What is talent mobility and why does it matter to your business

For enterprise, internal talent mobility is the ultimate win-win.

When you move people within the organisation, either upwards by way of promotion or laterally to a different part of the business, it not only helps HR to upskill teams and management to meet strategic business goals, but it also empowers employees to grow professionally inside the company. 

But successfully mobilising your workforce isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.

“Done well, talent mobility relies on hiring managers really understanding the kinds of work that gets done in their business,” begins James Hu, Global HR Strategy Manager at Unilever.

“Once you understand the kinds of work that you do, you then need to have a clear view around what skills and experiences you actually need for this work. Many times, companies specify skills and experiences for jobs that are actually not that relevant. We see this as being a major hindrance to mobility,” he says.

Why is talent mobility good for business?

recent report published by Deloitte shows that 76% of C suite-level executives currently see internal talent mobility as being important, with 20% saying it’s one of their company’s three most pressing issues. 

Why? Because it meets the vastly different requirements of workers today compared to those of previous generations.  While once, value was placed on stability and job security, today’s job seekers – particularly the younger generations – are looking for flexibility, a diversity of experiences and the opportunity to develop new skills. To retain great talent, organisations must adapt accordingly and a well-implemented internal talent mobility program allows them to do just that – according to LinkedIn, 94% of employees say they’ll stay longer at a company that invests in their career.

“Talent mobility allows you to make better use of your capacity and expertise,” says Hu. “Companies get better performance from their people when they’re more engaged and furthermore, when people are engaged, you tend to get better innovation because people think more deeply, and approach problems they face differently.”

Beyond employee engagement, internal talent mobility can reduce the cost of recruiting and on-boarding time. It also allows greater visibility across the organisation – it clearly illustrates the skills currently in the talent pool, and highlights managers who’re empowering employees compared to those who’re holding them back, creating a culture that lacks productivity and engagement.

How do you facilitate talent mobility in your business?

  • Identify the skills the business needs to grow

Before engaging staff to move across its company, an organisation must first understand its strengths and weaknesses. Know what skills will be crucial to the company’s future success. Gain visibility across the skills in your existing talent pool.

  • Be specific about the requirements relevant to the role

Hu advises hiring managers not to limit their talent pool by attaching irrelevant job requirements to the role.

“Apply a deliberate, thorough process to why you’ve put these job requirements in place. Are they all really necessary? The more you can remove those barriers, the greater the pool of people who can potentially do the job will be, and the more you can facilitate movement of talent.”

Companies commonly stipulate general managers must have international experience, for example, but James says that often this requirement isn’t essential.

“HR needs to ask itself why it’s essential the new GM has this experience,” he begins. “If they’re Australian and they are a general manager of an Australian company, why does it matter that they have US or Africa experience? When you put those requirements in, you limit the pool of people who could potentially do that job.”

  • Be ready for letting your people go

For successful talent mobility, you need to get full buy-in from senior management. Releasing valuable human resources is a challenging task for many team leaders and managers, but Hu insists they need to get comfortable with letting their people go.

“Leadership needs to clearly understand that allowing their staff to move to a new role benefits the business, and then give their full support to enable that,” he says, adding that on the flipside, talent mobility also gives managers access to fantastic new human resources.

  • Encourage strong and open communication between management and their teams

“The connection between line managers and employees is critical,” explains Hu. “The ability for managers to very quickly build strong relationships with their direct reports can become the key success factor to talent mobility.”

Strong communication skills will also enable HR and management to build trust and clearly explain to employees the reasons why staff have moved up into a new position, or from one team into another.

  • Help employees achieve personal development goals

“We encourage all our employees to have a personal development plan that integrates various career components. Where do they want to go? What skills do they want to develop? What are their ultimate career ambitions? Once this is clearly mapped out, management can help them develop the skills required to make those transitions,” says Hu.

  • Foster a culture that develops practical experience

Keeping the interests and aspirations of your employees at the centre of your decision making will help create a culture that fosters development.

“For Unilever, developing our talent is hugely, hugely critical,” says Hu. “We know that most people learn by doing, right? You can’t learn to swim by reading a textbook. You need to read the textbook and then figure it out in the pool.

“Providing these mobility opportunities gives us a really powerful way of continually developing our people, and it also gives us a way to see talent in different scenarios.”

  • Invest in an AI-powered platform

According to recent research conducted by IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute, only 16% of HR managers have used AI to enable talent mobility, however, most believe the tech is essential to better facilitating the practice within their organisation. Through good AI-based software you can tap into larger talent pools, better match an employee’s skill set to open opportunities within the company, improve an employee’s visibility of opportunities and better the employee experience.

At Unilever, talent mobility is facilitated through FLEX Experiences, an AI-powered platform that identifies open opportunities across the business in real time, then matches them to suitable staff.

“Flex is an open talent marketplace,” Hu explains. “Any Unilever line manager can post pieces of work or projects into the platform, which then intelligently matches that work to employees who are looking to develop specific skills, or work on particular types of projects. If you say you want to be developed in a certain way, the system will automatically find the projects to match.”

While FLEX is custom-built for Unilever, its creator – tech start-up, GLOAT – offers an off-the-shelf AI-powered platform called InnerMobility, specifically designed for enterprise to foster the internal mobilisation of talent.

Finally, Hu stresses there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to mobilising your workforce.

“Talent Mobility is going to look slightly different for every company,” he says. “There isn’t one way to do it but understanding your company’s strategic goals and the skill set you currently pose across your workforce is a good place to start.

Regardless of what your talent mobility program looks like, simply having one in the first place is becoming increasingly important.

“At the end of the day, leveraging your experience and expertise internally across multiple parts of the business helps the organisations develop their people more effectively – as people get to do different things, they grow and develop, so engagement improves. It’s a win-win.”

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