Fluid talent is an approach to career planning that allows—and even encourages—employees to take control of their careers and move between different positions and departments. Companies can increase employee retention and appeal to prospective employees by employing fluid talent in their career pathways. Here’s how HR can facilitate fluid talent in their organizations.
A while back, I watched a webinar about the importance of career development, and something the hosts said really resonated with me:
“High-performing organizations move talent around well.”
Though Americans are increasingly working well into their golden years, many of them are changing jobs faster than ever—often for reasons that relate to career advancement, flexibility, and training and development. People are your organization’s most important asset. If they’re made to feel pigeonholed or as if they have to climb the traditional career ladder to advance, they’ll quickly find work elsewhere.
Giving them the ability to spread out, go a different direction, come back again, and keep stretching and learning is key. In other words, you need to take a fluid approach to talent.
An Environment That Encourages Longevity
Fluid talent is an ever-evolving way to approach career planning in order to suit the changing expectations of team members. By employing fluid talent tactics, companies can set the framework to attract, engage, and retain employees.
I know this from personal experience. Dentsu Aegis Network has tested fluid talent opportunities by transferring talent across its network of agencies. Recently, we welcomed one employee at Mitchell to help with business development in the New York market—and the benefits were mutual.
Because she was already familiar with our company and brand, the transition felt seamless, so she hit the ground running. For her part, she was able to switch career gears without leaving the network entirely. Her benefits remained the same, and she didn’t lose any “status.”
Here are some ways you can identify opportunities for fluid talent and put it to use from an HR perspective:
1. Start the Conversation Early
You can’t wait to introduce the topic of career mobility during performance reviews or when someone has one foot out the door. If you want to see your employees thrive, start by building fluid talent opportunities into the onboarding process. Expose new team members to different departments and openly discuss ways in which their careers could evolve across the organization. At Mitchell and throughout the Dentsu Aegis Network, we view ongoing conversations around mobility as positive steps toward plotting a long-term career plan, and we find our employees appreciate the openness.
When employees want to discuss general mobility, encourage them to initiate a conversation at any time—whether it’s with HR or their direct manager. Let’s say an employee is interested in a specific position. The individual should feel comfortable discussing the role with their manager or the HR team to gain information regarding the role and to determine overall eligibility. There should be a company culture that recognizes fluid talent and its benefits. If those two factors align, it’s time to guide the individual to the direct manager for further discussion. Regardless, it’s your job, as HR, to lend an open ear and help guide employees to realize their potential.
2. Invest in Your Team at All Levels
Solely investing in individuals who have “manager potential” is a surefire way to disengage the rest of your workforce—and waste a lot of money. According to an industry report by Training magazine, companies spent more than $70 billion on training in 2016, but when they fail to consider the specific needs of employees of all positions and experience levels, that money ends up going to waste.
Instead, invest in your team at all levels by implementing training and development opportunities that benefit everyone. These programs are not only a great way to show your people how much you want them to succeed, but also strengthen your workplace. I highly recommend a cross-training program in which various departments share knowledge among themselves. This kind of initiative will help guide employees who want to learn more but may not know where to start.
3. Be Streamlined and Transparent
Create processes for mobility within your company, even when that mobility is lateral. Many people look for career opportunities that can help them grow, and if another role suits them better, don’t be afraid to let them transition.Creating such opportunities for talent mobility can help reduce your turnover, as it gives employees more opportunities to interact with your business. Consider creating an internal career development framework that will help people have informed, meaningful career conversations. You can also launch a career portal for both internal and external candidates so that everyone has access to opportunities across your business.
4. Share Your Story
Employees should know that there’s more than one way to the top—and that “the top” looks different for everyone. Have your senior leaders discuss their career journeys and highlight how they leveraged fluid talent opportunities to get where they are now.
For example, Charity Hardwick worked across a variety of industries—including the military, finance, sporting goods, and technology—before she transitioned into sales and marketing. This transition set her up for success when she pursued (and secured) the role of company President at Soundcast in May 2018.
5. Look at the Total Package of Experience
Just as you don’t want to shuffle around low-performing talent, you also don’t want to hire talent that cannot grow. When you’re vetting job candidates, don’t rely on diplomas and degrees alone. What looks good on paper doesn’t necessarily translate to job performance.
Furthermore, studies show that soft skills such as problem-solving and emotional intelligence—which aren’t necessarily learned in the classroom—will be in high demand by 2020. To find candidates who possess these skills, I recommend leveraging behavioral-based interviewing tactics. Ask questions about the value of being agile and ambitious. Learning how people have been open to change in their previous roles can give insight as to how they’ll operate in your business.
Your employees are the engine that power your business—and it’s important that you show them you’re rooting for them. But more than that, you need to give them the opportunity to stretch out, move around, and discover where their talents truly lie. And increasingly, the best way to accomplish this goal is to employ fluid talent.
Sheerah Davis is Chief People and Operations Officer of Mitchell, a leading integrated PR firm that creates real connections between businesses, brands, and people. The firm delivers local, national, and global PR campaigns, driving results for some of the world’s best-known brands, including Marriott, Mondelez, P&G, Sam’s Club, and Walmart. Mitchell is the flagship PR agency of the Dentsu Aegis Network, which is the 2017 and 2018 MediaPost Holding Company of the Year. Headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Mitchell has offices in New York, Boston, and Nashville.