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Naomi Titleman Colla is founder of Collaborativity Inc., a Toronto-based consultancy focused on driving progressive talent strategy in this new world of work. She is also a co-founder of future foHRward, a Josh Bersin Academy partner.

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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