How to Move Talent in an Unstable Environment

Just when it looked like things were finally going to settle down, the business community is experiencing more layoffs, workforce reductions, job eliminations and an economy that is still unstable.

In 2008, the U.S. labor force clung to the belief that things would return to normal in 2009. Many believed the same thing in 2009 about 2010, then 2011. Now, nearing the end of 2012, the country’s outplacement population is still rising.

Many of the job seekers now entering career transition services are highly talented, high-performing individuals. But organizations can no longer afford to maintain the traditional hire, develop, fire cycle. Cutting the excess no longer means cutting talent. That’s where integrated talent mobility comes into play.

According to Linkage, a leadership development and talent management consulting firm, 65 percent of companies are more concerned about retaining critical skills and top-performing employees now than they were before the economic crisis. With jobs being redefined, restructured and redistributed, hiring managers and talent strategists must shift their focus to the complete talent lifecycle as part of an organization’s strategic agenda — from the pre-boarding process, through on-boarding, to re-boarding — and back again.

By integrating the lifecycles of the employer and the employed organizations save time, money and capture the greatest amount of intellectual capital possible, ensuring the wisest choices will be made regarding the organization’s future.

Before They Come on Board
During the pre-boarding phase of the lifecycle, talent leaders can help organizations evaluate their unique needs in terms of positions and functions, making sure that each one of them adds value and purpose to the organization. By reconsidering and clarifying the responsibilities and goals of each job, the entire structure of the organization can be at its most effective and productive.

Despite efforts to increase awareness and to enhance talent strategies, many managers and their HR business partners continue to post for positions to be filled without a thoughtful discussion of whether the position still makes sense or aligns with the organization’s strategic direction. Positions are filled most often to meet workload demands from individual departments and business units without the benefit of examining workforce requirements from an organizational design perspective, calibrated by the shifting economic sands in the marketplace.

Internal and external recruiters can add value to their clients’ recruiting needs by serving as subject matter experts for continuous improvement of operational efficiencies. Examining the employee lifecycle through the complete organizational lifecycle lens offers perspective on the potentially prohibitive cost of continually hiring and separating talented people from jobs that are no longer relevant.

Pre-boarding requires a facilitated discussion between departmental managers with openings on their staff rosters, organization development (OD) specialists — or recruiters with OD awareness — HR business partners and those responsible for executing the organization’s talent strategy. By the time a position is posted, strategic, career-minded HR business partners should be actively searching for internal candidates who possess the intellect, attitude, skill base, aptitude and competencies that match the continuously refined profile of a given opening.

Pre-boarding is an assertive play for the hiring manager and the HR business partner.

Organizations can no longer afford to sit back and wait for candidates to snap at the bait they dangle in a job posting. The organizational population must be aligned with the strategic agenda, which requires deliberate dialogue among the critical stakeholders in a transferring or newly hired employee’s success.

This dialogue clearly defines who is needed, for what purpose, what the time schedule should be, geographical considerations for structuring the work, as well as why and how a function aligns with the talent strategy and the overarching strategic agenda of the organization.

Through the integrated talent lifecycle approach, rather than parting with valuable, loyal employees on one side of the hallway while hiring complete strangers on the other, organizations deliberately reshuffle the deck by strategically mobilizing their existing talent. A seasoned career consultant or organization development expert can bring fresh perspective through which to view an organization’s current pool of talent, helping to search for new roles and opportunities for employees.

By aligning employees’ career needs and interests with the organization’s, both employees and the organization can experience greater success, security and opportunity.

Once They Come on Deck
Talent leaders should provide the most comprehensive and seamless transition possible with the greatest probability for success when helping employees assimilate into a new role.

In the on-boarding phase of the talent lifecycle, HR business partners can demonstrate their organizational savvy along with their rapid skill development facilitation abilities. Thanks to the pre-boarding dialogue and organizational analysis, new or transitioning employees have a clear blueprint of where they fit structurally in the organization and how what they do aligns with their departmental and organizational strategic agendas.

Whatever type of 90-day, 100-day or longer assimilation process an organization employs, the dots need to be thoughtfully placed by the career coalition before the new or transitioning employee can connect them.

Compassionate career transition comes into play when on-boarding new employees as well as dealing with outgoing employees, and it should affect the individual as well as the organization, providing a sense of safety, security and success during the transition.

Compassion focuses on the individual’s emotions, wants, needs, desires and creates a plan to move forward — all in the context of the sponsoring organization. The proper work environment, the appropriate incentives and realistic expectations all contribute to success at the flashpoint where a new person encounters a new role.

Too many organizations — usually those that skip pre-boarding altogether — employ a formulaic approach to on-boarding that is loaded with assumptions about who new or transitioning employees are and how well they can conform to the general parameters of a new position.

On-boarding should be more like sizing a new suit or dress than losing weight to fit into it. If pre-boarding is done well, the on-boarding process is a matter of fine tuning what is already a good fit.

When a new hire becomes an outplacement statistic after a relatively short period of time, the hopefully seamless transition from pre-boarding to on-boarding lacked one or more of several key factors: role review, analysis and alignment to talent strategy.

The term lifecycle is used deliberately when considering career arcs and organizational process. These pre-, on- and re-boarding phases need to be sequential and to cumulatively build on one another, becoming stronger in the process.

Moving Smoothly Into the New Role
Talent mobility must integrate all the principles of career planning and execution to fully succeed. Yet, even if the role review and pre-boarding activities are executed properly and the on-boarding assimilation is handled skillfully, other environmental factors might shift, causing a need for new hires or transition of existing employees. Even greater fits might appear elsewhere in the organization despite the snugness of recent on-boarding.

The better an organization gets at mobilizing its talent so that it flows to the open and most appropriate roles, the more fluid the workforce becomes. Managers may not care for this mobility and fluidity because they often want their people to stay put or to quickly plug vacancies like holes in a dike.

These managers — sometimes abetted by their HR business partners — are often the primary impediments to true talent mobility and organizational effectiveness. At the very least, they are narrowly focused and may be territorial.

Re-boarding talent is a time for career consultants or organizationally astute HR business partners to educate managers about the positive outcomes they can expect if they sign on to support talent mobility. The team they have at present might not be the best team to get a job that the manager wants and needs done. Even if the team was the right one for the old reality, time and the proper scenario might have passed them by.

The aforementioned reshuffling also can be a good remedy to stagnation and the overall lag organizations can experience. Allowing and even encouraging team members to metaphorically get off the plane at a layover airport to study the departure boards might result in employees changing destinations. Career coalitions made up of smart and skilled HR business partners, career consultants and organizational designers can alter travel plans, re-routing team members to better destinations inside of and sometimes outside of the organization.

Re-boarding a new talent to a better job will align what individuals do best with what the organization needs most. Thus, talent mobility can be beneficial for everyone concerned.

Old-school thinking compels people to stay where they are if there is no good reason to move. The new-school philosophy leads to a healthier, more robust and vital organization, and posits that organizations should keep their talent on the move, unless there is a compelling reason not to. Approaching integrated talent mobility strategically and mindfully is one of the rosier parts of the new business reality.

Amy J. Friedman is the founder, chairman and CEO of Partners in Human Resources International, an organizational and talent consulting firm headquartered in New York. She can be reached at