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Total Talent Mobility

Our research into talent mobility points to the emergence of an expansive and holistic approach—which we term total talent mobility—that helps organizations achieve a range of strategic purposes in a volatile, hypercompetitive environment. Total talent mobility entails proactively moving employees into permanent or temporary new roles in an organization or across organizations or industries. Combining global mobility and internal mobility, it focuses on all employees, not just high potentials.

Total talent mobility not only demonstrates positive associations with business performance but also can help attract, retain, and engage workers. Today’s technology and the data it produces are vital enablers of more flexible and personalized approaches and a closer fit between business needs and individual skills and aspirations. Despite the importance of total talent mobility, our survey found that only 28 percent of global organizations believe their total talent mobility programs are effective or very effective.

Despite the importance of total talent mobility, our survey found that only 28 percent of global organizations believe their total talent mobility programs are effective or very effective.

A successful total talent mobility program relies on clearly defined strategic purposes. For our study, we employed a multimethod approach that combined a short online survey, two focus groups, and global qualitative interviews. Below are the top 10 strategic purposes of total talent mobility in order of importance:

10 Strategic Purposes of Total Talent Mobility

  1. Develop high potentials and leadership succession planning The top strategic purpose for total talent mobility was to develop high potentials and leadership succession planning. High-performance organizations believe high-potential talent retention is the primary reason for investing in talent mobility: talent mobility demonstrates to employees that they have a future with the company.
  2. Build business leaders with broad, diverse experience Leadership competencies are not built overnight but gradually enhanced through various development opportunities. Assignments that involve mobility provide leaders with broad, diverse experiences over time.
  3. Enable skills and competency development Mobility provides opportunities for assignees to gain new skills needed to remain viable. This is especially important as over 40 percent of each employee’s skills will no longer be relevant in four years.
  4. Engage and retain talent With the unemployment rate in the US at its lowest in almost 50 years, voluntary turnover rate is high. What are the most critical value propositions that engage and retain employees? All generations find developmental assignments highly effective, especially when developing leadership skills.
  5. Develop leaders to grow the business in new areas Companies continue to look toward international assignments to develop their most promising leaders while expanding into new regions, particularly in emerging markets and low-cost locations. Despite the cost and complexity of international assignments, organizations continue to value them as a means of developing leaders to grow the business in new areas.
  6. Swiftly transfer skills and expertise across geographical boundaries Global companies use regional or international assignments to help strike a balance between global standardization and local responsiveness. Their goal is to bring core procedures, knowledge, and cultural values from global businesses to local ones and improve coordination and communication between regions.
  7. Foster collaboration and innovation In the storm of digital transformation, total talent mobility is an important lever, helping to expose employees to new perspectives, learn and adapt, build their networks across the organization to strengthen collaboration, and break down organizational silos.
  8. Build agility in leaders and the workplace Total talent mobility is one of the best means of building agility in leaders and the workforce by developing the strategic capacity to identify and act on new customer needs, quickly pivot for opportunities and risks, and launch new business models.
  9. Ensure knowledge transfer and cross-pollination of ideas Total talent mobility supports effective knowledge transfer. However, without a purposeful strategy for knowledge transfer and idea cross-pollination, organizations can experience a serious loss of business wisdom that decreases innovation, lowers growth capacity, and reduces efficiency in the organization after voluntary turnover and retirements.
  10. Decrease time to fill new roles In tight labor markets, candidates are more likely to accept offers from organizations with demonstrated career mobility paths than those without. Total talent mobility allows organizations to demonstrate their willingness to invest in the growth and development of their employees.

Many barriers, both strategic and tactical, stop companies from achieving their strategic purposes. Our report describes the primary barriers to achieving the 10 strategic purposes defined in this report and outlines best practices for each with case study examples.

Top Barriers to Total Talent Mobility (in rank order)

  1. Lack of employee willingness to move geographically
  2. Leaders unwilling to let high performing talent move from their team
  3. Difficulty of designing and implementing integrated end-to-end talent mobility processes
  4. Inability to align employee demand with internal mobility opportunities
  5. Difficulty of anticipating the future talent needs of the business
  6. Costs of talent mobility programs
  7. Culture does not support employee mobility
  8. Inability to harness data and analytics to match employees' skills and wishes with business needs
  9. Difficulty of developing cross-functional processes to support talent mobility (e.g., recruiting, L&D, career planning)
  10. Employees not rewarded for taking on the risk of an assignment in a new function or location
  11. Inability to calculate the ROI of talent mobility programs
  12. Lack of technology and systems to operate a mobility platform
  13. Not factoring in contingent workers into a talent mobility strategy

Note: We asked 101 participants to select their top 5 barriers in rank order.



Robin Erickson, PhD

Principal Researcher
The Conference Board


Marion Devine

Senior Human Capital Researcher, Europe
The Conference Board


Amy Ye

Researcher, Human Capital
The Conference Board

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Talent (Im)Mobility in Asia

September 04, 2020 | EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Total Talent Mobility

April 29, 2020 | EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Total Talent Mobility: Implications for Asia

July 23, 2019 | RESEARCH REPORT