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How to Keep Internal Talent Marketplaces Relevant as They Age

ITMs grew in popularity as an efficient means of talent mobility during the pandemic’s labor upheaval. How can CHROs continue to maximize the platforms’ value after the initial shine wears off?


Internal talent marketplaces (ITMs) are at a crossroads. These platforms, which burst on the scene about six years ago as a technology-driven means of promoting internal mobility, closing key skills gaps, and boosting employee retention, are facing challenges that many promising new technologies encounter as they mature or as market conditions change.

ITMs, which use artificial intelligence to match workers to internal opportunities including short-term project gigs, full-time roles, mentoring relationships, and job-shadowing arrangements, grew in popularity during the pandemic and Great Resignation. Both of those events created seismic shifts in labor demand and supply that forced CHROs to find more efficient means of reallocating talent across their organizations. ITMs proved a ready-made way of doing so.

Unilever, for example, famously used its ITM to redeploy thousands of workers during the pandemic as demand for some of its products grew exponentially while remaining flat or falling for others.

But with the urgency of those events having receded, CHROs are now tasked with keeping their ITMs relevant and top-of-mind for leaders and employees as the platforms approach adolescence. Many HR executives still encounter significant obstacles that can stand in the way of sustained success with ITMs.

One challenge is ensuring ITMs have enough attractive opportunities to meet employee demand, especially for lower-level workers. That requires:

  • Generating enough quality data so AI can make accurate matches between platform  “gigs” and employees seeking them, and
  • Mitigating the “talent hoarding” tendencies of leaders who are reluctant to let their top employees explore other opportunities in the company.

Keeping the Value and Adoption of ITMs High

HR industry analysts say two keys to keeping ITMs relevant and integral to talent management strategy as they age are focusing on continuous improvement and marketing the platforms’ “wins” both to leaders and employees.

CHROs who view ITMs not only as a mechanism to fill pressing skills gaps but as a way to improve understanding of overall workforce capabilities and keep high-potential talent from leaving the organization also continue to reap benefits from ITMs as they mature.

CASE STUDY: WORKDAY. At Workday, a provider of HR and finance software based in Pleasanton, Calif., part of the solution to keeping its ITM relevant and crucial to internal mobility has been expanding the amount of time employees can spend on marketplace opportunities apart from their full-time jobs.

In 2019, Workday unveiled a new career hub featuring gig opportunities—short-term projects that give employees exposure to different parts of the business and help them build new skills or expand existing ones. Employees list their skills and career interests on the career hub, and the platform uses machine learning to provide recommendations on available gigs employees can sign up for, says Chris Ernst, chief learning officer at Workday.

When Workday first rolled out the career hub, employees participated in short-term gigs outside of their normal work that took an average of 15% of their time and lasted about three months, Ernst says. But based on positive feedback from the initial platform rollout that showed that nearly all (95%) of gig participants were able to build on existing skills or create new ones—as well as feedback from Workday managers who believed the gigs produced better results on their teams—the company decided to allow the gigs to now take up to 50% of employees’ time and last up to six months.

Analysis shows these short-term assignments also have become a strong pipeline for internal mobility at Workday, he says. 

“Across the two years we’ve measured, employees who participated in a gig were on average 37% more likely to get a new role through internal mobility than other Workday employees, and 40% of those moves were also promotions into higher job levels,” Ernst says.

Research shows providing both vertical and lateral career development options is a key to retaining top employees. A study by LinkedIn found that employees stay 41% longer at organizations that emphasize internal hiring versus those that don’t.

One of the main reasons that Schneider Electric, a France-based energy and digital automation company, built its ITM was after finding 47% of people who had left the company did so because they couldn’t find their next career opportunity there.

CASE STUDY: SUN LIFE. Sun Life is another organization that’s managed to keep the adoption rate of its ITM high over time. The Toronto-based financial services company originally created its “opportunity marketplace” as a way to address a potential shortfall of critical skills in the organization and provide employees with ongoing development experiences, says Jeanine Delay, assistant vice president of performance and careers at Sun Life.

To measure how its ITM is performing, Sun Life regularly gauges platform utilization rates, including tracking metrics such as the number of gigs posted, number of gig “hosts” (those who post opportunities), and number of applications to gigs, Delay says. The company also closely tracks internal mobility metrics, or the percentage of available career opportunities filled by internal candidates.

Delay and her colleagues don’t rest on the ITM’s laurels and instead work to keep the platform a relevant and sought-after tool for both leaders and employees. “With every gig posted and filled, we continue to embrace a test-and-learn approach to better understand what is working and where there are opportunities to progress,” she says.

‘Talent Hoarding’ Remains an Obstacle

One factor that can be a thorn in the side of even the most successful ITM is leaders who resist—either openly or behind the scenes—the entire concept because they’re reluctant to let their top employees explore other opportunities in the company. This talent hoarding mentality can be particularly prevalent among managers who feel they or their staffs are overworked or understaffed.

A recent study from Workplace Intelligence, a research agency, found many managers are reluctant to move high-performing employees off their teams. Almost 60% of employees in that study said their companies rarely or never help them pursue opportunities outside of their current departments.

“Talent hoarding remains a big concern for organizations with internal talent marketplaces,” says Emi Chiba, a senior principal analyst in the HR practice at Gartner. “There needs to be a strong message from the top that ‘talent belongs to no one’ in the organization—it belongs to everyone. Talent doesn’t belong to a specific manager or department—it’s the organization’s talent.”

Resistant leaders can benefit from real-world examples that help answer their “What’s in it for me?” questions regarding ITMs, Chiba says. “It’s important to show it’s not just a one-way street of losing your top employees to other parts of the company,” she says. “Managers need to understand that ITMs also can be invaluable to ensuring they have access to new internal talent to replenish or supplement their own ranks and to accomplish their business goals.”

The consulting firm PwC took steps to get ahead of the talent hoarding issue before launching its new ITM in January. Yolanda Seals-Coffield, PwC’s U.S. chief people officer, says the organization sent clear messages to leaders about the importance of both developing and sharing talent throughout the company.

“What we have said to our leaders and what we continue to reinforce is if we don’t provide our people the opportunity to explore other opportunities here internally, they will instead explore those opportunities outside of the firm,” Seals-Coffield says.

Ernst of Workday says it’s important to identify and regularly communicate motivators that encourage managers as well as employees to use an ITM.

“We learned early on that it’s critical to help managers understand how gigs on the platform can be beneficial to them too,” he says. “Initially, we saw that managers were hesitant to implement these programs because they felt their teams were already carrying a full workload and didn’t have time to take on extra projects. However, managers quickly learned that gigs can actually help them keep a project on track or get additional support, especially if bandwidth is tight on their team.”

Improved Skills Intelligence

ITMs also continue to have value to CHROs because of the insights they provide about workforce skills.

Seals-Coffield says that since the launch of PwC’s new talent marketplace , “tens of thousands” of employees have accessed the platform to create personal profiles that include an updated list of their current skills.

“This also gives our leaders better visibility into the skills available in the organization they may not have previously known about,” she says. “Managers don’t always have a line of sight into the capabilities of people in different departments that might be transferrable to a role they're looking to fill.”


Dave Zielinski is a freelance business journalist in Minneapolis and lead technology writer for SHRM’s HR Quarterly.


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