Talent Mobility: You Get What You Give

By Edie Goldberg (President and founder at E. L. Goldberg & Associates)

With today’s labor shortages, companies need to do a better job of using the talent they already have inside of the company. The best way to optimize the talent you have is to share talent across your organizational boundaries. Teams fill talent gaps, and employees gain the opportunity to learn and apply their skills. Rather than seeing your employees as a collection of jobs, you should consider the total set of skills the organization has in-house.

In our book The Inside Gig, co-author Kelley Steven-Waiss and I call the underlying philosophy that enables this approach to talent mobility “You Get What You Give.” Here is an example of how this works in practice.

An engineering team had created a new technology platform to help other teams in their company do their work more efficiently. The company’s data scientists were the initial target users for this new platform, so the engineers set out to create a toolkit to help them use it.

But the team hit a bump in the road. Their data scientists coded in Python, while the engineering team spoke Java. No one on the engineering team knew Python, and the team had neither budget nor time to hire a consultant who did.

Fortunately, this company had a talent mobility platform where they could post a short-term project request for people with Python skills. In minutes, the request discovered six employees from other departments who could code in Python and were interested in the project.

The managers of those six employees were willing to give some time to the engineering team on the assumption that what goes around, comes around. Someday, the managers of those six might need some skills the engineering team has in its ranks, and then they might get talent as well as give it.

Traditionally internal talent mobility has meant moving people from one job to another within the organization to create a learning opportunity. But the talent sharing approach is a new way to unlock your in-house skills. Rather than moving on from their current role to take on a new challenge, or to apply skills in a different context, with this approach employees make room for one project (perhaps 5–10 hours a week) that’s outside their day-to-day job responsibilities – while still maintaining their current role.


Benefits of Talent Sharing

When you fully get value out of the talent you have in-house, it reduces costs, since hiring contractors or new employees is expensive. Projects get launched or completed more quickly because finding and onboarding an internal resource is much faster than searching for, hiring, and getting external talent up to speed and acclimated.

Further, consider projects that never get accomplished because of one key skill set that the team doesn’t have. When one of those projects suddenly becomes urgent, for example because of intelligence about a competitive offering, most managers would consider hiring a freelancer or a consultant. When you share talent across organizational boundaries, you have an opportunity to find the skills (in-house) that fill that gap.

Talent sharing also has an impact on the employee experience. When employees have opportunities to work on new projects, outside of the scope of their roles, employee engagement improves. Retention also increases as employees have the chance to look for roles or projects inside the organization – rather than quitting because “there just weren’t any new opportunities.”

When companies allow employees to use the talents they have outside of their day-to-day job, they use their skills in a new context, where they learn from others and gain new skills and perspectives. This allows you to not only execute projects more quickly and cost-effectively, but also to build that collective company skill set and retain employees who are looking for new ways to expand their roles in the organization.


Talent: An Abundant Resource

Many managers resist the traditional notion of talent mobility – i.e., moving employees from one role to another role within the organization. They fear letting someone move to another role because they might lose that headcount allocation in next year’s budget. Or they don’t know how they will achieve their goals if “their” employees work on projects outside of the team.

Telling statistic: one half of managers resist any type of internal movement – but the figure is 74 percent in lower-performing companies.

Rather than thinking of talent as a limited resource that they need to hoard, managers should think of it as an abundant resource — not just for their team, but for their entire company.

If you are a manager, think about the projects you can now accomplish if you are able to search for skills from across the company. Think of the times you didn’t have the budget to hire a contractor or a new employee, and how much easier it would have been to simply borrow the talent internally.

Companies such as leading audio provider Dolby are sold on this approach. They reward managers who are net talent exporters. They recognize and incentivize managers to share their talent with other teams. This is an explicit value that Dolby has adopted to keep the company agile. It enables the company to move its resources to the most important projects quickly and flexibly.


How to Implement Talent Sharing

Implementing talent sharing can be as easy as creating a project opportunity board, where teams can advertise skills they need and employees from across the company can respond if they are interested. Today there are talent marketplace technologies that use artificial intelligence to find the best matches between employee skills and available opportunities. These technologies are game changers for talent optimization and for creating an improved employee experience.

Unfortunately, many companies do not know what talents and skills they have internally. They categorize employees in terms of their jobs but not in terms of their skills – both the skill set they use in their jobs and the hidden skills they have but don’t bring to work every day. A talent marketplace based on skills and interests needs to start with a database that captures these skills – the seen and the unseen.


Talent Sharing at Disney and Siemens

Some organizations are taking talent sharing to the next level. They’re sharing talent not only across the company but across their business ecosystem. For example, Disney and Siemens have had a strategic business partnership for a long time. But when Siemens developed a hearing aid for children, it realized it had no experience marketing their medical devices to them. Rather than hire a contractor, Siemens reached out to some of the world’s best marketers to families and children – Disney.

Siemens borrowed marketing talent from Disney to help create an innovative concept: marketing the hearing aid like a toy rather than a medical device, including a stuffed animal and a storybook.

This marketing strategy was aimed at reducing the self-consciousness or fear children felt about using the product – while making them feel special. The product and its marketing was a success for both organizations, who shared in the profits.


You Get What You Give: It Works for All Stakeholders

Talent sharing enables employees to access new experiences that help them showcase and hone their skills and grow their careers, while they pursue their passions and interests. They’re engaged and often bring that energy back to their regular team.

For managers, not only are they able to accomplish more projects, faster and less expensively, but they also retain employees who have had new experiences, and who have perhaps gained new skills that they can bring to their day-to-day tasks.

Companies build internal capability by connecting people to work that meets the company’s most urgent priorities. The company grows its overall set of skills and talents by exposing employees to new experiences, new leaders, and new teams that provide them with a wider understanding of the business as a whole.

Talent sharing builds capacity, while increasing employee engagement, productivity, and retention. It decreases costs associated with the hiring cycle while also enabling teams to get more done, more quickly. Employees, managers, and the organization all benefit from these opportunities.

The best part: You’re simply making the best use of what’s right there in front of you.


Edie Goldberg, Ph.D. is the Founder & President of E.L. Goldberg & Associates in Menlo Park, California. She is a nationally recognized expert in talent strategy and organizational effectiveness. She is the co-author of The Inside Gig: How Sharing Untapped Talent Across Boundaries Unleashes Organizational Capacity (Wonderwell, April 2020).

Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash


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