Career Planning Is a Talent Imperative

Fill open positions with the employees you already have. Start by taking a skills inventory

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer April 9, 2019
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​NASHVILLE, TENN.—Talent mobility is training the employees you already have to fill new positions that will help meet business objectives, said Ben Eubanks, SHRM-SCP, principal analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory, a human capital research and advisory services firm.

Speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management 2019 Talent Conference & Exposition, he added, "In short, it's putting your internal talent where it needs or wants to go to solve business challenges. This practice drives employee engagement and retention while lowering hiring and training costs for employers."

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

All levels of the organization have a part to play in making internal mobility a reality. Executives need to make sure the business environment is ripe for it. Managers need to be willing to support talent mobility and not cling to people seeking lateral moves or promotions.

And HR needs to implement the processes and policies that show people they can look for other opportunities at their employer.

"If we can close engagement gaps through the practice of talent mobility, we can impact the business as talent leaders," Eubanks said. "There's tons of research out there that connects employee engagement with business outcomes that matter, like quality, retention, profitability and productivity."

According to Gallup, 93 percent of people who took a new job came from outside the organization. "That's a huge missed opportunity," Eubanks said. "Employees perceived that there weren't any jobs available internally. So, they left the business."

Research from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that external hires make about 20 percent more than their new colleagues and have lower average performance scores when compared with internal hires.

Eubanks' own research shows that reskilling employees costs about half as much as hiring someone from outside the organization.

"Gallup's research says that the primary reasons people leave a company are to develop their skills and leverage their strengths, so give them that chance while they are there," he said.

Getting Started

Take a skills inventory, Eubanks advised.

"Be clear about what skills you have among your employee population and what skills the business needs," he said. "Next time an opening pops up, you know who would be great for that role and who wants to take that role on."  

HR should coach managers on how to encourage and uncover employee aspirations. "Get your managers on board with communicating and understanding employee development needs before it's too late."

Case Studies

Eubanks presented several examples of talent mobility in action from across a swath of industries and company sizes:

Credit Suisse. The investment banking firm was experiencing significant turnover, but exit surveys showed that people were interested in internal jobs. So the company created a program called Internals First. Recruiters now look among internal employees when filling an open job. In 2016, about half of director roles were internal hires, Eubanks said. Five hundred jobs have been filled through the program and 10 percent of the workforce, or 4,440 people, made lateral moves in 2016.

World Bank Group. The venerable lending institution was under a hiring freeze, which led to a learning and development initiative that then morphed into an internal talent marketplace, or an "eBay for talent," Eubanks said. Workers can let management know what skills or roles outside of their job description they would like to take on as project work.

Hootsuite. The social network management company runs a 90-day stretch assignment program. Participants are "loaned" to another team in the business for one day a week. Both the loaning manager and the borrowing manager must agree on learning plans and goals to be met. "The program acts like a conduit between the two teams," Eubanks said. "At the end of 90 days, they can choose to stay in the new job or return to their current job."

FedEx Ground. "This one's on the far, scary edge of HR," Eubanks said. Employees can pull up and leave their position for any other if they feel their manager is not developing them adequately. "You can imagine the chaos, right?" he asked. "But it puts positive social pressure on managers to be looking for ways to develop their staff. No one likes micromanaging, but if you micromanage someone's career, they will love you for it."


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