Talent Mobility Is A Business Issue You Shouldn’t Ignore

We have more technology at our disposal than ever before, so why haven’t organizations seen corresponding productivity gains? The answer isn’t in technology alone, it’s in your people, and how you leverage that talent and enable their fullest human potential.

We are in the middle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and history tells us this should be a time of enormous productivity gains, yet most organizations aren’t seeing them. It can’t be a lack of technology—we have an abundance. That means we have to look at the human side of the equation to figure out what may be holding people back and limiting productivity. This leads us to motivation—the why of work.

What motivates people? Study after study tells us that money isn’t the most important or lasting motivator. People want meaning in their work: They want to feel a sense of belonging, they want to be valued for what they contribute, and they want to see a path forward that maximizes their future potential in a world where a lifespan of 100 years and a career life of 50–60 years is becoming the norm.

If this sounds like the same “people are our most important asset” argument, don’t be fooled. This need for meaning is directly tied to improved productivity. Technology can augment and amplify the human element that ultimately drives productivity, but it isn’t going to get you there alone. Humans are the critical factor, and to be able to maximize how your organization leverages talent, people have to be in the right place in your organization and they have to be motivated and enabled to do their best work.

Talent mobility sits precisely at this intersection.

The whys of talent mobility

You need only look as far as the U.S. JOLTS report to see how the war for talent is raging. We’re basically in a state of having fewer than one unemployed person for every job opening, which means organizations can’t rely solely on outside talent, because the talent just isn’t available, especially for high-demand skills and those needed for the future. You now have to maximize the talent already in your organization.

Technology (AI, cognitive, robotics) can help with that by changing the way work gets done, creating efficiencies and talent capacity. Internal talent mobility then provides the vehicle to optimize that capacity by (1) moving people where they are needed most, (2) helping workers develop new skills via new roles and experiences, and (3) showing your people that you are invested in their future, recognizing their potential and seeing how it can be leveraged in different ways throughout the organization.

Talent mobility is also a powerful motivator. It’s a key way to retain the talent you have and turn it into a competitive advantage. People know they need to continually develop themselves to stay relevant, and now rate “opportunity to learn” among their top reasons for taking a job. Younger generations know they’re facing a longer career than the generation before. Why would they stay with an employer that doesn’t offer them the chance to grow, or sustain them over a lifetime of working? If your organization wants to be a destination of choice for talent, you need to be on top of talent mobility. It has moved from a nice to have to a mandate for any organization looking to sustain performance in a world of constant disruption.

What can CEOs do to address the talent mobility business imperative?

1. Identify the business need.

In what areas of your business do you have excess talent capacity, need to build capacity, or need people who think differently? For example, maybe you need a product developer who thinks like a marketer, or a team in a particular geography who would benefit from a diverse cultural perspective.

2. Shift the mindset.

Talent mobility is not just an HR problem. It doesn’t even squarely fit into how a typical HR function is defined. Recruitment, development, performance management, and rewards all factor into mobility and are usually different areas in HR that run vertically. Talent mobility needs to run horizontally across these elements, plus you need to have a deep understanding of the business objectives. In our 2019 Global Human Capital Trends research, 46 percent of respondents told us that managers resist internal mobility, not wanting to lose the talent they have. This really highlights the need to reframe talent mobility as a means to achieving business strategy and enabling productivity, which should be every leader’s concern.

3. Break down barriers.

The current state of talent mobility is grim: Mobility processes are some of the most broken that exist across organizations. This is partly because of that horizontal nature I mentioned that cuts across processes (development, rewards, etc.) and partly because of the tactical issues of moving an employee across functions, geographies, or business units. Roadblocks are common: More than 50 percent of respondents to our Trends survey told us it was easier for employees to find a job outside their organization than inside. And in our conversations with HR leaders, many told us that employees find it easier to quit and be rehired than simply move within the company! CEOs can counter this by advocating for simplicity—fewer approvals required, fewer forms to fill out, clearer insight into open positions, and an inclination toward rather than against internal mobility.

4. Promote and celebrate it.

The highest levels of your organization should reinforce talent mobility as critical to your business strategy and promote it as a core element of your talent program. One way is to celebrate it when people move around—it’s positive for the person having the opportunity to grow and for the managers who are supporting that growth. Leaders can be measured on how well they facilitate movement into and out of their function/geography/business unit. Mobility can also become a recruitment tool, part of your talent brand that draws people into the organization.

Productivity and meaning: Hard and “soft” results

When we looked at the fastest-growing organizations (those growing at 10 percent or more compared to the prior year) in our Trends survey, they were twice as likely to have excellent talent mobility programs than organizations that were not growing at all, and more than three times more likely than organizations whose revenues were shrinking. In an economy where outside talent is becoming harder to find and attract, where people are searching for meaning in their work and ready to go where they can find it, and where productivity isn’t living up to expectations, using talent mobility to leverage the talent you already have can make the crucial difference.

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