Mobility: Talent Sources & Employee Preferences

October 19th, 2020

The unpredictability of this year has resulted in tough talent decisions as organizations work to respond quickly to the pressures and demands of everything 2020. This increased volatility has reinforced that flexibility in all things, including career pathing, will likely be the norm moving forward.

Given the unique opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of our current mobility approaches, we held a roundtable to brainstorm the answers to key questions around talent sources and employee preferences:

  • How do talent sources and employee preference impact organizational structure and strategy?
  • How are talent sources and employee preference related to information seeking?
  • What is the role of technology?
  • How do talent sources and employee preference impact employee enablement?

We broke participating leaders into four breakout sessions to discuss questions diving deep into each topic. An overview of our conversation is captured in the mindmap below.

Mindmap of talent sources & preferences roundtable

Key takeaways from the discussion

Our 80-minute conversation provided rich insights into the current mindsets, challenges, and successes of attendees. Below are our key takeaways from the session.

Short-term vs. long-term thinking on mobility

The increased unpredictability of 2020 has put many organizations into survival mode. Loss of business has resulting in some organizations cutting back on roles, which has moved employee preference to the wayside. As organizations are quickly responding to the pressures of COVID-19, mobility strategies are focusing on redeployment. One attendee called this approach a “human capital band-aid”.

Redeploying employees into more critical roles has moved the focus away from paths and onto skills. While skills can be a critical building block of mobility, attendees emphasized the importance of considering employee purpose, passion, interests, and values. As one participant put it – skills alone results in miserable people, but skills combined with purpose and passion results in fulfillment and a desire to continue to learn and grow. Our conversation revealed an opportunity to re-focus on employee preference as we move towards the “new normal”.

Mobility development opportunities beyond HIPOs and leaders

Attendees agreed on the importance of thinking more broadly about development. Many organizations solely focus their development efforts on high potential employees (HIPOs) or leadership, leaving a majority of individuals feeling passed over and pissed off (endearingly termed POPOs) – a phrase courtesy of Beverly Kaye.

Several strategies were offered to broaden development opportunities outside of the typical HIPO group, including the usual suspects – job shadowing, career interview, etc. Others that were noted included “Desk Swapping,” which allows employees to apply for opportunities they are interested in and spend 6-8 weeks exploring the role., and “Job Testing,” offering similar visibility on a much smaller timescale, with employees exploring roles for a day.

Mobility as a community problem

Mobility is beneficial for everyone. From the organizational perspective, utilizing various talent sources and employee skills helps meet organizational objectives by preparing employees for open or future roles or projects, or moving them into more urgent functions. From the employee perspective, mobility is an opportunity to develop and pursue interests, gain necessary skills, and explore new paths. Organizations with solid internal mobility strategies are looking for the overlap and encouraging movement.

This does not appear to be happening broadly, however. Attendees pointed out that organizations often get in the way of true mobility. A few hints from the roundtable for overcoming roadblocks included: ensuring alignment between employees, managers, and other support systems on career development expectations, in systems, processes, leadership, and messaging; and allowing employees to safely communicate their career journeys. Underlying each of these suggestions is the belief that internal mobility should be fundamentally embedded in the culture of the organization and supported by people at all levels – not just relegated to the HR function.

If you’re not W2, we don’t know what to do

The conversation around the growing gig-economy has been happening for years. Rightly so, as 30-40% of the U.S. workforce falls into this category1 and two-thirds of major organizations are utilizing gig-workers to cut down labor costs2. While these figures are fascinating, what truly surprised us is how much we don’t know about this growing population.

Our conversation revealed that organizations are still searching for answers on how to leverage independent workers, building them into the overall talent strategy. When asked about the career preferences of non-W2 employees, we heard crickets. Compounding the problem, independent workers are not often being tracked in human capital management software, leaving a dearth of information in organizations with large independent worker populations. These findings highlight an opportunity to learn more about this growing sector of the workforce.

Mobility data usage and improvement

There is room to improve the way we collect data for mobility. Some organizations feel limited by data that could help them make better mobility decisions. Many may have mobility data flowing through their tools and systems but aren’t doing an adequate job at capturing it. Those who do have mobility data seem unsatisfied with its thoroughness or depth.

This topic appeared to be a pretty big concern, but one where leaders have few answers as yet. For example, organizations may have access to career path data, or they may have scattered skill, talent, and performance data across various platforms, but haven't yet figured out how those data can work together to provide a clearer picture.

This incomplete or disorganized approach to data collection makes it difficult for managers or individual employees to use – leaving this information underutilized.

We are extremely grateful to the those who attended and enriched the conversation with their thoughts and experiences. As always, we welcome your feedback or suggestions at [email protected].

Dani Johnson Redthread Research
Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst


  1. “Universities Should Be Preparing Students for the Gig Economy,” Diane Mulcahy, Harvard Business Review, 2019.
  2. “6 Trends That Will Shape the Gig Economy in the 2020s”, William Arruda, Forbes, 2020