Internal talent mobility is an integral part of your talent strategy: Here’s how to get it right

Originally published in the Globe & Mail March 18, 2022

Cross-training, secondments, gigs and permanent crossfunctional moves – internal talent mobility is now a viable, equal partner to external recruitment.

Up until recently, internal mobility in many organizations has been mainly used as an employee benefit and/or a way to develop a pipeline for executive leadership succession. It has been an extremely manual process, driven largely by human resource departments, which focused on identifying eligible “high potential” employees, followed by an often-drawn-out process of moving them to new roles.

Then came the pandemic. Organizations suddenly found themselves with some employee segments whose work had halted instantly, and others who became overburdened. This left leaders questioning how they could best redeploy employees. To minimize layoffs and furloughs, and alleviate the pressure on overworked colleagues, a process to move workers became a necessity.

Now, as companies struggle with an increasingly competitive labour market, coupled with the rapidly changing business landscape and requisite skills, they need to think more creatively about their existing work force and how to best (re)deploy workers and skills. Strategic (and technology enabled) internal mobility is not only a benefit for employees who want to try out new departments, roles and locations for their own development, but a great win for organizations seeking to improve recruitment, retention, succession and coverage. A global study conducted by the Josh Bersin Company indicated that a robust internal talent mobility process can have a significant impact on financial success: It was found that companies that quickly hire (external) and redeploy (internal) talent are 4.4 times more likely meet or exceed financial targets and 5.3 times more likely to provide meaningful work to the work force.

Despite the case for internal mobility, there is room for improvement on the employee experience front. According to U.S.-based research conducted in November 2021 by Gloat, 63 per cent of employees would like to be considered for new and different career opportunities in their organization. However, 54 per cent of workers feel their employer doesn’t take their future interests and aspirations into account enough. Even though the results come from American workers, the trends are likely similar in Canada. It’s no wonder we find ourselves in a situation where 28 per cent of Canadian professionals plan to look for a new job in the first half of 2022, according to a survey conducted by Robert Half Canada.

Companies seeking to use internal talent mobility to their advantage should heed these tips:

  1. Enterprise mindset is critical: Doing what’s best for the enterprise should drive where talent is deployed. Without this approach, leaders may feel they are on the wrong side of a power play. This leads to behaviours – such as talent-hoarding (where a leader doesn’t “let” their employee go to another team) or passing along poor performers – which do not benefit the enterprise, the team nor the individual.
  2. Plan for transition: Specific company guidelines (including who “owns” or pays for head count, and protocols for employees wanting to initiate the process) should set the boundaries and process. An aligned transition plan, including timeline and backfill strategy for the sending team, sets everyone up for success.
  3. Be clear about the objective(s): What is the goal for the employee, the team and the organization? Is the primary purpose development? Coverage? Skill migration? Succession? These decisions dictate what type of internal mobility is best (full-time, fractional, short term, long term or permanent) and whether it is the right strategy for the given role and employee.
  4. Be realistic about capacity: In the case of fractional gigs, be reasonable about expectations. For example, managers often underestimate the time required of an employee, leaving them caught in the middle of two teams constantly vying for their attention. This leads to employee frustration and burnout.
  5. Go for “near matches,” not “perfect fit”: Have a growth mindset regarding what can be learned on the job. Many roles have unsuspected similarities and synergies across departments, so it’s important to be open minded about what employees can and can’t do … yet. Make sure employees are not penalized for “failure” and are given adequate time and resources (such as mentorship and both formal and informal learning) to develop in their new role.

A successful internal talent mobility strategy is not possible without employees having full custody of their own careers – and trust in their leaders. As with any marketplace, if buyers feel they are considering something that could negatively affect them longer term, they will “buy” elsewhere. A culture that rewards risk taking and agility, and that prioritizes development, empowerment and transparency, is foundational to getting this right. Sharing success stories of how internal mobility has propelled careers and business performance is a great way to keep the momentum going.

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We are all struggling with loss, and powering through it is not the solution

Originally published in the Globe & Mail February 9, 2022

January is now in our rear-view mirror, and yet it feels like we are still in 2021. I don’t know about you, but like many of my clients and friends, I have been struggling to gain momentum for 2022. January is always a hard month for many – the holidays are behind us and we are into the cold, dark days of winter. But this year feels different. More than a year and a half into a pandemic from which we thought we had some reprieve, along came Omicron, derailing holiday plans, extending kids’ time home from school and leaving many of us questioning if this is 2022, or 2020, too. Although it’s not 2020 again – we have vaccines, anti-viral drugs and more knowledge – the continued uncertainty and starts and stops are weighing heavily on all of us.

Glain Roberts-McCabe, founder of leadership consultancy The Roundtable Inc., recently posted on LinkedIn about the pandemic-induced feeling of grief, inspired by a recent episode of The Happiness Lab podcast entitled The Eight Pillars of Grieving. While many have experienced tragic and real human loss over the past two years, we have all experienced other types of loss: loss of freedom, milestones, togetherness, and more. In many cases, we have not taken the time to cope with these losses and work through the associated grief, thus leading to a drawn-out sense of languishing.

In the podcast hosted by Dr. Laurie Santos, guest Dr. Julia Samuel, a bestselling psychotherapist, and bereavement expert, suggests that when we experience a big loss, we need to pause and build “scaffolding” to protect our damaged foundation. Ironically, when we are grieving, we often deny our feelings and try to “power through,” which can make the pain worse in the long run. As Ms. Roberts-McCabe points out, the parallels between grieving human loss and the other types of loss we are experiencing can shed some light on what we can do to build scaffolding, or what Dr. Samuel calls “pillars of support,” that can help us get our mojo back and move forward. Here are a few of these pillars:

  1. Express emotions – we need to first name our emotions, so that we can tame them. In many organizations today, colleagues still don’t think they have “permission” to feel, which can, in this instance, prolong the feelings of grief and languishing. Without permission to feel, colleagues can’t appropriately identify and therefore regulate their emotions, which end up affecting them in other unproductive ways.
  2. Mind and Body – Exercise improves our decision-making capability, our emotional sense of balance and makes us feel safe – all things which enable us to better handle bouts of grief.
  3. Set limits – as we grieve, our energy and emotional and mental capacity change. After navigating the pandemic’s curveballs, we may need to set tighter limits at work. This may mean saying “no” more often and also, as leaders, helping our teams prioritize better.
  4. Structure – one of the losses we’ve experienced is in the structure and predictability of our days, which before the pandemic, were defined by our commute and office time. Setting new routines, and adjusting as hybrid working models evolve, provides structure that helps us mitigate procrastination and build good habits.
  5. Focus – mindfulness helps us concentrate on the present and keeps our mind from wandering. A walk in nature, being present with kids or pets, or simply putting away the phone can help recentre our mind so that we can better focus on our work and teams.

Recognizing that grief may very well be one of the emotions some of us are feeling right now, it is important to also prioritize self-compassion and relationships with others. Let’s not beat ourselves (or others) up – we’ve gone through a lot and have done a lot of “powering through.” Open communication is more critical than ever; let others know (and check in with others) about how you/they feel and what you respectively need, while acknowledging emotions and allowing them to exist and pass. Being honest about our emotions with our teams may feel awkward at first, but is a good habit to build. Try starting meetings by asking employees to offer a “check-in” word that describes their mood, or keeping time open for free-flowing conversation, which can help us move forward and increase team productivity and engagement in the long run.

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