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When will we get serious about Talent Mobility?

Posted by Amy Wilson on December 23, 2009

We’ve been talking about Talent Mobility for awhile.  We understand that it increases employee engagement.  We understand that it builds better leaders.  We even understand that it is a necessary element in sustaining a successful, global business in the coming years.  And, we are starting to see glimmers of hope – like with Deloitte’s career lattice model – in which employee aspirations and organizational needs are becoming increasingly transparent.

All of these things are pointing to change – change in the industry, change in organizational cultures, change in how we talk about talent.  In fact, industry thought leader Josh Bersin predicts a focus on talent mobility will be one of the top transformational changes in 2010.  DDI hopes so too.  They have placed Josh’s prediction at the top of their 2010 resolution list.

Why is it then that the organizations I speak with seem so far from making this happen? So hopeless??

It’s dang hard, that’s why.  Rationally, it makes sense.  It’s a series of simple equations, really.  If person x moves to job y, person x will benefit.  Job y will benefit.  Company z will benefit.  It’s a big benefit fest – rationally speaking.

Only, people aren’t rational, they are emotional.  And, boy are there a lot of emotions at play when it comes to talent mobility!

I used to think it was about self-interest and that money could fix the problem – incenting leaders and managers to give up people, for example.  But I don’t think that’s it anymore. Sure, it could help.  But it won’t change.  To transform, we need to take the emotional landscape into account.  At the heart of this cultural change to talent mobility is one big emotional puzzle – let’s call it trust and fear.

Let’s climb inside the head of a manager to see what’s really going on:

  • I trust myself more than I trust anyone else. Delegating and relinquishing control is hard.  When I find someone I trust to do good work, I do not want to let go of them.  You cannot put a price on that.  It’s like taking someone’s baby away for goodness sake.
  • I fear the unknown. I know I have a deadline/deliverable/commitment.  I don’t know *who* is going to do it.  I fear that I won’t get a replacement and that even if I do, they won’t be able to deliver.  Even if I don’t get fired over it, I know I won’t succeed.  I fear failure.
  • I don’t trust others to take care of what I have. My emotions don’t stop with holding onto dear life.  Another part of my emotional brain wants my protege to go elsewhere and flourish. I know it’s better.  But, that’s not how I feel.  I feel they’ll do better with me.  Because I trust myself better than I trust others.
  • I fear being forgotten. When my star rises above me, where does that leave me?  Will people remember that I got results too?  Will my former star say that I did?  I fear getting stuck and not getting appreciated.  I fear being left out of the process.

When we (HR organizations & business leaders) really start taking talent mobility seriously, we will accept the emotional reality and build it into the model.  What does this mean?  I’m not entirely sure, but here are some ideas:

  • Set expectations of mobility on day one of employment/assignment – both for managers and employees, thereby counteracting the issue of attachment.  However, make sure the focus is on results rather than entitlement of moving on no matter what.
  • Recognize the strong need for career attachment by finding a “career manager” or “mentor” that will guide both the individual (and the organization!) from job to job, assignment to assignment.  Key is to have this person buy into what’s next without threatening their own position.
  • Do a better job of identifying strengths and skills across the organization, to build more confidence that deliverables can get done by an “unknown.”

I really do hope that organizations take Talent Mobility seriously in 2010.  It’s good for everyone!

Happy Holidays!


Side note: I just finished the first chapter of Jason Seiden’s new book Super Staying Power in which he illustrates (superbly) the effects of emotions on decision-making.  Thanks for the knock in the stomach and some clarity, Jason!

photo credit: gadgetvenue.com

5 Responses to “When will we get serious about Talent Mobility?”

  1. Justin Field said

    Amy, this topic came up as one of the focus areas in our recent talent review. Perhaps you have psychic powers? Justin

  2. Amy Wilson said

    That’s pretty cool! Psychic? No! But interestingly, one of my strengths (from Gallup’s StrengthsFinder) is Futuristic …. ooh, spooky, huh?

  3. These are very good insights. I completely agree and have found that in addition to human emotions skill plays a large roll. A manager who is skilled and confident in their own abilities is typically more willing to let the people on their teams shine.

    There’s another side of this as well. My mom always used to say that first rate people hire first rate people, second rate people hire third rate people and do their best to get rid of first rate people. Which might look like talent mobility in action but really isn’t.

    So much comes down to whether managers are good or poor. I think that’s where organizations should start investigating if they want to walk the TM walk.

  4. Amy Wilson said

    Laura – Talent Mobility “false positives” … now that is something to dig into – how interesting (and depressing). What sort of work did your mom do, by the way?

  5. […] better leaders, takes more than using standard incentives such as money.” Amy Wilson presents When will we get serious about Talent Mobility? posted at TalentedApps, the hosts of next month’s […]

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