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Across my twenty-five years of applying advanced analytics to help client organizations measure and understand their Internal Labor Market (ILM) dynamics and inform decisions about workforce management, perhaps the most consistently disappointing results I have seen relate to internal talent mobility, whether it be expat assignments, cross-business or cross-function/department moves. Indeed, I can think of only a handful of organizations where our modeling work shows “mobile talent” actually succeeding and staying with the organization as compared to their non-mobile colleagues. Getting mobility right appears to be very hard.
There are, I believe, four reasons for this systematic failure:
Each of these sources of failure reflect the highly contextual nature of mobility. Other elements of talent strategy – for example, talent acquisition, performance management, compensation, career development and rewards, etc., - have to be aligned with the goals and execution of mobility programs for mobile talent to generate returns to the business.
Given the importance of talent mobility as a component of overall talent strategy, it clearly pays to take a more disciplined approach to identifying and understanding the factors that most influence whether mobile talent stays and thrives in an organization. Unfortunately, too many organizations spend far more time managing the transactions side of mobility than addressing the critical strategic considerations mentioned above. A more strategic approach is facilitated by answering six key questions:
Given the kind of workforce and business data now available to organizations and the power of today’s advanced workforce analytics, it is now possible to develop an empirical basis for answering these questions. This is the subject of my recent article, “how to Manage Talent Mobility,” just published in Brink, an MMC-sponsored digital news hub and journal.
Drawing on the conceptual framework and analytical methodology detailed in Rick Guzzo’s and my earlier HBR article, “Making Mobility Matter,” the current article discusses the challenges of making mobility work for organizations, using a case study of a global professional services firm to illustrate why internal mobility so often fails. It also shows how the application of advanced workforce analytics helps uncover the root causes of failure and points the way to effective solutions. The article details some key policy changes undertaken by this company pursuant to the diagnostic findings and shares the results achieved.
As with other areas of workforce strategy, deploying the tools of evidence-based management can enable a truly strategic approach to talent mobility and, in the process, generate higher returns on the considerable investments that organizations make to move their talent around.
Haig R. Nalbantian is a Senior Partner at Mercer and a founder/leader of Mercer’s Workforce Sciences Institute. A labor /organizational economist, he has been instrumental in developing Mercer’s unique capability to measure the economic impact of human capital practices.