Zach Chertok of IDC Talks Deep Value of Internal Mobility

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Internal mobility is the set of resources, competencies, and strategies that provide role and skill matching, mentorship opportunities, and career pathing suggestions to support the development and retention of talent, according to Talent Leader Council member Zach Chertok, workforce analyst at IDC. In this post, Chertok provides his valuable knowledge and observations about the deep value internal mobility gives employers.

In our first blog post in our series of posts about internal mobility, highly regarded Talent Leader Council member Valeria Stupenengo helped employers understand the importance of internal mobility to their organization's success.

RPOA: What is causing the rise of internal mobility?

Internal mobility is more than tools and guidelines – it is a commitment by organizations to reconnect with the full spectrum of the internal and external workforces to recognize and build on skills equity at an individual level to spur engaged growth and development while optimizing employee interests within organizational goals and objectives.

Internal mobility has been on the table as a topic of idle discussion among HR professionals for years. During my tenure as an analyst, much of the discussion centered on the prolific lack of investment organizations made in truly agile learning environments that bridged the gap between core and soft skills and made talent a holistic fit across their organizational growth tracks beyond the core skills of more advanced roles from their point of onboarding.

Today, the narrative and focus has changed for a few reasons:

  1. Technology – Advanced analytics, people analytics, AI, and the analytics of personalization (AOP) are enabling both HR and line-of-business (LOB) managers to process and account for far more touch points than ever before. Employees starting from the same point of entry to an organization’s workforce can now evolve their careers differently based on more organic pathways through development, their varying work-life requirements, and their unique moments that matter.

In executive environments, entry-level employees in a set division can be directed to different divisions, sites, or roles within divisions and sites as their careers mature based on directed training measures for skills, such as two junior marketers moving on different paths – one into marketing communications and another into product marketing or product management based on the strengths, interests, skills, and capacities the organization recognizes between them. Individualized directioning applies to more standardized environments like manufacturing where it impacts promotional development, skills facilitation in the flow of work, and accounting for regular requests for schedule flexibility to reorganize schedule recommendations based on trends and patterns.

Zooming in on the core nature of personal employee work characteristics is easier now than it was when the narrative for growth and promotion was solely focused on how employees acquired skills through traditional internal and external training mechanisms that were more formal and a lot more structurally rigid (and at times more costly to the organization and/or the individual).

  1. Talent – The talent market is finally evolving to where older talent can retire as digital transformation in non-human capital competencies reaches the physical workplace. The most recent example of the evolution of the talent dynamic is showing up in labor data thanks to moves by big tech. The largest of the net new tech companies – Alphabet, Meta, Google, and Amazon to name a few – are feeling pinched by rising interest rates that make it more expensive for them to leverage against cash and assets to maintain inefficiency ongoing or expanded operational activities (older tech like IBM lived through the 1980’s at 22% interest. Older tech planned the workforce better through engineered change and are less frugal around 5% interest). The drive to efficiency is resulting in balance sheet cleanup of bloat and glut born from M&A and anomaly-driven expansion (COVID19) that is releasing engineering, marketing, sales, and other talent into the market. The released talent is specialized in the tools used and/or needed by industries that stalled digital transformation (DX) because they could not secure the talent needed for it.

Automotive and other manufacturing sectors have been leaders in snapping up the talent as they raise their capex on additive manufacturing and other advanced digital production and assembly methodologies while taking plants offline to transform them. The pace of transformation for these and other industries is directly paced to their ability to acquire, train, and ingratiate the new skillsets.

What does this have to do with internal mobility? DX lagging industries are transforming career paths to meet the needs of higher skilled, more mobile, and multi-competency talent as single-competency talent is either bought out of their extended contracts or pushed into long-stalled retirement – this is showing up in automotive manufacturing in a prolific way. Talent transformation is breeding uncertainty as new talent is more accustomed to more rapid mobility owing to their skillsets being in high demand. Concurrently, their skillsets are in high demand in non-native industries for them leading to a mixture of employee ambition and employer anxiety around retention that, when combined with an overall drive toward employee experience transformation, is embracing individualized career pathing and internal mobility to increase employee longevity at least at the industry level.

  1. Changing economics of talent in favor of skills – Employers are more comfortable making deals with employees to partner for training, growth, and development in ways that are at once transferrable and at the same time unique to the organization toward building a cocktail for retention. In traditional learning structures, employers sought measures to make core learning non-transferrable. As learning increasingly focuses on and builds around skills, organizations have a more flexibile path to their needs while allowing each new skill to be more generic and transferrable. The rise of skills frameworks and ontologie is changing how organizations view training as more of the new workforce comes to them from the knowledge economy even if a percent of their work remains mechanical, service, or tactical.

Ontologies differ from frameworks in that while they both consist of defined concepts and categories in a specific subject area – in this case, skills and/or roles (as aggregated assemblies of skills) – ontologies measure and map the relationships between defined concepts and categories. When we talk about skills ontologies, we are talking about relationship mapping between skills with both existing to some degree dynamically around the changing workforce and the changing needs of the organization.

Multi-competency talent frameworks are increasingly driving employees to stay in the knowledge space as much as possible toward leveraging their multi-competency natures that enable a single employee to do more with less than their single-competency predecessors.

  1. Workplace talent stratification gaps - Organizations are rapidly realizing that there are generational gaps within their workforces that can even result in whole generations either missing entirely or being dwarfed by the ones around them. Disproportionate scale of representation is causing a gap in generational skills transfer caused by retirement of older workers, different perspectives on work and work processes between generations (single competency vs. mutli competency work capacity), and the continuation of vital core skills from the existing workforce into its next iteration. Skills ontologies help map vital transfer into core skills frameworks, but internal mobility is proving to help reward more mobile multi-competency talent while ensuring skills transfer from outgoing single-competency workers.

What type of internal mobility programs has your company implemented?

As an analyst firm, IDC studies the programs on offer by its clients and in use by the buyers with whom we consult. To that end, skills frameworks and ontologies – static or analytically dynamic inventories of skills on hand, skills needs, resulting skills gaps, and opportunities for growth and alignment - are the most common resources in place today for internal mobility. Strategic workforce planning is another vital competency that is more entrenched in large enterprises that have a tenure of managing through at least one reorganization, merger, or acquisition. Nearly all organizations that actually do internal mobility rather than just saying they do have pathed to a future with agile learning structures backed by AOP.

AOP-backed learning structures apply AI and machine learning to learn from all employee data the more employees engage with organizational systems of record. As the systems ‘learn’, they grow capable of more proactively recommending and facilitating learning and training in the flow of work by optimizing the best mode of knowledge transfer to employees at any given time. Over time, advanced systems grow capable of prioritizing skills drives around what is needed for employees to perform and advance within organizational objectives and key results (OKRs).

By comparison, organizations that simply say they do internal mobility often have rigid career paths prescribed from specific role starting points and have higher turnover after a certain point when those career paths fail to materialize at the pace expected by newer, more multi-competency employees.

Beyond enablement, organizations often have OKRs and key performance indicators (KPIs) that predefine what the organization expects to see out of employee career growth even as employees set the pathway for how their skills evolve into their personal growth trajectories. When internal mobility crosses over silos of headcount ownership, talent acquisition (TA) teams often get involved with an internal planning and recruiting structure that aims to solve the issue of budgetary transfer while running scenarios on the holistic nature of moving an employee from their current division to another beyond just looking at their skills match.

Internal mobility can support talent enablement--helping employees to reach their potential faster than they could on their own. What other benefits can you experience from internal mobility?

  1. Builds retention by often pacing internal employee growth and development to what employees often expect to achieve from outside the organization.
  2. Stimulates a sense of corporate investment in career growth and management leading to an increase in boomerang employees as careers progress, interfacing internal and external growth with each other.
  3. Achieves faster growth rate and a higher degree of change readiness by keeping employees on the move with positions and responsibilities built around in-demand skills, breaking down the rigidity that makes it difficult to pivot in the face of unplanned change.
  4. Shows a strong correlation toward improving upon employee sentiment and sense of value to the organization.

What are some of the challenges you experienced with talent mobility?

Not all generations embrace talent mobility the same and the competency often leads to a stratification between high and low engagement with the resources needed to spur and advance it. Many organizations fail to account for high variability in how employees acquire skills that drive internal mobility while others do not run frequent enough gap analyses on the information needed to account for equity in how internal mobility takes place. While internal mobility can be a great engine of engagement, value perception, and growth, employers need to interface their structures for workforce planning, skills management, and employee development with their frameworks for equity, outreach, engagement, and the organizational structure to ensure that equity is more than just a six-letter word.

It is not uncommon for employees to perceive an imbalance in access to mobility, and it is very common that modes of mobility move beyond the reach of organizational control, stewardship, and management especially around the definitions and boundaries of what defines moves as lateral, upwards, or backwards.

What are some of the essential factors in implementing a successful talent mobility program?

Definitions are vital – What defines the characteristics of a move and how well are definitions communicated clearly to the workforce?

Employee sentiment – How well do employees perceive and understand the resources open to them for internal mobility? Are they easy to access and are they evenly and equitably distributed?

Equitable design – Do internal mobility structures, tools, resources, and frameworks reflect solid engagement and integration with important employee frameworks around DEIB, social sustainability, employee wellbeing, workplace safety, and hierarchical and procedural accountability?

The DX use case – Do all employees across all generations have equal access to and understanding of the resources used to promote personalized advancement and mobility? Is there an engineered diversity of resources and tools that reflect the diversity of the workforce to ensure that issues of engagement happen at a personal level and not at the design level?

Ownership – Does the organization have a plan in place to reconcile headcount ownership when an employee moves between budget silos? Is the organization designed for the employee to own his/her/their position and if not, how is the employee and/or manager/owner encouraged to converse with other management when movement is recommended or takes place?

Frameworks for inclusion and feedback – All mobility must be clearly defined and include the sentiment and feedback of the parties involved. Are decisions only made at the management level or is the employee included in the decision?

In two weeks, renowned Talent Leader Council member María Castro Nevares, LATAM RPO & MSP Practice Leader of Manpower Group, will provide best practices organizations can use to access a deeper pool of internal talent. In the meantime, check out Talent Leader Council member Valeria Stupenengo's post why internal mobility is essential to employers' success.

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