When it comes to developing and retaining talent, staying ahead of the competition requires raising the bar to an increasingly higher level. For learning leaders in high-performance organizations focused on transforming learning processes and improving leadership development practices, using diverse developmental activities, in particular, talent mobility, is a critical element.
A September 2015 global study, “Talent Mobility Matters,” conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that talent mobility — defined by i4cp’s nearly 40-member Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board, as: rapidly and strategically identifying, developing, and deploying talent to meet business needs, customer requirements, and employee aspirations — is part of the learning and development strategy for high-performance organizations.
The board collectively posited that companies should consider cutting or reducing classroom training budgets in favor of experiential learning activities that walk hand-in-hand with internal talent moves. This coincides with survey data, which indicates that high-performance organizations are two times more likely to prioritize talent mobility than lower-performing companies. Leaders in these high-performance organizations view talent development and retention as essential parts of a winning formula to fill key roles with internal talent.
“Talent Mobility Matters” surveyed more than 650 respondents, and its data revealed that leaders in high-performance organizations should extend their gazes beyond their companies to collaborate with external partners to provide developmental opportunities for employees. Forming mutually beneficial partnerships with external stakeholders for employee development is not yet a widely adopted strategy, but it has a positive correlation to market performance, and is often employed by a relatively small group of top-performing organizations, including Boeing.
Further, the survey results support much of what learning leaders know anecdotally to be true:
The best companies build cultures of mobility. High-performance organizations are more than twice as likely to prioritize talent movement; low-performing companies are two-and-a-half times more likely to say that talent movement doesn’t matter — reinforcing the link between mobility and market performance. Among high-performance organizations, talent mobility is carefully planned and executed, rather than a reactive move.
Leaders at global project management firm Schlumberger, which was featured in the study, promote a “borderless careers” philosophy. Essentially, they believe the best way to develop people for leadership roles is to give them exposure in three areas: cross-geography, cross-business, and cross-function. “The idea is to take risks on people,” said Career Planning and Leadership Development Manager Janice Hyslip. “If you take risk on one axis, that’s limited risk or reasonable risk. If you take risk on two axes, it’s bigger risk, where you have to wait it out and maybe support the person more. So we give people lots of different chances in lots of roles around the company.”
FedEx Ground takes things a step further; the company has built a strategy around looking at the career ladder differently. No longer does it only go up; by emphasizing lateral, internal career moves the organization can meet business needs as well as employees’ career needs, provide cross-functional exposure and develop talent without losing them.
Strong talent mobility programs are built on transparency and communication. High-performance organizations are more likely to define talent mobility broadly, to track their top talent, to reward managers for developing and moving their direct reports, and to communicate job openings across the enterprise. They are also 4½ times more likely to report that criterion for talent mobility is transparent to their entire organizations. See Figure 1.
Leading organizations build cultures of mobility to retain top talent. True cultures of mobility encourage and enable employees to look at internal opportunities before they look externally. High-performance organizations say high-potential talent retention is the leading catalyst for investing in talent mobility; 30 percent of respondents said talent mobility demonstrates to employees that they have a future with the company. Only 10 percent of low-performing organizations agreed with this statement.
But while the study found that having a formal talent mobility process correlates to high performance, only one-third of the survey respondents reported that their organizations have any kind of system or process in place to address talent mobility. To be effective as a growth and retention strategy, talent movement as well as assignment duration must be thoughtfully determined based on the employees’ developmental needs, the project and team needs the employee will be moved to, and ultimately business needs. See Figure 2. Further, organizations must start early.
At Schlumberger, the employee population is considered the foundation for its next generation of leaders. Managers look deep into the organization to identify top talent early so that they receive the development they need and demand. This formal talent mobility strategy identifies employees as soon as they are hired, which helps high-performance organizations hang onto top talent, while ensuring their succession pipelines are well established.
It’s important to provide incentives for managers to develop and move their people, but the following are also important considerations:
Pre-movement assessment: Movement for movement’s sake makes no sense; employ assessments to ensure the right people are being moved into the right roles for the right reasons. Assessments can identify developmental needs that, if met, might aid time to productivity in the role.
Orientation: Fully integrating employees into new teams and roles is critical for success.
Offboarding/reboarding: Whether it’s returning from an assignment abroad, from an external partner, or a rotation on another team in the organization, having clear plans and processes to reassimilate people who return from developmental assignments is a practice that correlates with market performance.
To build success with talent mobility, look closely at the organization’s current, likely long-standing structure and consider loosening up on policies that restrict talent movement. Create a clearly articulated talent mobility definition and process — most organizations have not done this — and ensure that all employees are aware of available job openings enterprisewide.
When mobility isn’t an option for whatever reason, it’s incumbent on learning leaders to model creativity in thinking, expanding roles and responsibilities to actively engage high-potential employees. This can go a long way to sustain a culture in which employees are eager to take on new assignments and responsibilities. See Figure 3.
A mobility program that enables strategic and planned talent movement helps meet the growing demand among all high-performing employees — not just the millennial generation — for greater control and flexibility such as variability in jobs and roles, as well as development opportunities. The value of connecting with external stakeholders is a strategy without parallel, and in addition to the opportunity such partnerings offer high-potential employees, the perspective leaders gain deepens exponentially.
A leader who is able to lead beyond the figurative and literal confines of their organization to develop employees and create influence with critical stakeholders such as customers, partners and distributors is one who is positioning their organization — and themselves — for success now and well into the future.
Lorrie Lykins is managing editor and director of research services for i4cp. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.