The Destruction of Talent Mobility Through Talent Hoarding

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Sep 20, 2022

When it comes to internal mobility, there are still too many talent leaders perpetuating myths and untruths and plain old B.S. Some of this was recently evident in a SHRM article, “Avoiding the Potential Risks of Internal Transfers.”

The article posed various scenarios that presented risks associated with internal transfers, including when an employee has been underperforming or “difficult” to work with. Sure, such situations are worth examining, but the article ultimately failed sufficiently to acknowledge the elephant in the room — that managers tend (and are often permitted) to sabotage the process.

The Elephants in the Room

So, let’s first talk about those managers. Practically every report out there says that a major obstacle to successfully implementing internal mobility is managers who don’t want to lose their best talent. In fact, 70% of talent acquisition leaders last year said this is why they can’t get it done. 

At the same time, we hardly need another research report showing that managers are also a major reason that the best people leave organizations. 

The common denominator in both unfortunate circumstances is clear — managers. They are the ones who are chasing off people or hindering their development. Isn’t it ironic, then, to tout the importance of learning and development as a means of retention while at the same time permit managers to hoard talent? 

In other words, efforts to retain talent on a particular team within a company risks pushing that same talent out of the organization. This is the very definition of insanity. 

Focusing on Wrong Things

It’s time for talent leaders to help their employees thrive in places that are best within their organizations. It’s time for end talent hoarding.

The SHRM article, on the other hand, highlights a bunch of scenarios that fail to address talent talent hoarding, like this example:

“Chris works in a call center that tracks and shares statistics on representatives — the number of calls they handle, the average length of calls, the percentage of successful resolution of calls, etc. Chris — and Chris’ colleagues — know where they stand, and Chris’ standings are pretty dismal. So, Chris begins applying for as many internal transfers as possible and finally manages to land a position in another department. Chris’ supervisor, glad to hear the news, remains mum about Chris’ poor performance.”

Maybe, just maybe, Chris is in the wrong job? Is it possible that he has other skills that could be valuable to the organization? Just because a worker is underperforming in one area doesn’t mean that the person is inherently an under-performer who should be tossed. Granted, the SHRM article gives a brief nod to the notion of skills mismatches, but mainly in the context of rehabilitation, not career development.

Here’s another example in from the article:

“Robin and Fran have both applied for an internal transfer to a position in the sales department — a coveted role representing the opportunity to boost their income through generous sales incentives. Robin gets the job. Fran, who is 65 years old and has more experience with the company, as well as a record of strong performance, feels she was overlooked because of her age.”

But was she overlooked because of her age? Just because Fran feels a certain way doesn’t make it fact. And yet this scenario is presented as a legitimate risk to manage when promoting people. Except, this is a false risk. The real risk — one that can easily be avoided — is not having solid cases for hiring people into roles. And so once again, there is greater importance being placed here on avoiding a claim of age discrimination than on the value of development. (Never mind that such a general concern is hardly specific to transfers to different departments. It therefore seems odd to highlight its association with internal mobility.) 

We can, and must, do better. If we don’t, the next two years under the weight of a potential recession and the continued impact of the Great Resignation are going to be an absolute mess.

We must stop failing our people and commit to a greater focus on developing people through internal transfers.