Understanding talent mobility

talent mobility

With competition for top talent reaching aggressive new heights – and retention one of the biggest challenges of 2017 – talent mobility is becoming a must-have for any company looking to hire and retain amazing employees.

Here’s an overview of talent mobility – and what it means to your small business.

What is talent mobility?

In a nutshell, talent mobility means in-house hires. Yes, talent mobility can also mean literally relocating workers, but for the purpose of this discussion – and in particular, relating to small businesses – we’re sticking to mobility at the organizational level. In its recent white paper on the topic, Cornerstone defines talent mobility this way:

“Moving employees efficiently and proactively throughout the organization, vertically and horizontally, to ensure the organization can leverage skills, talents, and competencies when and where they are most needed.”

It’s not necessarily different than career pathing, though it’s perhaps less linear. In 2010, Deloitte’s Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson coined the phrase “corporate lattice” as a modern take on the corporate ladder. This new approach looks at multi-directional career paths versus a simply vertical one – and that’s tantamount to talent mobility.

In a broad sense, talent mobility is about taking the time to look at your employees’ skills and goals, and moving them to the projects and teams that can make the most of them. In a way, it’s what startups and small businesses have been doing all along: creating a flexible, multi-functional workforce that can respond to ebbs and flows in the market. However, creating a formal mobility program at your company can offer additional benefits beyond flexibility – more on that below.

How you can benefit from talent mobility

First, the most obvious: engaging in talent mobility means that you’re getting the most out of your team at all times, filling critical gaps quickly and easily, and improving the overall success of your company.

Talent mobility also allows you to focus your recruitment, hiring, and onboarding efforts on those truly hard-to-fill positions (which, incidentally, will make attracting top talent easier, as a well-defined development plan is often at the top of seekers’ must-have list).

It also plays a critical role in employee development. In PWC’s Talent mobility: 2020 and beyond, Michael White, former CEO of DirecTV, sums up the situation:

“Let’s face it. There are 80 million Baby Boomers who are going to retire over the next five to seven years, and they’re going to be replaced by 40 million Generation Xers. That’s two to one, so you’d better be developing your next generation now if you’re going to be ready for that transition.”

By making the most of every employee’s talents and focusing on development, you’re grooming your next leaders – and, improving engagement and retention while you’re at it. After all, recent research found that 73 per cent of employees are open to hearing about new opportunities. If those opportunities aren’t coming from within their organization, they’ll look elsewhere. To quote Cornerstone: “The competition for talent is too fierce to leave talent on the table—or in the cubicle.”

Getting started

Starting a talent mobility program can seem daunting. In fact, in a recent survey by Futurestep, 87 per cent of employers agreed that talent mobility is crucial to attraction, engagement, and retention – but only 33 per cent actually have a program in place.

In his recent article for Talent Management Essentials Excellence magazine, Insala CEO Phillip Roark suggests that a good talent mobility program involves the combination of two key components: self-directed career development, and internal recruitment.

The former means creating a culture of constant assessment of your employees’ values, working styles, skills, career goals, and more. “If you’re to have a dialogue with them in any way about their career at your organization, you must be transparent about the required skill sets, competencies, and general career path for job roles and positions in your organization,” he says. “After all, if there’s no transparency around not only what’s available now, but also what employees aspire to achieve in the next 10 years, there’s no way for your employees to figure out how to direct their career in the organization.”

From there, internal recruitment strategies can educate and encourage employees to apply for open roles. Depending on the size of your company, this can take place in a range of ways, from a newsletter or dedicated job portal for existing employees to ongoing discussions with managers.

To develop your internal recruitment strategies, Deloitte suggests starting by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Have we created a means to inform employees about open positions in our organization?
  2. Are we having conversations regularly with employees to understand their career desires?
  3. Are we defining the criteria to employees to make them “move ready” into positions?
  4. Are we ready to demonstrate a commitment to talent mobility by recruiting internally first (before pursuing any external recruitment effort)?
The challenges

One of the biggest hurdles that any company, small or big, has when it comes to talent mobility is communication. According to LinkedIn research, 70 per cent of Canadian HR professionals say their talent mobility program is well-known by their employees – but only 20 per cent of employees reported being aware of their company’s program. These numbers suggest a lot of wasted effort.

Another challenge has to do with workplace culture. As culture and engagement becomes increasingly important to companies, it means that teams and departments develop bonds that can make mobility more difficult – or at least more emotionally charged. In fact, many employees (32 per cent, according to Futurestep) feel the need to hide their internal job application from their direct managers.

However, both of these challenges can be addressed by working with your leadership team from the start to ensure that everyone is on-board and aware of the reasons why talent mobility is crucial to the company’s success. Getting each manager to buy in as an advocate of the system will help to integrate it seamlessly into the fabric of your organization.

Starting a talent mobility program at your company takes some planning, but it offers ample benefits, including a more flexible workforce, an engaged team, lower turnover, and more.

See also:
Job hopping: everything employers need to know
Why your small business needs a recruitment process


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