next time similar roles are open, they will be more qualified to fill them. Remember that 95 percent of those people in our study said they would be willing to stay at a job if there were career paths or career opportunities available to them. Help internal candidates see that future vision at your company.

Lack of diversity

In some organizations, business leaders express concerns about talent diversity. They worry that the workforce won’t be diverse enough if they are only hiring internally. The truth is, if you're not recruiting diverse individuals, then yes, that would be true. But on the flip side, how many companies have you worked for that do a really focused job of recruiting diverse individuals across different genders, races and ages? Even if they are focusing on being very diverse in their recruiting processes, they rarely do a good job of moving them up in the business. When no advancement is available, those people are going to leave anyway and you won’t achieve your D&I goals.

Creating a truly diverse workforce means organizations must look at both aspects equally. We have to actively recruit for diversity while providing career development opportunities once we have them on board. Grow your diverse populations throughout the business and move them to higher levels of leadership. Your business should be more than just a place where a diversity jewel can get a great entry-level career, but where those individuals can build a long-term career path that adds value to your company.

How companies get talent mobility right

Despite all the roadblocks, there are some companies who are successfully retaining employees, building teams of engaged employees, brand ambassadors and company loyalty. As a result, they’re able to recruit the best talent while improving the bottom line. Sound good? Let’s look at a few of the types of initiatives that make this possible.

Internals first

One such company built a program that requires recruiters to find internal candidates first. In addition to being able to fill positions internally and retain institutional knowledge, this company is creating a level of employee engagement by letting people know that they are valued and that their efforts are visible within the organization.

To give you an idea of the scope of this, they have filled about half of their director roles in 2016, one of those hard to fill roles. In that same year, about 10 percent of the company made some sort of transition, including promotions or changing to a different career inside the business.

Those who changed careers were able to move to another career entirely—like from accounting to marketing. They moved 4,000 people that year. By only focusing on talent mobility from the recruiting side and nothing else, they were able to add value to the organization.

Internal gigs

Another company had a very different kind of problem. With a hiring freeze on, they decided to offer internal gigs through a kind of talent marketplace. If a department or group needed help on a project, that role would be posted for people inside the business to opt into for a short period of time. Interestingly, when the company came out of the hiring freeze, their team started to shut this down to start hiring people again.

Related content: Dedicated Project Teams: How Internal Gigs Close the Skills Gap

Employees and managers responded by asking that the company keep it open. The managers that were using the talent, loved it and the people that had a chance to grow or develop a new skill, or to see other parts of the business, also loved it. In the end, this thing born out of adversity for the company, actually continued to add value beyond that, because people appreciated that.

Instead of seeing an employee as a resource for one manager or business department, there was a mindset shift to viewing employees as resources for the entire business. It opened the door for anyone to tap into her abilities, skills and strengths. It really changed how they saw the world as a company.

Stretch assignments

Another company I worked with took the approach of offering 90 day stretch assignments. This program relied on the employees identifying the teams they wanted to join for the stretch assignment and getting both managers to sign off and create a learning plan for them.

Then, one day a week for a 90-day period, that person practices and learns a new skill and builds new connections inside the business. At the end of 90 days, the employees and managers decide whether to make the transfer permanent or if the employees will return to their original roles. Even when the move isn’t permanent, employees are able to consolidate what they’ve learned and continue adding value.

Employee choice

While stretch assignments require buy-in at the management level, there is one company that is taking management out to the equation and leaving the choices for career changes solely to the discretion of the employees.

Any employee who is working for a manager that is not helping them to grow or not offering leadership in the form of feedback and mentorship, that employee is able to choose a different manager. It's not up to the manager. They have no say so in it, they can't control it, they can't even veto it. The employees can just pull up stakes and find someone else. The positive side effect of this is that every manager knows this is a reality. As a result, they are all focused on being good leaders, because no one wants to be that manager that gets a new hire who leaves after two months and leaves. That's a pretty clear metric on whether you're a good leader or not. When individuals stay with the company but move to another manager inside the business, it's much harder to cop-out and blame the company culture or the employee.

Talent mobility on the first day

Talent mobility and career development are so critical that companies are talking about opportunities before new hires begin their new roles. From day one, companies are asking critical questions to keep employees engaged, including:

  • What do you want to be?
  • What do you want to do?
  • How can we help you get there?
  • Are there any obstacles in your job?
  • Are there development skills that you need?

Balancing the needs of the business with the needs of the individual is a continuing tug-of-war for organizations looking at talent mobility as a solution to their recruiting and retention challenges. The solution begins at the hiring level and resetting internal cultures and manager mindsets to look at talent as an asset for the entire organization.

Take a deeper dive into building a business case and how companies have solved their talent mobility problems in this webinar.

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01 August 2019

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