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Is mobility on your mind?

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Mobility drives the dynamics at the heart of talent management.  It underpins the key imperative, getting the right people where they’ll have the biggest impact on the organisation’s performance.  

Businesses have wrestled with mobility for years – both to be clear about what it means and to make it happen. Here we look at mobility’s five dimensions, each with its own significance, difficulties and solutions.

Mobility's five dimensions

Vertical mobility

Vertical mobility is about the upward flow of people to fill successively more challenging roles as their capabilities develop.  It maintains a talent pipeline to supply the leaders the business needs and to replace those who retire or leave.  It’s harder now than in the past because flatter structures open up fewer promotions.  And leaner organisations create work pressures that can deny people in mid-level roles the time to develop the skills they need to advance. We say:

  • Constantly monitor and manage your leadership pipeline and other upward career paths to understand what you’ve got where and where new needs – and gaps in ‘supply’ – are opening up.  Put in place, and stick to, development strategies for groups and individuals based on their short-term needs and their likely long-term destinations

Lateral mobility

Lateral mobility aims to increase collaboration across organisational boundaries, break down siloed cultures and equip people with new skills and perspectives.  It provides the agility needed to move people to wherever the latest crisis threatens or the newest opportunity arises.  A key barrier to sideways mobility is the Catch-22 of having no way to develop, in a current role, the skills that enable the move to a new one. It doesn’t help either if there’s a misperception – particularly among hipos and future leaders – that a lateral move means a slowing of their progress or, worse yet, being sidelined.  We say:

  • Develop collaborative mindsets between the managers and teams who need to drive or accept lateral mobility.  Learn from examples of successful moves and publicise the career benefits of breadth of experience.  Provide hot-house development and induction to bring lateral moves up to speed fast.  Shape incentives to prevent managers from hoarding good people. Make sure people moving laterally are confident about potential longer-term career paths

International mobility

International mobility puts leaders – and some subject matter experts – where they’re needed, regardless of geography.  A global business must be able to access and deploy all of its talent and build a global mindset around markets, customers, cultures and employees.  But there can be expensive failures if the people you need to move aren’t appropriately adaptable or skilled for international roles.  And it’s easy to be misled about people’s real willingness to move if they think that appearing to be ‘up’ for an international assignment is a pre-requisite for advancement.  We say:

  • Rigorously assess an individuals’ readiness and capability before deciding to move them internationally.  Make mobility a pre-condition for participation in hipo programmes.  Invest in high quality pre-move orientation and post-move acclimatisation, for the family as well as the employee.  Recognise the phases in people’s lives that make international moves easier or harder.  Keep talking with those on international assignment – and try to indicate what might be next for them so that they can plan their lives and careers

Inter-organisational mobility

Inter-organisational mobility is more a function of the state of the economy than something you can influence directly.  A growing economy gives good new people the confidence to switch to you and enables or encourages the ‘blockers’ – those who are perhaps poorly motivated, coasting and occupying roles that others need for development – to leave.  A slow economy reduces turnover and can help good people see the advantages of staying with you, although the best will always be at risk and the ‘blockers’ won’t go.  We say:

  • Monitor valuable people who may be flight risks and develop specific tactics to retain them.  Look for creative ways, such as secondments and projects, to develop and interest people with potential if few role moves are available.  Watch for opportunities to approach competitors’ people who can add to your business.  increase the legitimate pressure to perform on the ‘blockers’; get them to step up or leave – and be generous if they choose to go.

Demographic mobility

Demographic mobility around ethnicity, gender, disability and age – is an increasing priority.  Businesses are pursuing the competitive, and recruitment, benefits that come from a more diverse workforce and a more adaptable culture.  At the same time, they are trying to safeguard their reputations and brand values in the face of societal change.  Organisational and individual prejudice and discriminatory attitudes and processes – whether explicit or inadvertent – make this a minefield for talent management professionals.  Demographic considerations can also compound other mobility challenges by adding an extra layer of difficulty to them.  We say:

  • Understand the demographic profile of your business and how you compare with external benchmarks and the general population.  Establish diversity goals, linked to clear business benefits, in order to drive the agenda.  Develop tactics to bridge clear shortfalls and involve top management in regular reviews and action planning.

Our overall recommendations:

  1. Recognise that these mobility dimensions are different yet concurrent perspectives on a single complex system of talent flows.  Try to have all five dimensions in mind when strategising and taking action on talent.
  2. Know who you’ve got, where they are, how good they are, and what they want.  You can’t tackle the mobility of people you don’t understand.
  3. Maintain regular dialogue with your key people about the way mobility may enhance their careers.  They won’t move unless they can see what’s in it for them.
  4. Work on your managers’ mindsets to foster collaboration and an understanding of the importance of mobility to the business.  You need their help to make it happen.
  5. Develop, develop, develop.  No one will be going anywhere in your organisation unless they are properly prepared and supported.

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