Talent Mobility: What it is and why organizations need it

Talent MobilityOne of the themes of our exciting new Succession Management research is what we call “transparent talent mobility.”  It’s an important new concept in talent management, and one which came to us after more than a year of research into various succession management programs.

Let me start with the underlying issue: today, and on into the future, an organizations ultimate success is dependent on two things:

1. First, how well do you hire, train, and align your people to execute on your strategy.  

Talent Management, as we define it, addresses this complex set of needs.  Today organizations are heavily focused on further defining their core business strategy, understanding the competencies and behaviors of high performers in key roles, and the using talent management tools to make sure they are attracting, developing, and managing people to optimize their fit and skills in these roles.

As you mature your talent management strategy, you can start to optimize this process.   Companies like Liberty Mutual, Rogers Communications, Aetna, and others we work with have gone so far as to build “talent dashboards” which provide specific measures to help monitor the health of the workforce in these areas.  They include measures like leadership capability, job fit, retention, as well as traditional measures like engagement, performance rating, and even potential.

It takes most companies several years of effort to reach a point where the “pivotal” talent is defined, the competencies of high performers are well understood, and the performance management and development processes are in place to optimize their talent management program.

But there is a second, equally important need.

2.  How well do people move from role to role as business needs change.

The second, equally important problem, is the one of change.  How well do people move from role to role (both up into leadership and across the organization) as business needs change?  If you think about the “talent management” program above as the “steady state” process for hiring and managing people, what happens when you go through a massive business downturn, restructuring, or migration into a new business?

High performing companies, what we call “enduring organizations,” have a complex and powerful set of processes which facilitate and enable such mobility to take place rapidly and effectively.  This issue of “Talent Mobility” goes far beyond succession management:  it speaks to your organization’s true “adapability,” represented by its ability to move people when business conditions change.

Unfortunately the whole issue of “talent mobility” is lost on many companies, and I have published a few horror stories on this topic.  This week another one came up:  one of the most talent sales and sales training professionals I know was laid off from a highly successful, very profitable high technology company.  Why?  Because her salary was among the top 20% in her group.  In other words, this company’s policy is to lay off from the “top” to gain optimum savings in compensation spending.  Is this a good business decision?  Maybe, maybe not.

How do you optimize talent mobility?

When you have a new business initiative, how do you really know who should move into the newly created positions?  When you have a layoff, how do you decide who to let go?  When a new leadership opportunity opens up, which of your leadership potentials should take the new role?

Our research shows that the answer to these problems lay in a wide variety of important talent programs, processes, strategies, and cultures.  These include succession management, talent reviews, career ladders, career portals, developmental assignment, rotational assignments, stretch assignments, workforce planning, talent planning, talent segmentation, capability analysis, and even employee alumni programs.

What our research has clearly found is that talent mobility strategies are very valuable.  Organizations which have transparent mobility processes are very high performing companies (GE, IBM, Procter & Gamble are among the most visible).   They seem to “re-appear” in new markets, new industries, and new product categories with uncanny reliability.

Think about your own company’s training, performance management, and succession processes.  How well do they facilitate talent mobility?  How easy do they make it for managers and executives to find “the right people” for new jobs?  How well do they enable your organization to quickly move into new business areas?  

Watch for much more on this topic – as always I welcome your comment son how your organization addresses this important issue.  Read our groundbreaking new research on this topic, High Impact Succession Management®, developed in partnership with Center for Creative Leadership after more than a year of in-depth research.

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  • In our conversations with organizations about workforce planning, the issue of talent mobility comes up with increasing frequency. It is clear that executives are paying much more attention to this critical issue and are asking hard questions of their management and their HR teams:
    What are the most critical roles within the organization?
    What positions are most effective at developing talent?
    Which of our internal and external talent sources are most effective at delivering high performers?
    Which managers in the organization are the best developers of talent? Which are the worst?

    The HR team must have the data, framework, and reporting and analytic capabilities to answer these questions. Traditional succession management practices (and traditional workforce planning tools) are often inadequate to the task.
    Infohrm has recently brought to market its TalentFlow Analytics module, which draws on data from organizations’ HRIS and other ERP systems to provide data-driven answers to these questions in a highly visible, intuitive graphical interface. These Markov-style “transition diagrams” help managers and executives immediately see how talent moves through the organization – and which sources, flows, positions, and managers most enhance (or detract from) that process.

  • Mobile Amoeba

    This is a very intriguing concept. However, I have a perspective that perhaps you could address. I work for a small business. The position I was hired to fill has changed two times. The original position was very attractive to me, and although the pay was low, I took it because it meant doing what I loved to do. Within a few months, an emphasis was placed on another role (marketing), which I embraced although did not feel it was my strongest skill set. I’ve been adapting and learning more about this area, but admit it is not a “passion.” I have been working on creative solutions though, with the focus on helping my employer grow his business.

    Then last year, my role changed again. This time, I saw my cycles being switched from doing the work I loved to work that quite frankly, bores me. I don’t feel as though my situation is much different from other employees who must be adaptable in this volatile economy. However, I can say this “talent mobility” could have the potential to drive skilled employees out of the workplace and into developing their own businesses.

    Where do you draw the line between being “mobile” vs. retaining positions for individuals for which they truly excel? Not everyone can do everyone’s jobs. I’m not an engineer nor an accountant. I liked your research findings, but I suspect more companies will skip the processes and talent segmentation and simply say to the employee, “Do you want to keep working here? If so, you need to do this.”

    In which case, we can all just quit and start our own research and advisory firm. 😉

    • joshbersin

      This is a pretty common problem, unfortunately. It says something about your organization’s maturity in “talent mobility” – the whole idea here is to give employees a set of options that enable the employee to satisfy their own career goals, matched into the organization’s needs. The right idea is for people to go into a role that is both good for THEM as well as the organization. Any manager who pushes you otherwise is probably an immature manager or needs some training. The other thing to remember is that everyone has periods of time in their career when they tend to have “boring” or “flat lined” jobs – it’s part of building a career – and when you find that your employer gives you a lot of these jobs, its time to create your own “personal career mobility.” 🙂