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Jun 28, 2016

Do your managers hoard talent?

Study suggests well-orchestrated talent mobility can enhance organizational performance

By Claudine Kapel

Conventional wisdom tells us that when it comes to deploying top talent, the needs of the many should outweigh the needs of the few — or yes, even the one.

In principle, that means leaders should deploy talent in a way that serves the best interests of the organization, even if that means a particular unit will lose a coveted team member.

In reality, however, talent doesn’t necessarily flow that way. And the blocks in the system can inhibit optimal organizational performance.

New research by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) found that managers engage in talent hoarding in about half the 665 global companies it surveyed. Notably, 74 per cent of the low-performing organizations in the sample reported facing this challenge.

But i4cp says its research shows prioritizing talent mobility “directly correlates to higher market performance in areas that matter most to business leaders — profitability, revenue, customer satisfaction, and market share.”

According to i4cp, it all comes down to the difference between a strategy focused on simply managing talent versus one that emphasizes deploying talent to optimize individual and organizational performance.

“If people develop mostly through experiences and assignments, it is imperative that we excel at mastering the moves,” says i4cp. “Moving a high-potential employee to a bigger challenge, exposing a future general manager to cross-functional roles, or brining international talent through to a headquarters stint are all examples of masterful moves.”

But becoming masterful at talent mobility is easier said than done. Notes i4cp: “At times, we fill critical openings with the most available employee. We let average performers linger in high-quality development roles. We hope everyone just settles down and endures another year in the same job for the sake of the business. In short, we just manage as best we can.”

So how does an organization become more strategic in how it deploys talent?

According to i4cp, it starts with making leaders accountable for developing their talent.

“Building a culture of mobility — one in which managers are invested in both 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 develop their talent.”

Yet i4cp notes that 63 per cent of survey respondents indicated their organizations have no formal reward mechanisms to encourage managers to develop and promote talent.

Some key practices recommended by i4cp to enhance talent mobility include:

  • Focus on lattices instead of ladders to encourage lateral movement, especially since some organizations may only be able to provide limited opportunities for upward mobility. But lateral moves should be carefully planned with the employee, and have clearly defined benefits for the individual and the business.
  • Utilize placements with external stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, resellers and distributors to give talent new environments in which to broaden their skills, while creating new collaboration opportunities with key clients.
  • Onboard employees who move into new assignments and re-board them after they return to a role after a stretch assignment. 

The i4cp research offers good food for thought for organizations that want to take their talent strategies to a higher level. Many organizations struggle with talent development because they take a narrow view of career paths, often considering only the typically limited upward progression opportunities within a department or job family.

But equally important, organizations must work with leaders to help them see the strategic value of facilitating talent movement to support the greater good. That may not be an easy sell as leaders directly benefit from having star performers on their team.

Some steps you can take to foster higher levels of management buy-in for talent mobility include:

  • Build talent development into the objectives of management roles and recognize and reward leaders who do this well.
  • Ensure you’re addressing the development needs of managers. They’ll be more willing to share the wealth when they feel their own needs are being addressed.
  • Have a mechanism for identifying and tracking top talent.
  • Be alert to potential game playing in performance reviews. It’s not unheard of for a leader to under-rate star performers to discourage other leaders from poaching them.
  • Encourage leaders to have development discussions with their team members that consider potential career moves beyond the current role and team, where appropriate.

A proactive and well-orchestrated approach to talent development and deployment will help lay the foundation for growth, for both individuals and the organization as a whole.

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