Building a Culture of Mobility

A recent i4cp study identifies the practices and approaches high-performing organizations are applying to get the most out of their talent-mobility efforts.

Friday, May 6, 2016
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Nothing develops high-potential employees like stretch assignments that truly challenge them. But talent mobility must address the needs of the business, the customer and the employee -- all three -- to be effective in providing organizations with competitive edge. A recent study conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that prioritizing talent mobility directly correlates to higher market performance in areas that matter most to business leaders: profitability, revenue, customer satisfaction, and market share. And providing high-value employees with latitude to take on new roles is a strategy high-performance organizations use to attract and retain talent.

Building a culture of mobility, one in which managers are invested in developing their best people and offering them opportunities for new assignments, requires a mindset that prioritizes mobility as a workforce strategy and links the performance reviews and incentives of leaders on how well they do both.

Talent Mobility Differentiates High-Performance Organizations

The study identified three findings that highlight differences in the practices and approaches of high-performance and lower-performing organizations:

Transparency. High-performance organizations are 4.5 times more likely to make the criterion for talent mobility transparent to the entire organization.

Commitment. High-performance organizations are more than twice as likely to prioritize the movement of talent, while low-performing organizations are 2.5 times more likely to say the movement of talent doesn't matter.

Retention. High-performance organizations report retention being the leading catalyst for investing in talent mobility and 30 percent said that talent mobility demonstrates to employees that they have a future with the company.

'Next Practices' Now

i4cp considers "next practices" to be approaches that lead to positive market performance that while perhaps not yet widely adopted, organizations should consider implementing. With regard to this study, i4cp identified the three next practices:

Look Outside
High-performance organizations are 2.5 times more likely to facilitate movement of talent across key external stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, resellers, and distributors. Such partnerships give talent new environments to broaden their skills while creating collaboration opportunities with key clients. This has a positive correlation to market performance.

One example of such an arrangement is the collaboration between Boeing and Callaway Golf in the development of a more aerodynamic driver. Boeing engineers applied their expertise to helping Callaway without leaving their roles at Boeing. But this stretch project provided benefits for the employees involved and resulted in innovations for both stakeholders.

"We've been studying aerodynamics at Callaway for quite some time, but we knew if we were going to make the next big leap, we needed to partner with engineers who study aerodynamics fulltime -- the best of the best," says Evan Gibbs, Manager of Woods R&D at Callaway Golf.


"When an opportunity like Callaway comes up, Boeing likes to give new engineers a chance to apply their expertise outside their field, says David Crouch, the senior technical fellow of aero flow physics at Boeing. The partnership with Callaway was a unique one for Boeing, and especially interesting because it presented various new sets of challenges. For example, Boeing engineers are accustomed to multi-year timelines allotted to researching a problem, while with the Callaway project they had only a few months.

Another example is that of health care services company Cardinal Health Inc., which joined forces with CVS Health -- its largest customer -- to create Red Oak Sourcing, an organization formed to negotiate generic drug costs with manufacturers, both companies created new career opportunities for employees of each organization. Cardinal Health CHRO Carole Watkins says some of the best and brightest from both organizations went to Red Oak:

"We put some of our high-potential high-performers into the joint venture. They moved to the Boston area from Columbus, Ohio. We even placed a high-potential HR person there," Watkins says. All Cardinal Health employees who took on these roles understood that they could later return to Cardinal Health, remain with Red Oak, or choose to go to CVS based on their career goals. "If we put some of our high-potential people into Red Oak and then two years later they go to CVS, that's good for us, too," says Watkins. "We've been very purposeful about those growth options."

Onboard and 'Reboard' For Every Move
Onboarding and "reboarding" of employees who move into new assignments or return to a role after a stretch assignment is a next practice among high-performance companies, not unlike repatriation of employees returning from global assignments, which is also highly correlated with market performance.

Giving employees the opportunity to move into new roles is only the first step of a solid talent-mobility program. Just as new employees needs support to get acclimated early-on, established employees need onboarding and guidance as they move into each new role, even if it is a position they held before. And they need to be welcomed back when they return with time, attention, and regular check-ins with their managers. Companies that add this extra support will bolster the success of their mobility strategies, and give employees the confidence that these assignments will benefit their careers.

Measure What Matters Most
Turnover and engagement are clear measures of success. Half of all organizations surveyed said they measure the performance ratings of employees on new assignments. However, only two measures correlate to market performance and represent "next practices" in measurement: First-year turnover rates of employees after movement, and post-movement employee engagement scores.

Organizations looking to adopt talent mobility as a core part of their business strategy should establish baseline metrics for these key performance indicators and track increases among those who benefits from mobility as a way to demonstrate the success of the program. Such metrics can go a long way toward convincing skeptical executives and managers of the benefit of mobility, and encourage them to think more proactively about how moving key talent into new roles will help them create a sustainable business leadership model for the future.

How to Build a Talent Mobility Culture

Organizations cannot assume they will be able to easily fill key roles with outside expertise. To remain resilient and adaptable for the long term, organizations must create cultures that prioritize talent mobility and communicate those opportunities to all current and future employees. In this way they can position themselves as employers of choice for motivated, growth-minded individuals, and establish a deep and diverse talent pipeline that will carry them into the future.

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To build success with talent mobility, i4cp recommends companies consider the following action points:


Tie manager performance reviews, compensation and promotions to how well they develop their people and move top talent around the organization. Establish guidelines for developing talent and encourage managers to advocate for their best people.


Create focus groups or leadership panels in the organization. Have them set development and mobility goals that are tied to creating a culture of inclusion and valuing diverse perspective.


Create a committee of ex-pats who govern the repatriation of employees. Get managers to focus beyond the accounting aspects of expats and onto the human elements of managing expats, including aligning their new skills with future assignments, and charting a long-term career path that reflects their experiences abroad. Employees who have had expat experience are uniquely capable of having significant impact by supporting others and being positive role models.


Involve employees in the co-creation of their movement. Mobility decisions should be made collaboratively by employees and managers to ensure success. Hold regular, career-focused discussions with high-value employees to identify their short- and long-term career goals, to discuss possible mobility opportunities, and to determine whether a move will benefit both the business and the individual.


Sometimes mobility isn't the answer. But in cases in which for whatever reason it's not possible to move someone, it is possible to be creative and look at ways to change the complexity of their current role. This can make all the difference when a high-potential employee is feeling restless and is looking for change.

Building a culture of mobility takes work. It requires commitment to rethinking the status quo and making investments in strategies such as onboarding and reboarding for every job change, tracking turnover and engagement related to employee moves, and partnering with external stakeholders to create employee opportunities for rotations, special projects, and assignments. These are strategies that we've found successful companies use to build agile, mobile and competitive workforces.

Lorrie Lykins is director of research services at i4cp.


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