Talent Marketplace Platforms Explode Into View

Over the last five years companies have been working to improve internal talent mobility. Not only does it save money on recruiting, it enables companies to find internal expertise which is often hidden in the organization. And it creates a strong sense of engagement and belonging in the workforce.

Why is this such a big topic? Companies have been restructuring at lightning speed (driven by the Pandemic) and now, more than ever, they need an intelligent way to move the right people into the right role. And we need good data and tools to do this well.

There have been many barriers to internal mobility in companies. The biggest has been culture: while most companies have vertical career paths, when someone makes a radical internal job change they often take a risk. The hiring manager may want someone with more experience; the internal candidate may not be ready for the role; and if they fail or underperform they may not be able to get their old job back. And to make it worse, their current manager may not let them leave.

I remember talking with one of the world’s largest companies in India which was hiring 100,000 people in their telecommunications business while laying off hundreds of people in their energy business. I asked them “how hard is it for people to move from one division to the other?” Their answer was that it’s impossible. “It’s easier for an employee to quit and get rehired than it is to get an internal transfer.”

This situation is more common than you think. People get pigeonholed into a job role (“you’re a salesperson” or “you’re an HR person”) and it’s very hard to reinvent yourself.  Some companies have job rotation programs for high-potentials, but what about everyone else?  And if you do decide to let people move around, do you have the training and development available to help people rapidly learn new roles?

Well, all this is now starting to change. A new breed of software platforms, now called The Talent Marketplace, has arrived.

How The Talent Marketplace Platform Emerged

I’ve been involved in this market from the early days. When I left Deloitte I spent a few years on the board of Fuel50 (I’m no longer a board member and now maintain independence as an analyst) and tried to help the company reposition itself into this market. The product was originally designed to be a career pathing system, so the shift to “internal talent marketplace” was difficult. We knew the company was in an important position, but buyers could not quite figure out what role it played.

All this has now changed. Thanks to stories by Unilever, Schneider Electric, Standard Charter, Seagate, Societe Generale, IBM, and many others, it has now become clear that opening up internal opportunities is of the most powerful management practices in business. Not only does it engage people and help them grow, it helps the company identify skills that reduce the need to constantly search for external talent.

Enduring, high-performing companies have figured this out. Companies like Cisco, Nestle, Google, IBM, GE, Procter and Gamble, General Mills, Unilever, and Bank of America have been “internal talent machines” for years. They’ve built a culture of internal growth, enabling people to work in the company for decades and constantly reinvent themselves along the way. And they’ve learned that this creates a strong breed of leadership: people who move around the company gain perspective, cultural insights, and can perform in unique and productive ways because of their relationships and knowledge of all parts of the company.

Vendors tended to ignore this market for years. For years Fuel50 was in a class by itself and most LMS and talent management vendors paid lip service to career development. They offered “career paths” or “competency models” in their software, but these were static hard-to-use features. I remember when United Health Group spent multiple years trying to build an enterprise-wide competency model for all their jobs. The project had high hopes, but it never had the dynamic features employees need as jobs continue to change.

Today internal mobility is far less about “careers” and much more about “experiences and skills.” High performing professionals want to try new things, learn adjacent skills, take international assignments, and get a chance to work with different leaders. These types of mobility scenarios cannot be planned or programmed into career models. They happen in real-time. So the platforms we now need are different.

As I’ve studied the market, I’ve come to the conclusion that Talent Marketplace strategies evolve in three stages.

Three Options for Talent Mobility

The first model is Planned Mobility: you create career paths and you encourage people to progress. This is the traditional ‘career management’ model, where we do development planning each year, and managers coach and often throttle people back from promotion until they’re ready. There has always been this idea of “waiting until someone is ready” and then giving them the job.

I’ve never felt this is a good model because there are often many barriers in the way (the narrowing of the pyramid as you move up) and most people “learn to be ready” by taking a new job. So this traditional model, while common, is very limiting. Companies regularly tell me their “succession plans” are not filled in or complete.

The second model is what I call Facilitated Mobility. This is where someone gets a stretch assignment, or they get “assigned” to take on an important new role or move. These are forced, business-driven moves that often occur because someone is tired of their job or the business needs a hole filled. This is a more dynamic process and most companies do it in a very ad-hoc way. They “jump around the system” and make things happen.

This is a common practice and it happens all the time, but it’s often driven by politics (“who you know” or “your internal brand”) so it may or may not result in the best business outcome. But with a good talent mobility platform it can become better, and many HR leaders study patterns of mobility to figure out which moves have the highest potential for success.

The third model is what I call Agile Talent Mobility, where people move around all the time. This takes place when people work on multiple projects, they join various teams or initiatives, and the company operates more like a professional services firm and less like a hierarchy of jobs and functions. Over time all companies are moving in this direction, but for most this is a new idea.

Agile talent mobility is very common within a job function. In IT, HR, Finance, or Facilities people move around from project to project all the time. But how many IT managers move into marketing or vice versa?  A strong data analyst in IT may be a fantastic hire into Marketing Analytics, but that type of move is uncommon. In an Agile Mobility model, this may happen on a regular basis. 

And Agile Mobility means people work on more than one thing at a time. They may have “career managers” who help them with their career or functional skills, but then they have project managers, team leaders, and other leaders that they work for as well. Performance management is based on “results” not “reputation” and the company becomes more accountable, dynamic, and agile as a result.

As you can see, these models have an enormous impact on how a company is managed. And that’s why the Talent Marketplace platforms are so important.

Enter The Talent Marketplace

The Talent Marketplace of today barely resembles a “career management” system – it lets people promote their skills and aspirations; it gives people tools to find mentors and learning; it recommends projects and assignments of interest; and it manages the search, hiring, onboarding, and movement of people from role to role. In fact, as I’ve told many companies, I believe The Talent Marketplace, as a platform, is really the future of “Talent Management.” Everything we do to manage people eventually falls into this system.

Just to give you a small hint into what these platforms must do, consider the issue of “how do you match people to opportunities?” It’s not as simple as it sounds.

match people to opportunities

As you can see, there are a lot of features to consider. The Talent Marketplace is like a combination of career management, social networking, and recruiting system all in one. In many ways, it’s like your internal “LinkedIn” inside your company – with recruiting features, training, and mentoring all included.

Vendors Are Scrambling To Meet The Demand

We’ve helped dozens of companies create these types of strategies and there are lots of complexities to consider. What do you do about pay? How do you assess skills and readiness? How do you incent managers to let people go? What will be the performance management process as people move around? And when and how do you assess people for promotion? And by the way, what levels, job architecture, or job titles do you use?

All these questions are being answered today – and we can help you work them out. But the most interesting part of all is how the vendors are madly scrambling to meet demand. A series of vendors are going after this market with a vengeance, and each has particular strengths. Let me mention a few for you now, and I will write more about all the features and issues they have to address.

First, let me mention Gloat, the current market leader. Gloat’s competitive advantage is that the company started its life in recruiting. The original company was called Workey, and I saw it demonstrated in Tel Aviv several years ago. The core technology was a highly advanced system to match job candidates to job opportunities, a problem that’s far more complicated than you think. While the technology was amazing, I told them the market was a bit crowded, so they transitioned to internal mobility. Through a series of high-profile wins and an impressive engineering team, Gloat has become one of the category leaders, and its platform InnerMobility is one of the most successful in the market. Their clients include Unilever, Schneider Electric, Seagate, ADP, and others. Incidentally, Gloat’s history in recruiting is a big plus: at its core, a Talent Marketplace at its core is an internal recruitment system.

Second, let me mention Fuel50, the company that pioneered this space. Fuel50 was founded by two well-known career coaches and benefits from deep experience in job models, career models, and competency management and assessment. The platform was designed to let individual assess their skills against job and competency models, connect people to other experts and mentors, and now includes features for internal mobility and internal gig work. Ingersoll Rand, Vanguard, and Mercer have all adopted it. I believe Fuel50’s strengths are in its ability to help more traditional companies adapt to the new world of gig work and internal mobility, and with new funding the team is growing rapidly.

Third, let me mention 365Talents, a less well-known but very successful French company that is also very successful. 365Talents has quietly deployed talent marketplace solutions at Allianz, Society Generale, Tessi, and several other large French companies. Their platform includes an AI-based skills matching tool, a very comprehensive competency and skills library, and an easy to use job search and matching system. The system is very well designed and easy to use, and the team has deep experience in the space.

Fourth is a company called Hitch, which was born out a big organization called HERE Technologies, which manages its entire organization around gig and project work. This platform too is AI-based and the management team is experienced and very successful in this market. Their clients include Dolby, AllianzGI, ARM and HERE Technologies. The founders of Hitch have implemented the Agile model of talent mobility I describe above, so they really understand this market well. And I highly recommend the book The Inside Gig, written by the founders.

Fifth is an important company you may now know, by the name of Eightfold.ai.  Eightfold’s founders were some of the original engineers at Google and they have built an amazing AI-based talent matching and analysis system. They, like Gloat, grew up in the recruiting market – so skills inference and skills matching is their core. While the company does not specifically position itself as a “marketplace” for people to find and search for opportunities, it has one of the most advanced assessment engines I have seen, so it is starting to make progress as a system to help managers, leaders, and HR professionals identify key skills, find the most high-opportunity talent pools to develop, and truly understand the nature of your talent in great detail.

Sixth we have to talk about Avature. Avature is one of the most scalable, mature, workflow-oriented recruiting platforms in the market. The company has slowly and steadily won over many of the world’s largest recruitment teams and recently the company unleashed its internal mobility system and skills taxonomy. I believe this platform has the potential to upset the market significantly, once the company starts marketing it more aggressively. I will be publishing some case studies on Avature soon: you’ll be amazed what this platform and company can do.

Seventh, I must mention Workday, which wants to be in this market in a big way. When the company acquired RallyTeam, Workday found out that they needed a system to manage gig-work, projects, and intelligent matching of people to opportunities. So they set out to build the Workday Talent Marketplace. It is designed to match people to opportunities, and it has a pretty vanilla set of features. It is not yet available and seems not to be ready, but Workday customers will consider it. And since it’s built into Workday, it will leverage Workday’s job families and Workday Learning, hopefully giving it scale.

Eighth, let me mention Pymetrics, one of the leaders in AI-based skills assessment. Pymetrics, by developing the world’s leading AI-based capability testing systems, has realized that its clients now have thousands of data elements about the innate capabilities of their people. They are opening this platform up for internal mobility, also making it possible to “find people with critical skills” internally and repositioning its platform as an internal talent mobility solution.

Finally, there are the LMS and learning vendors. Degreed is entering the space with Adepto. PaddleHR has an integrated platform that matches job profiles to roles and opportunities and looks like a solid product. TalentGuard is an interesting new player in this market, with a history similar to Fuel50. Cornerstone is starting to develop a product in this area. PhenomPeople has developed a solution. Accenture has a product they often offer. And I expect SAP-SuccessFactors to enter as well. IBM has solutions in this area (based on Watson Career Coach and IBM Talent Frameworks) and they have already deployed their technology to more than a dozen companies.

As I said, this market is explosive, so there’s a lot of R&D, marketing, and sales activity going on. 

Despite The Availability of Platforms, This is Not A Product Solution

While I wanted to mention these platforms, let me leave you with an important insight. This is not a solution that can be “solved” by buying a platform. Creating a culture of internal mobility is a top to bottom effort. It changes the way careers work; it changes the way you reward and pay people; and it changes the nature of management, leadership, and learning.

In the long run, I believe almost every company will become more like a professional services company and less like a “hierarchy of jobs” over time. Within each business function (IT, Finance, HR, Marketing) most companies already have lots of mobility, project work, and agility in people’s jobs. But once you start opening this up across functions, across business units, and across geographies – your company starts to feel more like a “global services firm” and less like the product, services, tech, or other industry you’re in. And that’s actually a good thing.

We have a lot of clients in the pharmaceutical industry, and these are complex companies that require scientists, researchers, manufacturing experts, as well as global experts in sales, channel management, marketing, and business development. When I talk with their HR and talent leaders they frequently tell me they are constantly reorganizing into new business units, often to deal with new science, markets, or problems like the Pandemic. Internal mobility is high on their list of strategies because it takes many years to become an expert in these companies.

Tech companies, health care providers, financial services companies, and manufacturers are the same. When you move people around they bring deep expertise from one part of the business to another, and this always gives people new insights and opportunities. We just have to build reward systems, development tools, and coaching to make it work well.

I remember years ago interviewing the head of leadership development at GE, a company that was known for moving its people around every two years or so. She told me that their rapid mobility strategy had become one of their biggest problems, because people could “run away” from their mistakes and never got enough depth in a business area to really perform well. So they created a new mobility strategy they called “More Electric, Less General,” which I always remember as a lesson.

Creating a Talent Marketplace sounds like a good thing, but it’s not simply a matter of opening up every job for random movement in the company. This is a strategy that must be done strategically, and you need tools and platforms that let you manage, monitor, and intelligently plan mobility as well. That’s why these vendors are working so hard: they have a lot of areas to cover.

The good news is that this is now a real market with real solutions, vendors, and case studies to learn from. We’ll keep studying this space carefully and in this time of the Pandemic, this area has to be on your priority list for strategic management systems in the future. (Listen to my podcast for more.)