Career Mobility: It's About Mindset, Not (Necessarily) Movement

Posted on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021 at 6:00 AM    

The events of 2020 stressed many orgs' core people strategies. As leaders revamped their approaches to employee engagement, development, retention, and more, they came to see the power of an intentional career mobility strategy.

But mobility has changed. Career mobility once simply meant moving employees upward through an org's hierarchy. Now, it's a mindset about encouraging exploration, experimentation, and growth regardless of the form it takes: sometimes movement isn't involved at all.

This research uncovered 5 different approaches to career mobility, each of which helps solve different business challenges. This infographic summarizes our report on this topic, Career Mobility: Mindset Over Movement.

Click on the image below to get the full infographic. As always, we would love your feedback! Shoot us an email at [email protected].

Career Mobility Tool

Posted on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021 at 10:47 AM    

Career Mobility Tool

This tool helps you find the career mobility approach that best suits your org. To learn more about career mobility trends and approaches, read the report,
Career Mobility: Mindset Over Movement.


About the tool

  • The career mobility tool is a simple survey that takes 3-5 minutes to complete.
  • The tool recommends a career mobility approach based on the answers you provide.
  • You can download and print a PDF of your results.
  • You can retake the survey as many times as you'd like.

This tool helps you find the career mobility approach that best suits your org. To learn more about career mobility trends and approaches, read the report,
Career Mobility: Mindset Over Movement.


About the tool

  • The career mobility tool is a simple survey that takes 3-5 minutes to complete.
  • The tool recommends a career mobility approach based on the answers you provide.
  • You can download and print a PDF of your results.
  • You can retake the survey as many times as you'd like.

Mobility: Leadership, Messaging, Tech, and Processes

Posted on Tuesday, November 17th, 2020 at 5:52 PM    

In our ongoing search for answer on mobility, we recently gathered leaders together for our third and final roundtable – this one focusing on the systems, processes, and other internal practices that affect how smoothly people move around organizations. Some of the questions we covered included:

  • Leadership: What roles should and senior leadership and managers play in facilitating mobility within their organizations?
  • Messaging: What is your organization’s messaging about internal mobility? To what extent is it effective?
  • Technology: How big of a role do you think technology plays (or should play) in internal mobility? Why?
  • Processes: How does/should internal mobility interface with other groups, such as learning, performance, recruiting, etc.?

Mindmap of Mobility: Leadership, Messaging, Tech, and Processes Roundtable

The mindmap below outlines the conversations we heard as a part of this roundtable.

Key Takeaways

We learned a lot from this conversation. In general, leaders understand the importance of the auxiliary things that affect how well mobility works in an organization, but they also recognized several challenges. Here are 5 key takeaways.

Implications of “owning your own career” message

In conversation around messaging, leaders referred to how the frequent message and theme of “own your own career” by companies can be misleading to employees and even interpreted as lazy.

Leaders emphasized that using this phrase while not aligning internal processes (recruiting messages, manager help, tools, ease of use of internal job boards, etc.) can cause a disconnect, leaving employees bereft of actual power to own their careers.

Additionally, due to the great potential for bias within the companies’ systems, sending this type of message ignores the fact that employees are not always on an even playing field. There may be barriers for some that don’t exist for others (informal communication networks, unconscious bias in performance ratings, etc.).

Changing celebration norms around mobility

Another key component of messaging lies within celebration norms. Celebration norms are most often related to upward movement (promotions) which tells employees to value only these types of movements within the company.

Leaders said that celebrating lateral and downward moves within the organization would encourage different types of mobility, making them not just acceptable, but sanctioned. Leaders mentioned that this should be the case for both full time lateral and downward movements as well as short-term projects or roles before returning to a full-time position.

Fostering psychological safety

Leaders also shared the necessity (and wisdom) of ensuring psychological safety when discussing careers. We are finding that managers have a ridiculous amount of power in determining whether an employee moves to another role, and that stronger organizations are those that ensure that both managers and employees are equipped to have open, honest conversations about career goals and plans.

For the employee, open, honest conversations with their manager or mentor about where they want to go and when helps them to see additional opportunities as well as pitfalls, and to leverage manager networks to move around.

For the manager and the organization, this type of open and honest discussion gives them data about their employees, but also ensures that they can make plans for backfilling, reskilling or otherwise accommodating for that employee when they leave.

Leaders mentioned that for psychological safety to exist, messaging, leadership, and systems and processes must all be aligned and functioning correctly.

Integrating HR processes and other initiatives

Leaders emphasized that while,  in many of their organizations, mobility is often variable by business function or unit, and fairly siloed, they see it as “inherently a shared responsibility.” Instead of belonging to just one area of the company (HR, say) leaders  talked about how mobility requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders across the business.

One leader stressed that HR related processes (e.g. talent acquisition, talent management, learning and development, performance, compensation, DEI, leadership, etc.) should be integrated together to best encourage and support mobility across the organization.

In the course of our interviews, we have seen a few organizations assign a role, or in one case, a team, to steward over mobility. This role has responsibility for working with divers stakeholders to develop interactions and processes that encourage and enable mobility to ensure that it is systemic.

Value of transparency – built into systems and modeled by leaders

Transparency was a fairly consistent theme in our discussion, both as it relates to leadership as well as systems and processes. Lack of transparency into different career options can be a major obstacle to employees making moves that they may otherwise consider. Leaders discussed how systems should be built to provide greater visibility into internal options and continue to make employees aware of these tools.

For example, organizations often have internal marketplaces for employees to find potential opportunities within the company – both short term and long term. However as one leader shared, there is a difference between being able to find these opportunities and being able to move. If employees aren’t empowered to actually move (i.e., they’re hoarded by their managers), movement happens much less.

Which brings us to leaders. Many of the participating leaders emphasized the importance of encouraging employees to move through story-telling and question-asking. Providing employees a view into how leaders got where they are often highlights the fact that many don’t take a direct path – they take zig-zagged ones. It encourages employees to explore and look beyond upward movement as they determine where they’d like their careers to go.

A special thanks

This discussion around mobility, as it related to leadership, messaging, technology, and processes, brought significant insights to the forefront and helped us see into the holistic nature of the processes that affect internal mobility. Thank you again to those of you who attended and made our conversation enriching. And as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at [email protected].




Mobility and Learning & Skills

Posted on Tuesday, October 27th, 2020 at 2:43 PM    

This year has been unpredictable (to say the least), and because it has, organizations, internal mobility of employees have changed. had to adapt and reflect on their mobility approaches – and how there are developing their employees’ skills relevant to their jobs and future career aspirations.

Our latest roundtable on mobility explored answers to key questions about mobility models and how they affect skill-building and development. To guide our discussion, we centered questions around 4 models of mobility, as shown below.

4 Models of Mobility

Source: RedThread Research © 2020

Some of the questions posed to leaders participating in our roundtable included:

  • How can organizations help employees understand their career options?
  • How can organizations understand the knowledge and skills they need for current and future roles?
  • What impact does the mobility model organizations use have on how they develop employees?
  • How can organizations encourage employees to build connections and networks within the company?
  • How do organizations keep track of knowledge and skills employees have that may qualify them for other interesting career opportunities?

We broke leaders into 4 breakout rooms to dive deeper into each of the four mobility models. The mind map below captures an overview of our conversation.

Mobility Roundtable #2 Mindmap

Key Takeaways

Below are our key take-aways from our 80-minute conversation with leaders. While much of the conversation focused on skill-building and development, other really good ideas also crept in that helped us to understand differences across the 4 models mentioned above.

Industry, size, and maturity may determine which mobility model is most suitable

Many leaders hit upon the idea that some of the models identified above were more suitable for certain industries. For example, military, law, medicine, and engineering organizations may be more apt to use a ladder model, as deep expertise are more important than breadth. Their associated hierarchical structure may itself to a clearer understanding of which positions hold the highest level of expertise – something that can be vital in high risk situations.

Likewise, technology, creative agency, and service entities may, by their nature, be more suited for a Swarm model, as they generally have discrete pieces of work or projects that can be done, and it makes sense to organize people with certain skills around that work for a time, and then move them to a different project.

One of the most interesting (to us) points raised was the idea that smaller organizations and larger organizations are more apt to adopt a Swarm model. This may be true for smaller organizations because agility and ability to be nimble are required for start-ups, meaning they naturally have less structure and fewer boundaries. It may be true for larger organizations because they have made a conscious and intentional decision to organize in this way, aligning their people processes and systems (performance management, reporting structures, compensation, etc) to accommodate it.

There appears to be aspirations to move away from the traditional Ladder model

Most organizations seem to be at least considering a move from a Ladder-type model to something more flexible. Particularly in light of recent events, agility and ability to understand and move employees with knowledge and skills around the organization has become paramount to many participating leaders. This means both understanding those knowledge and skills, but also having a system or model flexible enough that allows organizations to take advantage of them.

In addition, many leaders expressed doubt that careers could be “controlled” through a ladder-type model. As organizations reach for better employee experiences, employees are naturally more empowered to move as well – either within their current company, or, if flexibility or opportunity don’t exist, outside of it.

Language (and mindset) are changing: competencies to skills

 As a part of the mobility discussion, participating leaders also indicated a shift in thinking – from competencies to skills. Participating leaders mentioned that competency models are time-intensive to validate and “overly rigorous” in addition to being difficult to measure.

Many leaders are finding a skills-type model more sustainable and suggested companies should dedicate their time breaking down tasks into needed skills. Their argument was that this would help employees understand what skills are needed to develop for both current and future roles, and that this approach is more “nimble” and “critical to companies”.

General consensus was that a focus on skills would allow organizations to more agily move employees around the company based on skills, rather than based on competencies, which some saw as contextual to a job role and/or function.

Networking is a necessary skill for new types of models

Networking and reputation was brought up as an important skill, particularly as it relates to Lattice, Swarm, and Outside-In models. Employees with the ability to network and build reputation are more likely to have more control over their movement within organizations. Those organizations are also more likely to understand the skills and knowledge of those types of proactive employees and give them opportunities for development.

This is an important point, as participating leaders pointed out that development and movement are particularly appealing to younger generations (Millennials and Generation Z) in their organizations who tend to see jobs, gigs, and roles as opportunities instead of long-term career decisions.

Culture is important for mitigating resistance to employee mobility

Leaders also mentioned the potential resistance of senior leadership as a real threat to the acceptance of more mobility friendly models. In fact, “management hoarding” appears to be a common problem, with leaders wanting to hold onto top talent. As one participating leader noted, this could “prevent employees from taking non-traditional mobility routes.” The role of culture, particularly one that promotes a growth mindset, appears to be significant in increasing acceptance of more mobility.

A few ideas were mentioned as ways to mitigate mindset and talent hoarding. The first was to monetarily reward managers whose direct reports took a lateral move within the organization. This not only incentivized managers, but created a very strong signal that it was not only acceptable, but required.

Another idea was to (finally) decouple performance reviews from development and career conversations, making one have nothing to do with the other. This would allow manager and employee to have frank discussions about careers and eliminate the subterfuge that often accompanies moves within (or out of) organizations.

Technology plays a varying role mobility models and companies

When asked what types of technology were being used to help make their workforces more mobile, there were few responses. Participating leaders saw the Ladder model as the one that is likely best supported by data and technology, as it is the longest existing model and common to larger, hierarchical companies.

Lattice, Swarm, and Outside-In models tended to have much less structure in most organizations – as again, they rely heavily on employees willing to skills and knowledge data and career goals. While we (RedThread) have seen several news mobility platforms emerge even in the past few months, they have not been widely adopted yet.

And, as organizations continue to flirt with (or marry) the Outside-In model, the problem becomes worse. HRIS systems, learning management systems and LXPs, and other technologies common to W2 employees can collect some data on their goals, skills, and aspirations, they most often do not include contractors, consultants, and gig workers, giving talent functions an incomplete view of the skills available to them.

Thank you again to those of you who attended and made our conversation enriching. And as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at [email protected].

Mobility: Talent Sources & Employee Preferences

Posted on Monday, October 19th, 2020 at 9:37 AM    

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].

The Changing Perspective on Mobility

Posted on Monday, October 12th, 2020 at 1:05 PM    

The conversation around employee mobility has changed in recent years – so much so that the words we use to describe these movements differ starkly. While we used to refer to these movements as a “career ladder”, we now use terms like job jungle-gym1, agile careers2, and orbit-ization charts3These modern terms conjure images of employees as trapeze artists, swinging across opportunities within the organization.

This seems a natural consequence of the fact that work is undoubtedly changing. Many organizations have begun to think about how they get work done – and moving from a more structured, assembly line approach (organizing the work around the people) to much more project- and team-based work (organizing the people around the work).

And while we have been talking about career mobility for years now, given COVID-19, an increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the need for pretty much every company to respond more quickly to their market, this conversation has moved to the forefront.

Themes from the literature

In reviewing the current and recent past literature on the topic of career mobility, our goal was to understand the nature of that conversation. We also wanted to understand any models and thought leadership that existed, as well as trends for how mobility was being discussed within organizations.

The text of 45 articles we reviewed resulted in the following word cloud – which doesn’t yield much in terms of insights. However, several themes from the literature emerged as well, which are discussed below.

The Changing Perspective on Mobility

Source: RedThread Research, 2020

We’re at the beginning, not the middle

No one has really figured out mobility. In general, most organizations are still thinking about mobility in terms of moving employees from one role to another role, which suggests that most organizations are still thinking in terms of roles and organizing work around their people.

While this isn’t surprising (the momentum of doing things this way is monumental, making it hard to change direction), pockets of certain industries are making strides. A few that stand out: Healthcare – medical professionals coming together in a team to solve problems; Tech and product development – teams assembling employees with specific skills and talents to build a product; Consulting firms – bringing specialists and subject matter experts together to complete a project. These examples show a more fluid, less structured way of moving employees around the organization.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t still challenges, including: Incorporating workers from all talent pools into talent strategies, not just full-time, W2 employees; figuring out what performance and compensation looks like in this type of model; changing the messaging about what “success” means – that it’s not necessarily a promotion; and figuring out how to support employee development in a different kind of structure.

In short, while the research shows glimpses of light, there is still a long way to go.

Employee expectations are changing

We learned from the literature that currently, at least, internal mobility is generally initiated by employees. Organizations rely on employees to apply for positions discovered through internal job boards or by word of mouth.4

At the same time, turnover data from the Work Institute5 revealed that career development has been the #1 reason employees leave their organizations for ten consecutive years. When asked, workers say they want to be challenged in their role6 and 73% of employees say they would stay at their company if there were more skill-building opportunities.7

As employees gain increasing access to data about the marketplace, they often perceive more opportunity outside of an organization than identify opportunities for growth internally, which increases turnover and upskilling costs.

Increasingly, internal mobility is being seen as an opportunity to improve the overall employee experience. Organizations without solid talent mobility strategies in place are likely absorbing risk in terms of low engagement and turnover.

Data and technology are being leveraged for mobility

In much of the literature, the ongoing and ubiquitous skills discussion is linked with internal mobility. Until fairly recently, the only information organizations had about their employees’ skills was either locked in the minds of those employees or spelled out on a resume or internal profile.

That is changing. As organizations think more about mobility, they also think more about the data and technology that can be used to understand what skills employees have, and where else those skills may be employed.

Data gathering appears to be happening in both analog and digital methods. On one hand, fairly traditional employee surveys, regular virtual check ins between managers and employees, and interest via job portals provide explicit data about both skills and career aspirations. On the other, HRISes, professional networking sites, sharing sites (think Github), learning management systems, LXPs, internal platforms, and external databases are being used to provide a broader picture of the skills profile for both individuals and organizations. As that profile is better understood, insights about skills and career aspirations can help businesses make better decisions8 and remove barriers to more fluid mobility.

Two quick examples from the literature: Both AT&T9 and UBS10 have utilized skills assessment data to create online platforms that cater to the personalized experience employees crave. Employees can assess their skills, openly access information about jobs within the company, match themselves to jobs, identify skill gaps, and link to resources to fill those gaps.

More than ever, mobility is being used as a means of development

The next trend we’re seeing for mobility is the not-so-novel idea of using it as a development tool. While job rotations and stretch assignment have long been used at higher levels of the organization and for those deemed HIPOs, the idea of mobility for development is beginning to trickle down to include a broader swath of the organization.

Organizations are also beginning to realize that mobility for development can be a virtuous cycle. Instead of simply doing a stretch assignment or rotation to prepare employees for future roles, better data and a better idea about an employee’s aspirations allows organizations to take advantage of unique skills and knowledge they have now, while still building their skillset for the future.

The next role is often prepared for by formal development and skill building, but more and more, the roles (and increasingly gigs and projects) are being seen as valuable learning and development experiences.

Internal Talent Marketplaces are hitting their stride

An internal talent marketplace, often called a project portal or an internal gig economy, generally utilizes technology to match employees with short-term projects or “gigs.” Internal talent marketplaces encourage companies to share talents and skills across boundaries in an organization by dynamically matching and deploying skills to work.11

While internal talent marketplaces have been around for a while, the most recent literature touts it as a necessity for organizations – not just to change mindset, but also as a way to offer an innovative and flexible approach to talent acquisition, mobility, and management.12

Internal talent marketplaces can also act as a bit of a workaround – allowing organizations to keep their traditional talent systems in place (which also means fewer effects on hiring, accounting, and performance systems) while allowing employees to “move” around the organization more freely.

Our own observations align with the literature here – not only are we hearing about internal talent marketplaces more from our talent leader friends, we’re also being introduced to more solutions that enable them from our vendor friends.

Articles that caught our attention

While reviewing the literature, several articles highlighted key considerations in the conversation around internal mobility. The articles below contained information we found both intriguing and useful. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

The Best Way to Hire from Inside Your Company

JR Keller

“Frustrated with finding and integrating good external candidates, organizations were beginning to invest increasing amounts of time, energy, and money into developing their internal hiring capabilities.”


  • There are two ways internal hires are primarily made – sponsorship and posting. Sponsorship relies on a personal connection between the hiring manager and the candidate (the “I know a guy” approach), while posting involves listing an open position on an internal job board.
  • The posting method results in better quality internal hires any way you cut it – contributions, competency ratings, likeliness to be rated a top performer, etc.
  • The posting method decreases bias by casting a wider net and forcing hiring managers to create a job description and think about the qualities they want in a candidate.

While an oldie, this article is certainly a goodie. It suggests that adding structure to a company’s internal mobility strategy results in better quality candidates for full time internal mobility.

Why Do Millennials Stay in Their Jobs? The Roles of Protean Career Orientation, Goal Progress and Organizational Career Management

Claudia Holtschlag, Aline Masuda, Sebastian Reiche, & Carlos Morales

The findings suggest that millennials are not necessarily more inclined to switch employers. An important factor to tie them to the organization might be to allow them to advance towards their individually valued goals.”


  • If individuals are not making progress towards their personally meaningful goals, they are more likely to leave. If they are making progress, they are more likely to stay.
  • To retain millennials, organizations should allow them to advance towards their individually valued goals.
  • Individuals who are less proactive in identifying their own career goals benefit from having a structured career management environment in their organizations.

This article highlighted the importance of putting employees in the driver’s seat when it comes to their careers. When employees are able to make progress on goals that are personally meaningful, they are less likely to turnover.

Activating the Internal Talent Marketplace

Ina Gantcheva, Robin Jones, Diana Kearns-Manolatos, Jeff Schwartz, Linnet Lee, & Manu Rawat

“ is expected to extend to providing employees with access to gig work, mentorship, rotation programs, stretch and volunteering assignments, and innovation and skill-building experiences that align with business needs to create a true opportunity marketplace.”


  • The concepts of talent marketplaces are fairly new and are continuously evolving, and if done right, can improve talent organizational responsiveness and agility.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach to talent marketplaces. Organizations describe it as “a process of continuous customization and learning with an eye on small wins.”
  • Often, organizations adopt one of three purposes for their talent marketplace strategy: a focus on retention and productivity, a focus on career mobility, or a focus on skills-based growth.

For organizations just beginning to think through the ins and outs of talent marketplaces, this short article provides a wealth of information and several examples about how it can be done. We also think it properly sets expectations for what a talent marketplace can be.

How Matching Creates Value: Cogs and Wheels for Human Capital Resources Research

Ingo Weller, Christina B. Hymer, Anthony J. Nyberg, & Julia Ebert

“Matching is viewed as a complex and delicate challenge. If done well, it creates “economic value of a magnitude that few other economic processes can”; if done poorly, it destroys economic value.”


  • Matching, or aligning individuals with well-suited roles, jobs, situations, and tasks within organizations, benefits both the employee and employer.
  • For the best matches, skill sets must be well aligned with firm needs.
  • Ensuring a high-quality match between organizations and individuals quickly becomes complex as employees bring unique knowledge, skills, and abilities to an organization, while the organization offers a unique employee experience.
  • The researchers created the “dynamic matching lifecycle model”, which suggests that matching occurs during hiring, skill development, internal movement, and firing. The model suggests that organizations should invest in each of these areas to see the most value.

This article highlights the importance of aligning the skills of employees with the needs of the organization. The model suggests that one method of re-alignment is through internal movements.

Now Is an Unprecedented Opportunity to Hire Great Talent

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz

“But when we emerge from this unfolding tragedy, it will be the long-term thinkers who not only survive but thrive.”


  • While it is instinctual to freeze or cut back on hiring and talent practices during times of economic crisis, it can be very strategic to take this as an opportunity to invest in talent.
  • Times of crisis create a window of opportunity to recruit exceptional talent.
  • Organizations can seize the opportunity by checking in with individuals they wish they would have hired over the years, sourcing candidates who are jobless or open to change, and retain and develop in-house talent.

This article emphasized the importance of focusing on mobility and employee development now. Career pathing and employee growth can feel like a back-burner topic when the world is burning around you, but from a strategic standpoint this is an opportunity to ensure that you have the best talent to bring you into the future.

Our review of the literature revealed that we are at the early stages of a mindset shift around how talent is moved in and around organizations. Early adopters of change no longer think only of the roles within the organization and how employees can fill them – instead they see work as sets of tasks, see employees for their skills, and have identified methods to marry the two in more flexible, agile ways. But there isn’t a “best” approach to mobility – and as we continue to research this topic, we hope to learn about the unique characteristics that make one approach more appropriate for some organizations than others.

Additional Reading


Q&A with John Bunch: Holacracy Helps Zappos Swing From Job Ladder to Job Jungle Gym, Bethany Tomasian, Workforce, 2019.

2 Career Moves and Laws of Motion”Marti Konstant, LinkedIn, 2018.

3 Career Mobility? Up Is Not The Only Way, Rodger Dean Duncan, Forbes, 2018.

4 2020 Global Talent Trends, LinkedIn, 2020.

5 “2020 Retention Report: Trends, Reasons & Wake Up Call”, Thomas F. Mahan, Danny Nelms, Jeeun Yi, Alexander T. Jackson, Michael Hein, & Richard Moffett, Work Institute, 2020.

6 Closing the Skills Gap: What Workers Want, ManpowerGroup, 2020.

7 2020 Global Talent Trends, LinkedIn, 2020.

8 Increase Business Agility with an Internal Talent Marketplace, Edie Goldberg and Kelley Steven-Waiss, SHRM, 2020.

9 “AT&T’s Talent Overhaul”, John Donovan, & Cathy Benko, Harvard Business Review, 2016.

10 How UBS Became a Company of Internal Career Mobility, Larry Emond, Gallup, 2019.

11 Increase Business Agility with an Internal Talent Marketplace”, Edie Goldberg and Kelley Steven-Waiss, SHRM, 2020.

12 Activating the Internal Talent Marketplace”, Ina Gantcheva, Robin Jones, and Dianna Kearns-Manolatos, Jeff Schwartz, Linnet Lee, & Manu Rawat, Deloitte, 2020.

How Employee Mobility is Changing

Posted on Monday, October 5th, 2020 at 9:51 AM    

Mobility has become increasingly more important in today’s workforce. We began this call talking about internal mobility (within an organization) but ended up talking about mobility in all its forms (including boomerang employees and more). We were especially honored to have a special guest on the call. She shared some valuable insights from her decades of expertise on this subject. Here are just a few of the questions we discussed:

  • What are the models that organizations use to think about mobility (including a new LEVERR model)?
  • What skillsets should employees have to support their mobility?
  • How has mobility changed? Why?
  • How can technology and data support mobility?

There were many great insights during this Q&A. Thank you to everyone who attended and participated live. We hope you join us for the next Q&A call.

Video Contents & Questions Asked

You can jump to the following locations in the video using the timestamps on the video and in the chapters menu (next to the full screen icon).

  • 0:00 Introduction & Housekeeping
  • 1:57 Definition of Internal Mobility
  • 3:35 Why Does Mobility Matter Now?
  • 7:59 Reasons Why Perspective is Shifting
  • 18:54 How Should HR Think of Employee Mobility?
  • 28:13 Mobility & People Data
  • 30:34 Characteristics that Influence Mobility
  • 31:29 4 Models for Mobility
  • 34:08 Career Leverage – LEVERR Mobility Model
  • 36:36 What Skillsets Support Mobility
  • 42:17 How Does Mobility Impact Equity
  • 50:04 Tech & Data Privacy in Mobility
  • 54:26 Wrap & How to Participate More

Q&A Call Transcript

Introduction & Housekeeping (00:00)

Thank you everybody for joining. As I think I know pretty much everyone here, but for those, I don’t know, I’m, Stacia Gar, co-founder of RedThread Research and Dani Johnson is here as well. And we are going to be, I’m going to be kind of the moderator for today cause Dani’s been leading the research that we’re going to talk about. So with that, let’s go ahead and get started. Dani, I’m driving. Sorry. Are we recording? We are. Okay, great. Chelsea’s taking care of it.

So as always housekeeping. We want this obviously to be an informal and engaged conversation, but also a safe space. So excuse me. That means sharing your ideas raising a hand to speak or in this instance for pretty small audience, just jumping up and speaking and meeting yourself. And also being sure to discuss topics there in the chat.

For those of you who may be new to this, or I’m just gonna mention, this is part of that safe space is that this is not a selling space. This is a sharing space in a connecting space. So please don’t sell, please contribute knowledge. And if there’s something that you hear here that you wouldn’t really want to share with others, please do. So just don’t attribute it to a specific individual. All that said we are recording. And so that recording will go on the site. So if there’s something you really don’t want people to know, maybe don’t share that. So I think that’s the only housekeeping I have. Dani, do you have anything? No yeah, I think we’re good. Okay. Well then I’m going to let Dani take it away. She’s going to share with you a little bit of some of the newest research that we’ve started which Chelsea has also been helping out with. And then we’ll dive into the questions we’ve received and as always pop your own questions in the chat, or just unmute yourself and share them with us.

Definition of Internal Mobility (01:57)

So Chelsea has been doing a lit review and we’ve been studying a lot about what internal mobility means. I think the term and the idea of internal mobility has sort of skyrocketed in the last few months for obvious reasons. But it was important even before that we saw some movement, even before that. The definition that we’re using, the working definition we’re using right now is “internal mobility refers to an organization’s approach to moving talent, to new opportunities within the organization or within that company.” We think that internal mobility is probably a little bit broader than that probably is going to incorporate some of the gig workers and some of the talent we have access to that we bring in for short periods of time. But for now, this is what we have. If you all have better definitions, by all means, drop them in the chat. We’d love to sort of wrangle those together and see if we can come up with something that everybody agrees on.

According to a Harvard business review in 2020, it matters now a lot for a couple of reasons. The first one is retaining top talent. This has been a problem forever. The war of talent we’ve been hearing about for a really long time. The one that seems to have snuck up on us a little bit is filling talent gaps. And so we know that it’s much more difficult right now to hire. It’s much more difficult right now to figure out what to do with areas of organizations that may not be productive because of COVID-19 some other things. And so it’s really, really important right now. And we think we’re hearing a lot about it because of the need to retain top talent. It’s a hot thing right now. And this, then the second one is to fill talent gaps. Are there other things that you all are seeing out there? Other reasons why this matters so much right now?

Why Does Mobility Matter Now? (03:42)

Gordon has a really interesting question. What do employees think of when they hear this? Old names for deployment succession, those types of things? I think it’s all wrapped up into the same discussion. I’m hoping we’re getting a little bit more forward thinking and creative about how we think about telling in organizations. For example, succession planning, not so sure it’s such a big deal anymore. You should have a large talent pool instead of a succession because talent moves around so much. But I think it’s a really good question. Are we using maybe external or language that doesn’t matter quite as much. Mitch?

Yeah, I think why does this matter now? I think one of the issues is, is that, you know, there’s a big focus on skills right now. I think greasing the skids, if you will, to make it more fluid and available for people to move around within an organization or even have external workers come in from external to the organization to help out on a particular project. I think because of the changes in technology, it’s not just about a skill, but it’s, it’s about accelerating skill acquisition. And I think this is one of the ways that can help facilitate that. We have a lot of, I would say, hidden talents and value that’s that hasn’t been tapped into inside of organizations. And I think this is yet another way to make that happen and to allow people to use the talents and strengths that they have that may be, you know, may be not known by their, their boss or even their organization.

I love that point for two reasons. First of all, you brought up skills. We’re seeing increasingly that the talent mobility discussion and the skills discussion are one in the same. Two sides of the same coin, two different sides of the same coin, but to make sure I got that right. And also that we’re not necessarily thinking in terms of career ladders anymore. And we’ll talk about that in just a second. We’re thinking in terms of, you know, how do we organize a group of people that have certain skills and how do we figure out what those skills are to get work done? So we’re just thinking about things completely differently than we have in the past. Other thoughts on this?

The a hundred pound gorilla in the room around this logging on relationship to furloughing 12,000 airline workers. What is the other use for this tool or this data? And while we can be very optimistic about its intention and how people are going to use it, I think with the focus on re-skilling, just business survival, the focus on from the C suite now on what this can be used, for what we’ve been claiming, that’s how, that’s, how business data around HR tools, this might just come right around and bite us in the proverbial potentially. And I think there’s a lot of there’s a lot of thinking that we need to do or care that we need to take around this and how it’s actually can be used and that it doesn’t leave a bad taste in lots of employees’ mouths as they go through a skills assessment as part of our career mobility exercise and they’re rift. We did that at Intuit 10 years ago and it took that HR group three or four years to rebuild any sense of workforce trust.

Yeah. and I think part of that has to do with, I’m assuming part of that has to do with the fact that it was an initiative or an event rather than a way of thinking about how you move people around the organization. Kelly has some interesting points as well, Kelly Raider, she says I think employees may think of it as more as rotational program stretch assignments, fellowships short-term round trip assignments, other than one way reskilling to another wall. So I think that’s also like an aspect of employed mobility that I think is up and coming. We’re seeing the many more product marketplaces project marketplaces, for example, but I think it’s starting to change the mind of people with respect to how we actually move people around the work. So why is the perspective shifting? We see four big ones and I would love to understand what else you all are seeing out there.

Reasons Why Perspective is Shifting (07:59)

Number one is unpredictability. We, we know in the market for the last six months has been incredibly unpredictable. It was unpredictable even before that and I think it will remain that way just because things change so quickly.

The second one is sort of the rise of the gig economy. I’m not sure what the right term is for that, but there are more independent workers than there ever have been before. And organizations are starting to use them regularly. They’re starting to figure out the legal and organizational requirements in order to do that and to take advantage of that talent.

The third one is just the way we work. I’ve been saying this for a little while now, but organizations are starting to organize the people around the work instead of the work around the people. So we’re not, we don’t have these strict organizational structures where we move one piece of work to another person who does a piece of work on top of that and move it on like an assembly line. We’re actually seeing more teams, we’re seeing more flexible sort of agency type approaches, where we bring people together for a little bit with their talents. And then they dissolve back into the organization to be reproved. We’re seeing that a lot in tech. We’re seeing a lot in agencies. We’re seeing it quite a bit in healthcare, and we’re definitely seeing it in consulting as well.

And then the final one is employee expectations. When my dad retired, he had spent his entire career in one company and he had moved up the chain just like he was supposed to, but that’s not my career. I’ve had five different careers and I’m not just talking jobs, but actually different careers. And so we need to think about what employees want and how they want to approach their careers. It’s not just, you know, in many cases it’s not just increasing depth and expertise in one area it’s much broader than that.

Can I say something absolutely? I think too, with all the attention in the last several years on millennials and this idea of employee experience and everything from the first date through when they decide they want to go somewhere else. We want them to be ambassadors on behalf of the company they just left. I think if you build this in to perform it to requirements above a certain level, like you aren’t eligible to apply for this VP role because you don’t have this in your package, you didn’t do this. You make it a requirement. It’s sexy, it’s exciting, but also make it so that it’s vital. That it’s a requisite, you know? And then people who come into the company, they look at that experience journey and they can aim for it.

So not only do they build skills, not only just the culture of the company become even stronger, not only does the brand gain strength, both inside and out, but you become the actual employer of choice or employer of trust. People want to come into your agency because they know this is in their future. You know what I mean? And this was an exciting, sexy thing, but it’s professional and they it’s a requirement. Wow. You know, and not everybody may land in a spot in their curve, in their journey that allows this to happen for them. But that’s all gotta be sorted out as we integrate this mobility into everything else we do to manage our talent in the organization. Both from the, all the way from the sourcing to the exit.

Other thoughts here? I would love to jump on that. So Suzanne, I think those are great points. And as Dani mentioned, I’ve been working on a lit review for this project that we’re working on. And we’ve been seeing a lot of research on millennials and what do millennials want. And what we’re seeing is that there’s not really a difference in what millennials want from the workforce, but they’re not really willing to settle. And so, like you said, like we all want learning and development, but a millennial is willing to walk away from the company if it’s not there, whereas somebody else might not. And so we’re seeing that people are seeing “boomerang employees,” you know, I might be working with you for a couple of years. I might go and develop over here at this company, but I had such a great experience with you for those couple of years, I’m going to come back and I’m going to bring that skillset back with me. And so to your point, if you do give those experiences, and if you do let people grow with you, then you might have those boomerang employees that either move from your company outside and then back or from your company to another function and then back.

Right, and then you have the gig economy happening within your sector, your industry sector. Exactly good way. It’s a slightly different interpretation of it, but it has the same look and feel. And the other thing is that when they come back, they may bring other talent with them. So I think it’s interesting that both of you are talking about mobility beyond the walls of the organization. We’ve titled this internal mobility, but I’m wondering if maybe it should just be mobility. Cause I think you’re raising really good points about if it’s not always in your organization and sometimes it’s in your best interest if they get experience elsewhere and then come back.

Right, Dani, there is the use case for internal mobility, which is, I mean, we all understand I think. But just on what Chelsea was sacrament, what’s the positive boomerang metric that HR can feel good about that’s not retention? Longer retention, good thing. People leave, bad thing. What’s actually the positive and how does the profession, on the talent management side of the HR profession and not the operational benefits and compensation side, how does the title management side feel good about it?

(Mic cuts off) We can find other language for it, but there’s so many ways that that could be internally marketed and externally marketed if you’re going to job fairs, et cetera.

Yeah, absolutely. But that’s a cultural shift. That’s needs to happen in the profession and whether it’s SHRM who drive that, or I don’t know who drives that. But the acceptance of that being a good thing, I mean.

Can I, can I jump in here. I’ve been less involved in this research, but what strikes me is we are talking about if you kind of take the big picture historical perspective we had, Dani, like you said, with your dad, like there was this idea that there was a strong, tight relationship between contract really between the employer and the employee. And then, you know, we went through this period during, I’d say the 90s in 2000s where that was clearly broken, but it wasn’t quite clear what was in its place. And I think a little bit about, you know, I played for like, I’m outta here. If you’re not here for me, a new employer with being not quite knowing exactly how to respond or what does that look like? And maybe we’re now like getting to the next phase, which is this idea of, you know, even though we don’t expect that longterm employment, we know that it’s unreasonable. What we do want is overall positive experience because of the ambassadorship, because of, to Suzanne and Gordon’s point the potential for boomerang and like the employer, is it maybe, maybe some of them are fundamentally starting to think of themselves differently than what we had kind of I’d say in the last 20 years. So maybe that’s part of what is shifting in this perspective.

Yeah. I’m not going to articulate this very well, but one of the things I’ve been, that’s been kind of noodling around in the back of my mind around seeing a lot of the drive that the tech sector and the vendors in the space they’re trying to support organizations to do and culturally, while we’re going to try and look after you through the next normal, not the new normal cause it’s going to be an iterating number of next normals that and things like learn-in and the learning sabbatical. Stay with us, be brilliant. We’re almost getting back to the employer for life, but just with careers within that employer. Don’t leave me, I’m going to do everything for you, education, all of these things and share those experiences. You can go get some experience in accounting, you don’t have to leave, keep the institutional memory in and moving around. And so you don’t have to go to the external marketplace.

I feel like I’m seeing that, but like I say, I’m not quite sure how to articulate it clearly, but there seems to be a little bit of a kind of diverging set of values, almost the gig economy, and people are going to just going to be here for a couple of years, but I’m going to invest massive amounts in doing everything I can from a engagement, mental health, wellbeing, coaching, and counseling, everything that we’re seeing to keep them. And it feels just like, kind of diverging or opposite. Like I said, I’m not quite sure what it is.

Yeah, I think it will be interesting. Yeah. I think ordinarily be interesting to see kind of which, which, which wins basically, or, you know, which one becomes most, most prevalent. And I think these, this discussion actually shoots us really well into our first question.

Can I just raise one last on the, what are we, what do I think is driving another fifth bubble, if you will. And people can tell me if I’m being too cut up capitalistic about it. Having seen the inflow of VC into tech in the space, it’s now a hot space that everybody has to add into that portfolio, not for altruistic reasons, but for going and raising $50 million, because that’s, that’s the new profit, right? Go and get VC money with zero turnover. And there’s a lot of people flogging to develop simple career mobility tools, cause it’s not rocket science. And I worry that there’s a flood of a million tools that’s going to end up kind of dilluting the message of the actual benefit. Cause there’s just so many people arriving in the space with their 10 person startup getting $10 million and then crashing and burning or maybe winning. Maybe being the thing.

I don’t know that we can solve for that. That’s a capitalist problem that I think, I mean, I don’t know that we can solve for that, but we definitely are seeing quite a few startups,

But I think it’s driving perspective, right? Perhaps it is. I think there’s now a critical mass of stuff that’s out there of tools. I think it’s influencing the discussion and the focus and why they’re in it to be in it.

How Should HR Think of Employee Mobility? (18:54)

Yeah. Let’s move on to the first question which is how should HR be thinking about employee mobility? And I think we’ve talked a little bit about this. I think the piece that Chelsea and I wrote, and when I say Chelsea and I mean, most of Chelsea, wrote about how we think about how we’re starting to think about employee mobility, our sort of our going in point. One of the things that she said is that career paths are becoming are more like a Pollock painting than a ladder. I think that’s the phrase you used Chelsea, which I found on somebody, somebody quoted it on Twitter today. So it’s, it’s an interesting thought. We’re no longer talking about ladders. There are other ways besides ladders to do this. So in your all’s, in your opinion, what should HR be thinking about when it comes to employment employee mobility?

I’ll jump in here because I haven’t really said much but loving kind of where the conversation is going. One of my past companies, we had an internal brokerage and when I was working with this woman extensively to kind of help her on some of the analytics that we had touched base on this before. But one of the things our, you know, our theory was that at certain levels of the organization, if you’re not switching roles or if you’re not going to gaining different perspectives, then you’re really going to be hard pressed to find something that you really like or can be passionate about as well as again, gaining that the greater perspective from the organization, especially like if you say in HR, if you work in compensation, then you move to talent management, then you move to learning, then move into being an HR VP role with all those perspectives. And even if you’ve changed roles, every, you know, 12, 18 months, you become much more appreciative of the other functions and therefore have a much better, well rounded perspective and can offer so much more back to the organization, you know, in, in terms of kind of the different projects and stuff that you’re working on.

So with that background, one of the partisans we had to do was convince other leaders and kind of some of these people that this is really the right way to go because their biggest pushback was simply the fact that they didn’t want to have to quote unquote retrain somebody. But our theory was that you don’t really have to retrain if these people are kind of constantly moving, they’ve gained the skill set of, you know, quick adaptability. So that is less on you having to train them. They just figure it out faster.

I love that. Jordan. I think you hit on probably one of the biggest problems with mobility and organizations and that’s “talent hoarding.” Leaders do it. We know they do it. And so how do, how do HR organizations put incentives in place to develop talent and let them go rather than hold onto them? I think you, you hinted at another one, which is just flexibility. We’re no longer talking about the ladder, we’re talking about something much broader. And so how do we put a system in place that allows that flexibility and still allows us to get our work done? What are the things that HR should be paying attention to George? I interrupted you. Go ahead.

No, no, that’s totally fine. I’m just going to say the only other point I to make is I think that the tipping point for kind of when we got some of the organization to start seeing this internal brokerage and mobility as helpful is after we did it a few times. We’ve got some of the early adopters look into it. We got these people on projects. And they were like, you know, “this little project that I did with competent and this other thing that it did with dealing with this operation side of the business, you know, I see these two sides.” And they were bringing together ideas that no one would have made connections toward and that’s pretty much where the light bulb clicked for most of them.

I will. I love that. Just a quick example, first, actually first I want to acknowledge the Beverly Kaye is on the line, which I’m fan girling, just a tiny bit. She literally wrote the book on employee mobility. So we’re really happy to have her here today. One example of this that we’ve seen a little bit is lawyers. So big law firms will hire lawyers fresh out of school and in order for them to get some trial experience, they’ll lend them out to the DA departments. So they’ll still pay their salaries, but they’ll get that experience by doing many, many, many trials in a DA’s office so that they’re more valuable to the organization. And I think that’s one of the things that we’ve seen as far as, as different ways of thinking about it, we’re also talking about lending talent. So it’s not necessarily, you know, sending them off and losing connection to them, but actually lending talent to NGOs and other organizations that do some good, but can also help develop really skills. Other things that we think HR should be thinking about when it comes to internal mobility?

And they have to be thinking differently about compensation. Because That drives a lot of traditional thinking. It drives a lot of goal setting which needs to be more flexible in terms of being able to have one goal that might be on the way to somewhere else, but the outcome of something as important than in the job that they have at the time. So that’s visible and has a trajectory.

Yeah, I think you’re right, Gordon. As, as we’ve been looking through what, what the literature says there, there are certain things that need to change based on what your mobility model is. So for example, leadership, messaging, technology compensation, learning. For example, are we responsible for upskilling our people for a certain role, or do we provide more broad sort of opportunities to learn? So all of these things, HR needs to rethink depending on what model they’re using. And so I think cohesiveness is another big thing that organizations have started to think about. How do we make all of our systems aligned to actually get people to act the way that we need them to act?

And I wonder if they need to think about letting go too, because at the end of the day, this is about being a more agile business. And if HR is not in the mindset of understanding what IT need or what skills need to go from IT to sales, to close a deal or whatever it wants about customer service project, then somebody else needs to do that.

I’d love to hear from some of the people that we haven’t heard a bunch from no pressure at all.

Can I add something. And thank you so much for that call out. You’re right. The book “Up Is Not the Only Way” was written in 1982. So that’s been my song ever since. And you know what I think we’re not looking at enough at HR is the learning part. Like we need to, again, help the individual learn what mobility means for them, what the mobility options are. And then we have to help managers learn what the mobility options are and have them have that darn conversation that they’re still not having. And on top of that, we need to reward for different kinds of mobility. And Dani, I’m going to send you an ancient article on rewarding for mobility, you know, from years ago that we never have really taken action on, rewarding people and for enriching. Rewarding people for laterals. Rewarding people for exploring. And I definitely will give you a call later Dani to whine to you, but you’re absolutely right.

Very important. Thank you Bev. Other other thoughts on, you know, generally what HR should be thinking about?

Well, Dani, I’d love to hop in here. I think kind of to sum up everything that we’ve heard. I think that a lot of what I’ve seen doing the lit review for this is that this needs to be a strategic and a cultural change. And so I think that everything that we’ve heard talking about compensation, talking about the managers need to have these conversations, and we need to make sure that everyone is thinking about this, everybody is taken care of, and the organization that comes down to this needs to be part of the strategy. This needs to be part of our culture. We need to be thinking about this constantly.

And so I think that’s been the make or break moment for a lot of these companies is if we really make this embedded, if this is part of our culture, then it’s going to succeed. But if it’s just, you know, we’re going to buy a tech platform and this is going to solve all their problems, then probably not. I think that’s been where I’ve seen a lot of the the difference between successful and non-successful.

I like that a lot, Chelsea, And I think that’s probably where most organizations are falling down right now. Cause they’ve stuck with that traditional model for so long now. They’re like, oh no, what do we do?

Mobility & People Data (28:13)

Can I add one thing here? Someone touched on it at the beginning and I don’t know that we spend any time on it, but I think there’s a question of data here and the new role of data. Because we all know that what gets measured gets done. And also we knew that employees have some level of probably rightful concern about what’s being tracked on them and what the organization knows, particularly in these times when we’re contemplating rifts in many organizations. So I’m wondering if anybody here has been doing any thinking about kind of the connection between mobility and data, people data. And what should be collected and what we should be providing to employees and the insights that, you know, we should be both giving them as well as retaining for HR? It’s fine if the answer is no.

I’ve been thinking about it, but I don’t think you want to hear from me. I think that could be the start of something like excellent hubs, not too different from the centers of excellence idea, which is waning a tad. But I think if, you know, you’ve got to have, if you have, depending on the organization structure, if you have little fiefdoms that are, they have the head person and then they have, you know, the rank and file. Or they’ve changed to a more mobile and agile workforce. But what’s happened is an expertise has developed in that hub or in that location that might be spot. If you want to learn X, you need to do a six week or a six month assignment at that hub because our experts live there. The ones who don’t move, you know, or the ones who have moved and come back because they found their thing, the thing that they want to be passionate about.

When I was young, I swam on a swim team and you had to know all the strokes and you had to be strong in all the strokes, but you were best in one. Then you could fill in if somebody got sick in the second and you were a pinch hitter in the third, but you had to have that kind of rank and file on your skillset. And I think HR needs to do more of that. We need to have a thinking cap around that. That this person is first to graphic designer. Then they’re an idea generator and maybe third they’re a copywriter. I mean, I don’t know, but that’s just an example. But you can’t do that unless as you say, Staica, you gather data on people

Characteristics that Influence Mobility (30:34)

Specifically, like we’ve been hearing more and more, even in the last week, I mean, I think we made the connection before, but more and more about skills and mobility and the data associated with those skills enables mobility in ways that I’m not sure I completely made that connection before. Let’s move on. I’m just a little. How many questions? We’re not going to get to all of them. What organizational characteristics should influence, how companies approach mobility?

I thought this was a super interesting question, cause this is kind of how we’ve been thinking about it as well. I don’t know that you want the same type of mobility in every organization and in every instance. So for example, I don’t want my doctor doing a stint in marketing. I don’t know that she wants that either, but I definitely would feel more comfortable if she was dedicating her time to making sure that things were working well on the medical side.

4 Models for Mobility (31:29)

And so as we sort of gone through the research and access some of the stuff that we’ve done in the past, we see basically four models that organizations are using. And I love to understand if you are hearing more than that. But the first one is the ladder that we’re all really familiar with the most traditional one. You jump in and you sort of move up that ladder and build an increasing expertise and increasing leadership and manager responsibilities.

The second one is the lattice, which we’ve also heard a lot about that’s moving around the organization and getting new new experiences. And this one has sort of emerged again recently as, you know, some way of doing things because it really plays into the employee experience and make sure you have well-rounded and the skills you need in your organization and all of that stuff.

The third one is kind of an agency model. So if you think about advertising agencies or consulting firms, or increasingly the medical field, they have skills and they bring people together around a particular amount of work because they have those skills. They work together and then they sort of dissolve back into the organization. And so tech has adopted that a lot, Stacia and I both at Deloitte. That’s the model they used there. And so it is becoming increasingly used in situations that aren’t some of those more traditional ways. But, but that’s the third one.

And then the fourth one kind of goes back to some of the stuff we were hinting at earlier, which is really leveraging the gig economy or alumni networks or consulting pools or borrowing talent or lending talent. Basically the transitory, I guess we’re calling it. Where we bring people in for a little while to do work, to do a set of work. They’re with us for a while and then they sort of go back and extend beyond the borders of our organization.

And so those are the four sort of models that we’ve seen. And what we’ve realized is where you’ve been thinking through them is that depending on which model you have, the one that you would choose depends on the characteristics your organization has. So if you’re, you know, a doctor you’re not going to do a stint in marketing. And if you’re, you know, and so depending on what kind of work you’re trying to get done and what characteristics your organization has, you might choose a different model. And then the opportunity there is to align all of the systems, the leadership, the communication, the learning, the preferences, all of those things, to make sure that that model is sort of prevalent or understood as the model that you’re using in that space. So I just talked a lot. I would love thoughts on that and that also really love to understand if you’re seeing different types of models in those four.

Career Leverage – LEVERR Mobility Model (34:08)

You know, I’d like to, if I can, offer one more model. It’s interesting. Yesterday, I did a day of filming in my office about this topic. And I was talking about a model I’ve used forever called “career leverage.” And what I said on the film was “Managers, let me make it easy. Sit down with every employee, write down the word lever with two RS and think about how do you give everybody leverage in their careers?” And it’s simply stands for:

L – How do I move laterally?

E – How do I enrich? Which is mega important now.

V – Where do I go vertically and do I know the downside of going up the ladder? We never talk about that. L E V.

E- The second E is exploratory. How do I do those short gigs? That’s where all that gig works fits. And then will I get debrief on my experience in that gig work? That’s the E. Exploratory, really important now.

R – Now the first R in lever is realignment. And that is how do I, and do I dare move down to get across into something that’s richer? Or down and back into my love for technical work when now my manager? How did this happen to me?

R – And then the last R is relocation. And that is okay, this isn’t working. What other organizations are my second and third choice.

So it’s career leverage, and I’d love to work with any of you to give you that and figure out how to make it live more in organizations. So I offer you the career leverage model.

Thank you, Bev. And Stacy captured that and stick it into zoom. If you guys didn’t take notes fast enough. So LEVERR, Laterally, Enrich, Vertically, Exploratory, Realign, and Relocation. Yep. Awesome. Others. Do others have thoughts about characteristics that influence companies or those models that we’ve discussed so far?

What Skillsets Support Mobility (36:36)

We plan on digging pretty deeply into this part of the research in upcoming publications so watch out for it if you’re interested in that topic. The next question is what employee skillsets support their mobility? Self-Reliance, networking, fluidity with metrics, et cetera.

This is a really interesting question. It probably does affect things a little bit, and we see organizations spending training dollars on things like resilience and grit and those types of trainings. And it probably does increase sort of an employee’s ability to move around a little bit. I tend to think, and I would love Stacia’s opinion on this as well. I tend to think that it has more to do with the system than it does with the individual. So I think having a system in place that allows or encourages mobility is probably much more important than those specific trainings, even though they can help the individual and give them a new perspective on how they should think about their career.

Hi, I’d like to just weigh in here. I’ve been managing global and domestic mobility for years and years and years. And one of the things that has always been true is that the skillset, if you will, for someone either being successful in a setting like this or not is typically behavioral. You know, how do you deal with change? Are you the kind of person who can actually move to that new space emotionally, psychologically, mentally? The fact that you can do your job, we’ve already checked that box. Okay. But we want to see, you know, if you have a breakdown, which happens, you know, if you run into some brick wall, let’s say you go on a long term and one of your kids tries to commit suicide. That’s an extreme example, but those things happen. I mean, you have to be prepared for anything. You have to be ready to shift gears, and that’s something that can be learned. And I think that’s where we should be spending some time, energy and money for employees.

They get their skill training for their job other ways, those come through other channels. But the behavioral piece, how do you manage change? How do you deal with it? Are you averse to it? And that can be done through a number of, you know, there’s a thousand psychometric instruments out there and, or, you know, maybe you do that up front when you hire, and then that’s built in, it’s baked into that person, into that set up. The role and the person who encumbers that role. So it’s just an idea, but I have found that to be true, probably 99.9% of the time. I’ve been an expat myself at times, so, I mean, I totally get it.

It does, like many of the group agrees with you. People have been putting things like curiosity, love of learning networking, those types of things into the pot. The ones that we have, or the person who asked the question listed on the screen. So those, those more, the soft squishy skills that are a little bit hard to nail down and really, really hard to measure, tend to tend to help people move a little bit,

Dani, this is Mitchell. I just, I just like to add on this one, I think, I think a key thing that’s really changing the landscape now is the ability of technology to help make skillsets more visible in the organization, not only for leaders, but also for people. So, you know, in the past, the bottleneck was your leader, right? Your leader either knows what you’re capable of or not. And now that’s starting to change, right? We’re starting to make skillsets more widely available. And it’s interesting. We had a HIPO meeting one time, and one of the HR directors mentioned, he says, did you know we’re talking about HIPOs? Did you notice how few of those HIPOs that we’re talking about actually have visibility with more than just their leader. It’s actually a pretty small number.

And so I think that being, you know, knowing others and being known right now today, a lot of that happens manually through networking. But I think this is where technology can really help. And I think from a diversity and inclusion standpoint, I think that’s a really big key to making hidden talents known within the organization, regardless of where they come from.

I think that’s a really good point. What do others think? So we’ve talked about some of the additional sort of softer skills or squishy skills as I call them. What about, what about the systems that need to be in place in order to take advantage of those?

You know, just before we go to systems, I’ll add one more idea. And that is, I’ve always thought that there are skills we need, and then the other category is savvy. And I made a list of what makes us savvy about which skills to use when and how to operate. And I have some lists of those that Dani, I can certainly send over to you. And then I see research. There’s a list of 42 growth skills and 33 self-growth skills that they’re looking at in higher ed. And I think maybe we have to join up again with higher ed. And I know Bob Keller knows a lot about that and take a look at where are we teaching, beginning to teach all those skills.

Bev, you just hinted towards something that we’ve been struggling with in the skills discussion, which is who’s responsibility is it. Is it academia? Is it community? Is it government? Is it self? Is it company? Who plays the biggest role there and how do we get where we need to go? How do we get people the skills they need so that they can be active? But yes, so that they can participate in, in their business and in their community?

How Does Mobility Impact Equity (42:17)

Let’s move on to the next question. How can democratizing employee mobility impact equity? I think this is a super interesting question. I’m actually going to pitch it to Stacia, cause she’s got a more depth in diversity and inclusion and equity. So I’m gonna pitch it to her first and then we’ll open it up.

Yeah. So we know that organizations are, you know, just kind of networks and their opportunity for internal mobility often is tied to our networks. I think somebody made that comment in the chat. But then the other thing we know is that diverse individuals tend to be in lower power networks with less access to people with ability to help them get into those roles, quite frankly. And so, you know, if we can adjust the culture, adjust the expectations, adjust the access to information, in theory, we should be able to make opportunities that are critical to advancement and in gaining those critical skills, much more accessible to all.

So I think, you know, for me, topic of networks and access to information and connections for diverse individuals is kind of one of the biggest bees in my bonnet. We’ve got a study on the site called.. What did we call it Chelsea? It’s women networks in tech is what I refer to it, but I don’t actually remember what we named it. That is a great question. Let me find that article and I’ll hop right back. Okay. Yeah. If you could just pop it in the chat. But we talk a lot about that. And I think a lot of what we see is it’s just a diverse people don’t have access to the same learning opportunities as others. So broadening the field will help. What are other seeing you’re thinking about this?

I think as the question stands… how? I think massively. Just massive because it drives transparency, right? It makes access and visibility to opportunities there for all. Yeah. You’ve got to go look up the career mobility site, I suppose, but that’s a poor site. It should be marketing to you what’s available against your profile. Against the skills it knows you have. I mean, David James at lube can talk about that all the time in terms of the kind of CRM and marketing technology that needs to be part of these tools. That’s not great right now. What we know about people and how do we market cereal to them or dog food. That’s incredibly sophisticated and we do it really badly with more money and more actual kind of impact here. And so yeah, the potential is massive.

Well, and I think it gets to, Gordon, we’ve been talking about, you know, this is the flip side of the skills question, and I think it very much is. You know, some of the technologies we’ve looked out like an Eightfold for instance, can see, you know, not just the skills that you list, but the ones that you’re likely to have. And then because we know that the diverse people tend to list fewer skills and kind of be less robust in their assessment of what they can do. And so if you think about again, kind of democratizing, if you have a systems that can understand that these people cause they had this experience likely also have this skillset, therefore this opportunity could be a good one for them and that’s that’s happening without a manager kind of having to control the flow of information. I think that has a really powerful potential effect on people, right.

Stacia, I think we need to look at the unconscious bias around career mobility. I think organizations have it around moving people in one of those directions that I talked about and I think individuals have an unconscious bias about choosing those mobility options. So that’s an area I’d love to explore.

Yeah, you’re right. I mean, that goes back to the previous question really about what HR should be thinking about. I was speaking at a womanly conference yesterday and somebody was sharing a story of going to a job for career advice and it’s like, well, no, that’s not how we do it. It’s this, that’s how it goes and it’s traditional. And I think that might be a fear factor of letting go of that conversation. The fear of because they’re not involved, they’re irrelevant, but actually it’s truly the kind of empowerment and using what’s possible to facilitate that. And so I think point is kind of right on in terms of getting out of the way to let things happen.

I love the idea of getting out of the way. I think pushing data down to the individual and empowering them to make those decisions is super duper important. I think in the world we live in right now managers and their influence are still incredibly important. I was I was reading through LinkedIn this morning and there was an experience of a woman who said, you know, we were interviewing for this higher job and a woman’s name came up. And they said, well, she’s got a really busy job right now and he’s got two small children. And a man in the room said, okay, but we just talked about six men and we never once brought up their families. And so I think it takes everybody sort of being very conscious of the biases that we have and allowing people to sort of grow where they can, rather than assuming things about their abilities or their pressures on their time and those types of things.

But I think that goes to whether it was the last question, the one before about the organizational characteristics. They have to be ready to be transparent about that, to accept that, to be flexible around enabling that mother to be able to do that job. Maybe that’s going to be a benefit of the kind of COVID work from home, do your job. If you can do it great. If you’re doing it between 8 pm and midnight, nice.

We’re seeing things sort of move in the opposite direction right now.

I think there’s a pendulum swing. That’s going to miss the sweet spot by a country mile I fear.

I think the other thing that is affecting mobility that maybe we don’t talk about enough is leadership programs and HIPO programs. This has been a personal soap box of mind for a while. And I think I’ve pulled Stacia onto it if she wasn’t already there. They’re inherently biased. We know they’re inherently biased. You’re chosen as a HIPO by your manager early on in your career. And if you’re a HIPO, you know, things aren’t necessarily fair for you. You give them the benefit of the doubt and hard years and, you know, given opportunities to learn and grow that other people don’t have. And so I think maybe it’s also time to rethink HIPO and leadership programs and make them more accessible to everybody to increase some of this mobility that we’re talking about it.

And, you know, Dani, I always think that yeah, there are great HIPOs. There are many, many more POPOs that are the massive middle and they are passed over and pissed off. And we need to look for the buried treasure in that POPO population because it’s there

Tech & Data Privacy in Mobility (50:07)

I think we have time for one more question and then I want to give you some, a little bit more information. What tech is needed to facilitate upskilling and mobility and how might data privacy requirements hinder efforts? So I’m going to take the first half of this and then Stacia is probably going to take the second half.

Lots of tech. So in the past week and half four companies have approached me and said, “Hey, you need to look at my new talent mobility platform.” And so they’re coming up like crazy. And over the summer, they’ve just multiplied. So technologies that didn’t have this option before now have this option. They’re ones that are in the field that have been long standing, but we’re starting to rethink how we look at technology and upskilling in general. I think the biggest challenge is assuming that a platform is going to take care of your internal mobility problem. There’s some really good technology out there and there’s some really good data that helps make better decisions. But you got to get your head in your mindset, right? And the structures that support right before you introduce a technology. Because the technology introduced into a bad situation just facilitates the bad situation, it doesn’t fix it. Stacia, thoughts on data privacy?

I kind of alluded to the issue earlier of some fear of skills. And I think that there may be a moment right now with risks and the like particularly in the US. But I think that that that’s something. But I don’t see, and Dan in particular, I’d love your thoughts on this, but I don’t see a big overall problem here. I mean, we’ve been collecting competency data. We’ve been collecting all sorts of data on folks when it comes to skilling or when it comes to employees and what they can do and what we want them to do, et cetera. So for me, I’m on like the first one to say data privacy, but for me, I don’t see a big red flag here. Do others want to weigh in here?

Yes. I mean, I think that the data privacy thing is, is interesting. I mean, while we’re talking about internal, it’s less of a risk, I think, but that’s the least beneficial model for career mobility for an employee, cause it gets locked behind the employer 1’s hirewall when I leave. None of that follows me to employer two. And then when I go back to employer 1 what I did and the experiences that I gained and how I enriched those skills stays behind the other one’s hirewall. And so, I mean, it’s my imagination that the best solutions going to be, all of my data in the cloud that I can take to the organization with me. It’s my career. It’s my biography.

Yeah. It’s a whole blockchain thing that we’re hearing from a whole range of organizations. What is it that camera’s in with at the moment? I can’t remember, but yeah.

Potentially. And we were talking about this from at the open skills network the other day, lots of the skills frameworks or skills lists that are being put out there, they are being scraped from job descriptions on people’s sites, on employers’ sites or on LinkedIn or wherever. Is that on my profile? My profile of skills on LinkedIn, it’s probably been scraped by burning glass and whoever else is in their data center, but that’s my data. I didn’t say they could do that.

Well, you, you kind of did when you…

I understand the legal lawsuits around all that actually able to do that. And should they be able to. And so I think there’s other backroad things, but it comes back to the tech that facilitates the skills and assessment of competence, which I think broadens the dataset. Why wouldn’t I be able to tag my social marketing campaign that I’ve done and employ a wand as a demonstration of my proficiency.

Wrap & How to Participate More (54:26)

Unfortunately, we have to cut the conversation there because I literally have like a minute. But Suzanne don’t worry. There are opportunities to participate more. So really quickly. We’re at the beginning of this research and we’ve got two, two big opportunities. The first one is, if you’re doing something interesting in your organization, please talk to us. We would love to interview you and find out what you’re doing and pick your brain and steal all your great ideas and publish them.

The second one is join one of three round tables. So we’ve divided the round tables up into three different topics would love people to attend to all three. The first one is on talent sources and employee preferences and their role in mobility. The second one is on the virtuous cycle, mobility for skill building and development. And then the third one is on sort of the supports that support mobility, leadership, texts, text messaging, those types of things. And so please sign up, please shoot Stacia or write a note or respond to the invite that you got for this. We would love, love, love to have you.

And that’s all I’ve got. We’ll see you next time. Two weeks from now for another Q&A session. You’ll hear about it in our newsletter. Thank everybody for time and energy and enthusiasm today. This was great. Thank you.

Internal Mobility: Starting the Conversation

Posted on Monday, September 28th, 2020 at 1:57 AM    

Why are we talking about mobility right now?

For many of us, 2020 has been a year of hard lessons. Many organizations are learning that the way they move and develop talent needs to change. Career paths (like everything else, it seems) are, out of necessity, becoming more flexible and less predictable. Interestingly though, they're not becoming less important. Why, amid a global health crisis, social unrest, natural disasters, and an upcoming election, is employee mobility more important than ever?

The answer is two-fold. First, investing in career development is one way to keep your most talented employees. Economic turmoil creates a unique opportunity to recruit top talent,1 and if this talent resides within your organization the importance of invested employees becomes clear.

Second, great talent is becoming more difficult to find, with organizations facing the largest talent shortage in over a decade.2 Looking internally, rather than externally, to find the skills to compete provides an often underused solution to the challenges plaguing many organizations.

Given the world's current state of affairs, organizations need to react more quickly to external and internal pressures. That often means ramping areas of the organization up or down quickly – something difficult in many of the structured career paths many companies use.

Why other models are becoming more prominent

Our dive into the research and conversation around mobility has revealed one common theme early in this research: the career ladder is not the only way. In fact, there are several models that are becoming more prominent – which we'll explore in more depth in this research. There are also several reasons we are seeing organizations explore other approaches to career development. Any of them sound familiar?

Increased unpredictability. As the world, and the organizations we work for, become less predictable individuals can no longer count on lifetime employment from their company. As such, individuals are taking ownership over their careers rather than relying on organizations to provide a clear path. Restructuring, layoffs, and global pandemics result in individuals moving across organizations, which has made skill development a centrally important topic to employees.

The gig-economy. Contract workers, consultants, gig-workers, and freelancers now make up approximately 30-40% of the workforce in the United States.3 Responsive organizations do not shy away from utilizing this sector of the workforce and may in fact rely heavily on it (look at Google).4 By nature, the independent worker does not stay with the company for an extended period – thus the career path for this growing population does not follow the typical trajectory.

Different kinds of work. The rapidly changing external environment calls for a change in the way we do work. Taking inspiration from the gig-economy, some companies are organizing work around projects and teams. AT&T, often cited as a leader in innovative talent ideas, imagines that the future of work will be project-based.5 This approach allows for a quick response to the demands of the environment, but also requires an understanding of the skills and capabilities available within the organization.

Employee expectations. Organizations aren’t the only ones changing their perceptions of work. Employees no longer expect to stay with one company or even in one career (our team is quite familiar with this idea – with some of us experiencing 4 career changes!). Career paths are looking less like lines and more like Pollock paintings. Employees are looking for a different kind of work experience – to develop more holistically, learn new things, and expand their skills stack.6

What we'll research

In the coming months we will be exploring what successful internal mobility looks like. While there is no “one size fits all” solution to career mobility, we expect that some approaches work better for a set of circumstances.

Our Hypothesis: While we don't think there is a "one size fits all" solution to employee mobility, we expect that some approaches work better for organizations with a set of characteristics or circumstances.

To find out, we're diving deep into the current conversation on mobility – investigating topics like strategic workforce planning, career progress, internal mobility, gig-economy, and reorganization. We hope to learn:

  • Approaches that organizations are using to manage the careers of their employees.
  • Characteristics of organizations that make one approach more appropriate than another.
  • Other areas within the organization that are influenced by or influence career mobility (e.g. people analytics, leadership, learning and skill development, etc.).

How to participate

Join us for a roundtable. We’ll be hosting 3 separate roundtable events and are looking for forward-thinking leaders to participate. We'll cover a broad range of topics, from new talent pools to technology that can help. (Click below to register.)

Let us interview you! Tell us what your organization is doing and how you're approaching the ever-increasing role of mobility in staying agile. Shoot us a note at [email protected].
Join the conversation. Read our research and tell us what you think! Leave a note below or shoot us an email. Your comments make us smarter and the research better.

RedThread Research is an active HRCI provider