What is talent mobility and how can you encourage it?

December 05, 2022

Organizations want talent mobility, but existing processes, structures, and mindsets can impede progress. If you want to make the most of your existing workforce, especially in a period of economic uncertainty, you need to break these barriers down. 

So, how do you get started? Pluralsight's Principal Consultant for Workforce Transformation Heather MacDonald and Sr. Developer Advocate Jeremy Morgan share actionable advice to help you identify and overcome barriers to talent mobility at all levels of your organization. 

Here are some golden nuggets from their recent webinar "Organizational barriers to talent mobility."

What is talent mobility?

Talent mobility means maximizing the potential of your existing workforce. It’s the ability for people to advance up a career ladder or move laterally across your organization, regardless of their background. Frontline employees, recent college graduates, and industry veterans should all have equal opportunities to grow their careers.

Why is internal talent mobility important?

Internal talent mobility allows your organization to become a creator, rather than a consumer, of talent. In other words, an internal talent mobility strategy helps you develop the skills you need internally rather than seeking them elsewhere (which can be a costly and time-consuming process). 

A talent mobility program helps to future-proof your organization in times of economic uncertainty. And when employees have career pathing and the ability to explore new opportunities within your organization, engagement and retention also see a boost. 

What are common organizational barriers to talent mobility?

Organizational barriers to talent mobility are certain processes and perspectives that constrict internal workforce transformation. To create a successful talent mobility framework, your organization first needs to identify the potential barriers that could impact success. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Hiring for culture fit

“Culture fit” can become a standin for “sameness.” Are you asking questions that actually assess candidates based on the job criteria? Or are you just hiring the person who went to the same school as you or enjoys the same hobbies?

Rewarding output instead of outcomes

Traditional talent management reward systems tend to reward the outputs of someone's work rather than their outcomes. Do your reward systems only track quantifiable data, like the number of emails sent? If so, you might not see how certain individuals drive value and more nuanced business outcomes.

Letting process documentation fall through the cracks

It can be difficult to celebrate a team member’s departure if other employees are worried about process and workload. Do you document processes? Are you cross training people to reduce knowledge silos? Do you have onboarding processes for internal transfers?

How to implement a talent mobility strategy

As tech skills gaps widen, it’s harder to find external candidates with the knowledge you need. If you turn your gaze inward, though, you may uncover existing employees with the potential, and desire, to move into new roles.

Encourage cross-functional collaboration

Give employees the chance to work with colleagues on other teams. Discussion groups are a free way to cross-pollinate ideas, foster collaboration, and introduce employees to new roles. Get a group together to read a book or listen to a podcast and then share their thoughts.

Create time for learning

A successful talent mobility program and culture of learning permeate all levels of an organization, starting at the top. For example, if you want everyone in your organization to earn their AWS certification, you need to earn yours, too.

As a senior leader, try to understand the pain and time constraints that accompany an ask like this. You have the flexibility to control your schedule. If even you find it hard to set aside time to study and get certified, you have to understand that it's exponentially harder for every other person in your organization. 

Think about how you can create clarity, lead by example, and reward (not penalize) people for taking the time to learn. What processes can you automate, streamline, or otherwise change to create more time for learning?

Avoid layoffs with a talent mobility program

Before you lay off employees, consider whether you can reskill them to take on new roles. Could you find a way to qualify the right people and do a six month boot camp to train them into junior software engineers? If yes, develop a clear onboarding process to help them become tech fluent, learn the language, and enable success.

Offer leadership roles

Reskilling also provides mentorship opportunities that can turn into leadership roles down the line. If someone moves into a tech role from a non-technical one, who in your current engineering population can mentor and support them?

Think of mentorships as introductory leadership roles. Some of your engineers probably want to take on leadership responsibilities. If you don’t have leadership positions open now, mentoring gives those employees a chance to continue to progress and develop skills that will aid them in their future.

Then, when roles open, they can prove their leadership ability. After all, they coached junior employees and helped them develop into successful software engineers!

Align psychological safety with talent management

At its most basic level, psychological safety means that everyone generally respects one another. But true psychological safety goes beyond this bare minimum. Are people able to say what they want without fear of retaliation? Does senior leadership seem to ignore concerns from frontline employees, but love the same suggestions from a senior level leader? 

Psychological safety also concerns more than just overt behaviors. As a leader, what do you permit? If someone asks to use certain pronouns, do you allow people to roll their eyes or make snarky comments? If you permit these types of responses, you send a signal that they’re acceptable. Over time, certain individuals may feel detached from the group. Without that sense of belonging, there’s little motivation for them to do their best work.

As Jeremy said in the webinar, “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.”

For more talent mobility tips, tune in to the on-demand webinar.