Talent Metrics in Multi-Career Lives

Jun 03 2021 | Insights
Woman smiling and presenting.

Within the context of multi-career lives, what are the talent metrics that really matter? Dan White, the director of Ezra's Impact Lab, talks about how to go about identifying your top talent in a world where mobility is the critical new watchword.

Who is “talent” in your organisation? A small % of high potentials, graduates, postdocs, data scientists? Or is those who are considered destined for the board, the general managers able to motivate and inspire? Or are they the “key talent”, the holders of a unique set of specialist skills and insights that make them indispensable?

Increasingly organisations are using the term talent to refer to everyone. And perhaps that’s right. In a world of increasing career length, while at the same time shrinking expectations of how long we will spend in one organisation, let along one role, it is perhaps best to think of everyone as being the talent we need to sustain our organisations’ success.

So if everyone is talent, how do we know if we are doing a good job of attracting and retaining it?

Traditionally we would have looked at metrics such as turnover, time/cost to hire and time to full productivity. Other, more generic metrics such as engagement and wellbeing would also be relevant. And while this is all still true, I wonder if another metric becomes more important and for different reasons than traditionally considered – talent mobility.

Talent mobility is something we have typically tracked in talent teams to help us understand how quickly key talent cycles between assignments. This is seen as a good thing, up to a point. If the cycle time is too high it may suggest people are bouncing between inappropriate roles, but generally we want a high cycle rate between roles as this allows people to gain experience and exposure to many different parts of the organisation.

This stance however is still largely attached to a view of talent that is restricted to a small number of high potential individuals. People who we want to socialise in as many different environments within the organisation as possible. The level of mobility we would like to see for them, is not what we would expect to see for the whole organisation. It would be too disruptive wouldn’t it?

But if we begin to see everyone as talent then shouldn’t we also hope to see an increasingly high level of mobility in the general population? Should we be content with most people sitting in roles for many years, decades even, while a small number churn quickly between assignments?

It seems likely to me that organisations will do well if they encourage everyone to engage with the possibility of moving between roles regularly – perhaps every two to three years. This could be a move to a different area of the team, focusing on a different product, region or technical area. It could be a switch to a different team doing something similar, or it could be a complete switch in terms of technical area, e.g. moving from marketing to HR.

Our role as leaders will need to include encouraging rather than dissuading this level of movement, supporting people to move out of roles, creating gaps, filling those gaps with people from other teams. Doing this internally will save money and will encourage people to learn new skills, which will further benefit the business.

This kind of high mobility approach to work will also stimulate more innovation. Innovation most often comes as a combinative process, where insight into two, previously unconnected areas is combined to create breakthrough thinking. When people gain those multiple insights they will be better placed to solve the challenges all organisations face, and they will be more valuable to their companies as a result.

To think of a world where everyone is treated as talent, and is encouraged to move through roles relatively quickly, interests me. There is something inherently sensible about encouraging internal mobility, whether from the point of view of engagement and motivation, or when looked at through the lens of innovation. Our next challenge in the lab? Some form of positive internal mobility index…

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