invisible man in suit

The percentage of UK employers reporting a ‘war for talent’ has risen from 20% in 2009 to 62% in 2013, according to a CIPD/Hays survey, with six out of 10 organisations reporting difficulties with filling vacancies in the past year. We are clearly shifting back into a period of talent demand not seen since before the global economic downturn.

However, the current contest for talent isn’t quite like those in the past—high-level trends impacting employees and the workplace alike have shifted, changing the competitive landscape as we once knew it.

Long gone are the days when a high-performing employee was content to stay at one company for life, and many aren’t expecting to stay at one place more than a few years. Advancements in technology, communications, and global travel opportunities have contributed to these changing attitudes by making the world a smaller place, motivating today’s professionals to pursue exciting opportunities outside their comfort zones.

Compounding this is the skills gap problem that regularly makes the headlines. Whether it’s cuts in government education funding that impact certain subjects, a lack of students’ interest in studying a particular field, or an aging industry (with an aging workforce to match), some needed skills are hard to replace, and a with skills shift moving from manufacturing to services, it is making it particularly painful when skilled employees leave for new opportunities.

In order for businesses to be on the winning side of this competition for talent, they must utilise best practices to retain their best people. And the only way to do this effectively is to practice talent transparency.

Talent Transparency Supports Internal Opportunities 

Given these trends, many organisations are increasingly focused on fostering an environment for internal talent mobility, ensuring existing employees can find new and inspiring opportunities within rather than at other companies. But in order for this strategy to succeed, a talent mind-set needs to be adopted across the entire organisation that’s supported by full transparency into the internal workforce. Because if organisations don’t have in-depth knowledge of their global workforces—individuals’ skills, aspirations, and motivations—inspiring and retaining them is impossible.

This also means that a commitment to developing and promoting internal talent must permeate across the organisation. Piecemeal attempts at this among just certain individuals or departments only go so far, and will still result in individuals with talents you didn’t know they had walking out the door.

To achieve organisational-wide involvement, talent transparency is required on three levels. First, it’s important for the workforce to have a clear view of new opportunities across the organisation that might not be apparent by simply checking the list of open positions on the company website. For example, if a company plans to open new offices, how will it communicate both the roles it’s immediately hiring for and additional opportunities coming down the line? Communications about company expansions empower the full workforce to feel included in future plans, with the potential to be involved in them.

Second, management teams throughout the organisation need transparency into the workforce—knowing who’s out there, who excels at what, and if any high-performing or high-potential individuals are at risk of departure.

Lastly, there needs to be transparency into how sources of talent are identified. Organisations must recognise managers that are good at spotting, nurturing, and retaining talent, and reward them for their roles as core talent developers.

Putting Talent Mobility into Action

Once a business is consistently practicing talent transparency at all levels of the organisation, it can execute on effective strategies for internal talent mobility. These include:

  • Develop internal fulfilment policies. Many organisations are instituting formal policies for internal placements, such as requiring that a certain percentage of leadership positions are filled by employees. This type of policy makes it clear the organisation is focused on the careers of current employees and goes beyond paying lip service to hiring internally.
  • Open internal talent pools to recruiters. Traditionally, recruiters have focused only on external candidates. Smart organisations are now providing recruiting departments with visibility into talent pools both inside and outside their organisations.
  • Emphasise horizontal movement. Rather than focusing on limited upward promotion opportunities, organisations are identifying and communicating lateral opportunities that provide growth and development.
  • Create transparency of “ready now” talent. Organisations are opening up visibility into key performance and talent data across business lines. This gives leaders insight into emerging talent on other teams that might fit their upcoming needs.

Transparency and Talent Sharing 

The benefits of internal movement serve the company as a whole: retention and engagement, cost savings, and stronger performance overall. Of course, try explaining that to a manager who just lost a top performer to another department.

The fear of losing their best team members may cause leaders to distrust efforts to promote from within, and result in “hoarding” of employees. Reciprocally, leaders hesitate to reach out to employees on other teams for fear of causing political unrest. Rather than be labelled a “poacher,” leaders look outside for talent—it’s cleaner and easier, but it also contradicts internal mobility goals.

So, how do organisations move from a culture of hoarders and poachers to one of producers and team players? A major cultural change may be needed to overcome the resistance to share the best people in a way that benefits the whole, and this needs to happen at the top where transparency and movement become the norm.

Here are a few approaches that can be utilised to get this difficult change into motion:

  • Track movement and metrics. Sharing data on internal talent mobility and tracking it against a goal is surprisingly powerful. Setting a goal of internal fulfilment at a certain percent is a great first step, but seeing how everyone’s decisions help reach—or fail to reach—the goal offers unprecedented transparency into the process.
  • Provide transparency into the wider talent pool. Some business leaders focus on which individuals can or should be considered for new roles based on their own direct experiences and knowledge. It’s time to change this limited view of who is available. In this new way of thinking, potentially anyone can be ready for a new role—even if that’s not immediately obvious by her or his current role or connections in the organisation. By opening up the catchment pool, businesses can find those hidden talent resources.
  • Put talent mobility at the core of your company: Talent mobility should be hard-wired into the business culture. It should be communicated and expected that every member of the workforce should seek new opportunities, even as often as every two or three years. Managers should accept and welcome that mind-set, knowing that even their best team members can move on to even better things in new roles in other departments that will bring great results to their companies.

While cultural barriers have historically impeded internal talent mobility, attitudes are changing as organisations realize its importance to their overall success. Many are addressing the issue head-on by incorporating these sophisticated strategies for greater talent transparency through the use of new workforce analytics technologies. Without talent transparency across the workforce, it’s going to be hard to win the war for talent this time around.

Amy Wilson, VP Human Capital Management at Workday