Talent mobility: redefining top talent and upskilling strategies By Olivier Meier, Mercer Who is really top talent? Technological development is reshuffling the cards and creating demands for jobs that don’t yet exist and more generally for new or scarcely available skills. By looking at recruitment trends, we can learn some valuable lessons about the changing realities of both talent management and talent mobility. The traditional definition of mobile top talent From a mobility perspective, top talent: Could be critical to the launch of a new business (or product, line) in host locations Has unique skills that are required to address issues in the host location Masters the skills that are not available locally and need to be transferred Has a high potential and is tipped to become part of top management at some point in the future Failure to timely relocate top talent could lead to missed business opportunities. This has practical consequences for mobility management: top talent might expect a higher relocation packages, have high expectations, and might be the ones asking for policy exceptions (and getting them, most likely). When using a traditional policy segmentation model, top talent is likely to fall in the category “strategic moves”. In this traditional model, top talent is often defined by grade or current role – top level executives or high performers on a fast track. As we move into a skill-driven economy – driven by the requirements of fast digitalization – and increasingly flat and agile organizations, the traditional concept of top talent need to evolve to integrate digitally savvy new generations and new employee profiles who might be better prepared for the future of work. The hunt for mobile purple squirrels The concept of “purple squirrel” comes from the recruiting industry and is used to deride unreasonable expectations from companies who are looking for the perfect candidates with the perfect combination of education, experience and skills for a given job. This quest for perfection can delay recruiting, especially when the long list of requirements has to be combined with a preset budget and rigid job characteristics. It can limit options and also lead to the exclusion of non-conventional profiles and hinder workforce diversity. Furthermore, the idea that the "perfect" candidate (on paper) will automatically do a perfect job and justify the recruitment effort is far from certain. Mobile talent managers are sometimes confronted with this purple squirrel syndrome when looking for candidates for expatriation. Additional issues linked to mobility (e.g. family considerations and country-specific challenges) can add new layers of complexity to an already long list of requirements. The quest for perfection can also make mobility more costly – a limited choice of candidates can drive costs up (e.g. candidates with a large family or coming from a high-paying country). It can also drive high expectations – as Elon Musk once tweeted ironically, "Giving purple squirrels attention only makes them want to be more purple." Hybrid is the new purple Digitalization is prompting companies to look for new talent profiles and more specifically for "hybrid profiles". The characteristic of a hybrid profile is that it combines the skills and knowledge of different lines of business or functions. It could be, for exampl,e business managers with advanced tech skills and who can work closely with the IT department. Finance and HR managers who can rely on analytics to provide strategic input, or HR team members who can use marketing techniques to boost employer branding. Mobility has a role to play to help develop these new forms of hybrid talent. High profile employees will be required through international developmental moves as well as lateral moves between functions to upskill or reskill and match the requirements of the future of work. Fostering hybrid talent Mobility programs are commonly used for talent development: 65% average across all industries and countries (source: Mercer’s 2019 Talent Trends study). Mobility should be understood in a wider sense and not be restricted to geographical mobility. In practice talent mobility is a combination international moves and lateral mobility between job functions. Assessing the benefit of international developmental moves In many multinationals, going an assignment is perceived as a pre-condition to reach top managerial levels. However, when digging deeper in the analysis, we can question the absolute value of mobility and ask ourselves what type of moves are really beneficial for an individual’s career. Not all assignments are equal in terms of value for the company and employees, and we often see a mismatch between the talent agenda of the company and the realities of talent mobility. Mapping potential career accelerators with assignment destinations is a good exercise: working in select destinations or being on specific types of assignments could be identified as a fast track to reach top managerial levels, while other destinations provide little career benefit. Lateral job mobility From a career management perspective, lateral moves are about moving between types of jobs as opposed to being promoted within the same job family (vertical moves). Lateral moves are important because they can ease the pressure by increasing the number of possible job options for employees. In a context of fast workplace changes and digitalization, they are a way to develop new skills and maintain employability. The future of work is about changing jobs and even career paths frequently as opposed to having a linear career progression. Internal gig workers are also leading companies to reconsider their internal organization and career programs: 51% of employees are willing to take on an internal gig to gain experience (Mercer 2019 Talent Trends study) But this kind of flexible career path can only work if there is a greater degree of recognition and acceptance of lateral moves by both employees and management. Traditional hierarchical organizations often don’t value or least make it difficult for employees changing career paths or functions. A fast upward career mobility within a siloed function or business unit can be perceived, sometimes with good reasons, as a faster road to the top than zig-zagging between different roles in different locations. As Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends study reports: "There is room for progress in this increasingly critical area, with just over half of employees reporting that their company makes it easy to sign up for short-term projects (55%) or explore career moves outside of their function or business (57%) […] Informed by data, companies can support managers and mentors in curating a menu of experiences that map to employee aspirations and destination roles. By layering in data on which experiences have been proven to drive actual career progress, individuals are empowered to make sound decisions on how to grow their careers in the organization." Upskilling HR and the hybrid role of the mobility function While 61% of HR leaders get involved in the implementation of major changes, only two in five participate in the idea generation stage of major change projects (Mercer 2019 Talent Trends study). For HR and mobility in particular, becoming strategic or even staying relevant for the business going forward often involves more interaction with the other functions and moving away from siloed approaches; in other words, more interaction with the C-suite, finance, and line management. This means mastering new technologies not only to respond to the complexity of mobility tasks, time, and resources constraints but also to be able to provide more relevant input. Reskilling the mobility function means to some extent developing talent mobility roles into hybrid jobs. Future requirements will prompt mobility professionals to adopt techniques and best practices from IT (Agile management, mobility analytics), Marketing (employer branding), Talent Management and Finance (being strategic). According to a recent Mercer survey, some of the skills becoming more important for mobility professionals include: mastering compliance issues, metrics and cost reporting, presenting compelling business cases, storytelling and mobility program marketing, statistical literacy, technology literacy, and broad reward skills. Source: Mercer’s survey, ‘How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas,’ August 2018 Upskilling is major challenge for HR and global mobility teams, as they should be agents of change within the organization and facilitate the upskilling of the workforce while also upskilling themselves to respond to new business and technological challenges.