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Does Your Mobility Strategy Make Talent Want to Stay (Away)?

Does Your Mobility Strategy Make Talent Want to Stay (Away)?

by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe and Jeff Dagbo
Does Your Mobility Strategy Make Talent Want to Stay (Away)?

Story Highlights

  • A great mobility strategy is both possible and necessary
  • Focus on managers, culture and leadership accountability

Many organizations focus on recruiting stars, and rightfully so, as attracting top performers in a competitive marketplace is a challenge companies across all industries will continue to face.

Top talent is always in high demand, no matter how talent markets may shift over time.

And the employee of today is different anyway.

Gallup's research found, for example, that millennials change jobs more often than do employees of any older generation, and six in 10 say they are currently looking for new employment opportunities.

Furthermore, 91% of people who changed jobs said they left their company to do it.

While seeing a "shooting star" may represent good luck for most people, for leaders, a "shooting star" -- a talented employee who leaves to find opportunity elsewhere -- is a type of employee turnover and it's anything but good luck.

Losing a star is a serious cost for any organization. It comes at the cost of your bottom-line, as the talent your organization has already invested in walks out the door, possibly even to work for competitors.

So, leaders today need to stay laser-focused on their investment in human capital by developing the existing potential of employees. To do this, their human capital strategy must be underpinned by an effective career mobility strategy, one that promotes workplace agility and fosters development.

Here are three key pillars of an effective mobility strategy:

1. Managers are key.

Any way you look at it, having engaged managers is key to an effective mobility strategy. The best managers build relationships with their team members that are predicated on trust. Trust is built when managers have regular, ongoing conversations to get to know what team members do best, what is working (or not working for them), and, importantly, what their aspirations are.

Great managers don't want to lose their best, of course. But they do support their employees' pursuits of great opportunities. They do this because they know it benefits the organization overall and is also important for individual growth. An organization that has a healthy culture of mobility is encouraging and transparent about opportunities across teams.

So, leaders today need to stay laser-focused on their investment in human capital by developing the existing potential of employees. To do this, their human capital strategy must be underpinned by an effective career mobility strategy, one that promotes workplace agility and fosters development.

When employees have a manager who is a coach first, they feel they have a sponsor and an adviser. This, in turn, leads to more frequent conversations about career aspirations and employee development, thus building increased trust.

And, rather than fear consequences, when employees explore opportunities beyond those on their team, they trust that their managers have their back and will coach them through the process, whatever the result. Even if it means leaving the team.

Furthermore, while the best managers readily support the growth of their team members across the organization, they also always keep in mind opportunities for the individual to grow within their current role. They do this by regularly "job crafting" with the individual, adding projects that align with interests and stretch opportunities, and reducing time spent on those that are not a fit. The best managers today know that, while internal mobility is important, intra-role growth is also a key priority for associates and a crucial employee engagement strategy.

2. Culture is critical.

Even the most effective managers, though, need to be clear about how mobility works in their organization. That leaders have clearly answered and outlined the question, "How does mobility get done around here?" is critical for everyone.

This helps to ensure that it isn't a taboo topic, i.e., when it is a clear part of how things get done, then employees have implicit permission to ask about opportunities. And, when their team members ask obvious questions -- about job growth, or employee training and development pathways, or job changes -- managers in the most effective organizations are prepared with the tools and resources they need to have those conversations.

Most companies aren't set up to allocate talent easily across the traditional organizational silos. To do so, there needs to be a foundation of flexibility to ensure associates have the ability to move within the organization, while allowing an organization to remain competitive and agile.

Leaders can get creative about how best to do this. In a CHRO conversation with Gallup Managing Director Larry Emond, the Group Head of Human Resources at UBS described how his organization undertook the challenge to create a culture of mobility. UBS pioneered an innovative approach. They started by developing an online platform that makes it easy for employees to search open positions, introduce them to organizational needs they may not have been aware of, and even receive feedback about potential fits.

The system also allows recruiters at UBS to identify internal candidates who are interested in a move. In this way, the organization has outlined clearly how to go about a new job search, while enabling individuals to take ownership of their own employee development and career growth.

UBS seems to have embedded internal mobility into their human capital strategy framework, making mobility a part of their culture. This results in increased opportunities for employee development and is a great human capital strategy and employee retention strategy, as they are building a culture cultivated on engaging their most talented employees.

3. Accountability is essential to an effective mobility strategy.

Lastly, in order for mobility strategies to work, leaders must hold themselves and their teams accountable for results. They need to assign clear leadership accountability for the implementation and expected outcomes of the strategy.

To ensure accountability, answer the following questions:

  • Have you clearly articulated how you expect career mobility to happen in the company? Are you fully aligned with managers about how they can help individuals excel year over year so they stay engaged and provide maximum value to the organization?
  • How do you measure your team's career mobility success? Are you able to point to success stories?
  • Are both you and your management teams clear about what experiences and prerequisites are expected and what opportunities exist for associates to advance in their careers across the organization?
  • Do managers talk with employees about short-term and long-term growth goals, and are they open to allowing their employees to take on new responsibilities and roles?
  • Do your managers coach employees on their wins and misses, help motivate them to go beyond what they think they can do, connect them with potential mentors, and hold them accountable for their performance?
  • Natural interests can indicate potential for growth and greater contributions -- are managers encouraged and held accountable to help individuals explore opportunities to grow? They can do this by talking with each employee about their unique value and making adjustments when possible to align work with their talents.
  • If a job-rotation program exists, there is likely room to individualize it to better fit with individual potential, interests and learning needs -- do you work with associates to customize the program based on individual strengths and growth aims?

Taking time to answer these questions will enable leaders to ensure they have established clear accountability for themselves and their teams as they tackle the mobility challenge. Finding a way to consistently measure and track these is even better.

Top talent is always in high demand, no matter how talent markets may shift over time.

The war for talent begins with attraction, hiring and onboarding. But organizations that want to enact an effective employee retention strategy over time must continue to ensure that:

  1. Managers are developed from bosses into growth-oriented coaches.
  2. Managers work in a leadership-sponsored culture of mobility with a clear line of sight to necessary resources.
  3. Managers are clear about their accountability within the culture of mobility.

In this way, star talent can stay at home, and develop in agile, individualized ways that benefit both the employee and the company overall.

Lead with data, efficacy and endurance during COVID-19 disruptions:


Shannon Mullen O'Keefe is an Adviser and Performance Lead, Organizational Performance Consulting, at Gallup.

Jeff Dagbo is a Financial Services Practice Consultant at Gallup.

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