It is human nature for managers to want to keep the stars in their department, group, or division. However, this is ultimately detrimental for both the organization as well as the people involved. Numerous studies have shown that talent mobility is one of today's most underutilized but most effective development and cultural enhancement strategies. Research has shown that organizations with high performance are twice as likely than those with lower levels to promote talent mobility. A culture of mobility is a hallmark of healthy organizations. The benefits are obvious. Cross-functional collaboration improves, departmental cooperation increases, innovation improves, companies work more cohesively instead of being separate fiefdoms.
My company has spent decades studying the relationship between people practices, performance, and we have seen one trait in low-performing, slow-to change companies: talent hoarding. This is when managers allow their top performers to stay put within the company.
It is human nature to want to keep the stars in your department, group, or division. However, this is ultimately detrimental for the organization and the people involved. Numerous studies have shown that talent mobility is one of today's most underutilized yet effective development and cultural enhancement strategies. Research by i4cp found that high-performance companies (as measured in revenue growth, profitability and market share, as well as customer satisfaction) are twice more likely to stress talent mobility than low-performance ones.
A culture of mobility is an asset of healthy organizations. The benefits are obvious: Cross-functional collaboration is increased, departmental cooperation improves, innovation increases, and companies work more together than in separate fiefdoms.
Despite all the benefits, not enough companies have established a talent mobility program or placed a priority in moving talent. This will help companies recover from the pandemic and retain top performers while also enabling them to upskill their workforce for future success.
How companies perpetuate immobility
Talent mobility does not simply involve moving people between departments. The practice is seen by top organizations as the ability identify, develop and deploy talent to meet business needs. The importance of meeting business needs was redefined during the pandemic. Companies like 3M that adopted talent mobility, such as 3M which rapidly redeployed resources for manufacturing and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), did well in 2020. Organizations that can respond quickly and strategically to changing circumstances, as well as the ability to adapt to unexpected situations, are able to thrive in times of great agility.
Talent mobility is often seen as a promotion for top performers but it can also cover many types of movement. This could mean that someone is moved laterally to another business division or group. Or a subsidiary. Or to another country. You could even move to another company temporarily. This could even involve someone moving down to allow them to transition up. This helps to retain and recruit. A wealth of career opportunities is a key trait that attracts and retains top talent within any organization. This should appeal to all managers.
The elephant in the room is not appealing, but should be. Managers are the main obstacle to talent mobility. Our research revealed that 50% of companies and 74% of low performers reported that their managers were the biggest obstacle to talent mobility. Managers often play games in order to retain their top performers. There are many stories of managers keeping their best performers hidden so that no one finds them.
They are not to blame for this. Most companies encourage them to do this. Managers who are successful in achieving business metrics are recognized by the company and rewarded. This is a way to retain the people that have made them successful. This is something you're likely to have done if you've ever managed people.
Create a Culture of Mobility
Managers should be given incentives.
Reevaluating how an organization rewards and recognizes its managers is the first step to changing this dynamic. Only a few companies are able to recognize the importance of consistently rotating talent, especially high-potential employees. They must make it part of their performance goals and include this in the performance review process. These companies often give managers internal recognition and pay them for their ability both to develop people and offer opportunities for further development. They create a culture that encourages mobility and create an environment that supports it.
This is when talent magnets emerge from former hoarders. Everybody wants to work for someone who is known for advancing the careers of employees.
Reduce bureaucracy, stigma.
Another obstacle is the bureaucracy that companies create in order to fill open positions from the inside. Managers prefer to search outside because it is often easier and more efficient. It is easier and prevents conflict. Many organizations don't like the idea of poaching talent from within their own ranks. We make it more difficult for hiring managers to hire an employee from outside, so they have to go through a lot more steps.
It is the same phenomenon from the employee's perspective. Management rules do not apply to outside opportunities. External roles are not stigmatized, but internal roles can be very costly. I am a dead man walking is one of the comments that several friends made when they discovered they had applied for a different role within their company. While employees are not bound to a particular job or salary level when searching externally for work, this often applies internally. Finally, employees can look externally to remove any labels they may have attached to their job, rank, compensation, or department. This is often a hindrance to internal mobility.
Progressive companies are adopting a talent ecosystem approach within their organization and are focusing on the best skills for the job at hand. This is in contrast to proximity or where someone is located in the hierarchy. To be more flexible and fill open positions from the inside, it is important to catalog the skills and abilities of the workforce. Many times, the best person to fill an open position is already within the company. However, hiring managers are not able to find them because they lack data about the workforce. Active talent ecosystems make it possible to have employees move around the company and decrease the stigma associated with applying for open positions.
Talent mobility is a lattice and not a ladder.
The former encourages employees to move around the company to expand their capabilities under the direction of key decision-makers. Research shows that encouraging lateral mobility and encouraging relocation assignments has a strong correlation with market performance. Transparency about the process is also important. The likelihood of talent mobility being clarified by high-performing organizations is four-and-a-half times higher than for those who are not in high performance.
Recognizing lateral mobility also helps to address the risk of mobility hitting a wall. Companies tend to view mobility as a path to upward mobility. It is important that there are positions available. Employers often feel stuck if they don't have the ability to provide opportunities for upward mobility or are unable to place people in positions that will allow them to do so. Our research revealed that 39% of employers considered lack of opportunities for upward mobility to be a barrier to mobility.
Crisscrossing an organization as a lattice may also help to create a more inclusive culture. Movement is more common, which reduces cliques and outsider-versus-insider feelings. If mobility is viewed only as upward, it can discourage talented people from being disqualified about senior positions that are difficult to open.
Talent mobility is often not sustainable because it is difficult to maintain. Although most companies realized the importance of agility during the pandemics, the top companies have long recognized its importance. Employees who describe change as too difficult, wearisome, or disruptive to their normal work routines are likely to be working in a low-performing organization. Top-performing employees are more likely to describe change as normal and part of their business model. Many of these companies even incite change on a regular schedule, believing that constant change can actually increase productivity.
A culture of talent mobility that is active can reduce complacency and foster healthy change. This can create an environment that encourages innovation and agility, which can be used to handle the unexpected. You can improve agility by incorporating healthy internal mobility into your organization and creating more talent magnets.