No Image Available

Matt Russell

Lee Hecht Harrison

Head of Talent

Read more about Matt Russell

Talent mobility – essential to organisational success


In the first of a four part series of articles, Matt Russell, Head of Talent at Lee Hecht Harrison, introduces his concept of ‘talent mobility’ and the results of an in-depth research programme into the subject and looks in brief at what HR professionals need to do in order to ensure and benefit from talent mobility within their organisations. 

Read part two of this series, "Talent mobility – understanding your talent."

"Organisations that are committed talent mobilisers will achieve better bottom-line results."

That’s the hypothesis behind a substantial research programme that surveyed nearly 500 leading corporations. However, the greatest challenge in driving talent mobility in businesses is firstly one of confusion and definition: what is it and how do you ensure it?

Google ‘talent mobility’ and you’ll find inconsistent definitions of the phrase. Organisations are at a talent tipping point, aware of the strategic importance of talent mobility but often held back because the definition has broadened with a more globally connected world and increased awareness that the traditional career path has changed.

So what is talent mobility?

Fundamentally, it’s about the movement of talent across the organisation – across projects, roles, teams, divisions, locations, etc – to drive employee engagement and retention. Based on the driving party, these workforce initiatives are typically called succession planning (employer-initiated) or career planning (employee initiated) but, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the readiness for and actual movement of talent in the enterprise.

In practical terms it is making the most of the people already in place by balancing the experiences, competencies and skills that individuals require to deliver on the organisational strategy and goals with the aspirations of the individual. But what does this mean in practice and what do organisations need to be doing to achieve talent mobility success?

In a research programme we developed in partnership with the Human Capital Institute (HCI) they tested a holistic model of talent mobility with nearly 500 senior HR and L&D professionals. The first step was to ask them how they currently define talent mobility. Whilst no overall consensus emerged, 47% of respondents told us that the ‘development of in-house talent’ most closely aligned to their organisation’s definition on talent mobility; something that was closely followed by ‘promotions/advancement of roles’.

But, despite the lack of a basic definition of talent mobility, the data and analysis collected from respondents led the researchers to propose that talent mobility is: “An integrated talent management process supporting talent movement that hinges on an organisation’s ability to effectively understand, develop and deploy talent in response to business needs.”

A recipe for success

I believe that if there was a secret recipe for organisational success, you would find this concept of effective talent mobility as one of its main ingredients. From addressing the top concerns of CEOs to the daily challenges of managers and the concerns of individual employees, an effective talent mobility strategy can have positive results at all levels and on the business as a whole. It enables an organisation to lower its talent acquisition costs by capitalising more efficiently on in-house talent, helps leaders develop a more capable and resilient talent pipeline and helps deliver strong financial performance. At the same time, talent mobility is a way to engage top performers and make organisation-wide opportunities more readily available to key talent.

But rather than a singular process within the overall talent development programme, talent mobility is better understood as a critical segment of the talent lifecycle that includes three primary facets of talent mobilisation – from strategically acquiring and assessing talent to actively developing those individuals and deploying them throughout the organisation.

Our original hypothesis was that committed talent mobilisers – organisations that exhibit all three of the behaviours of understanding, developing and deploying talent – are much more likely than other organisations to report revenue growth at or above target goals. In fact, the research showed that 81% of organisations who are committed talent mobilisers report on or above target revenue growth compared to 68% of other organisations. 

What does this mean for the HR, talent and L&D practitioners who are being asked to be more strategic in order to help their organisations meet the growing challenges of globalisation and scarcity of talent? The research identified four key areas most commonly in need of attention among organisations today and highlighted where HR can influence the success of talent mobility programmes:

  1. Greater transparency about internal opportunities, including lateral moves and advancement
  2. Prioritise and fund the development employees need in order to improve
  3. Provide more opportunities for cross-functional work, task/job rotation and stretch assignments
  4. Encourage more strategic collaboration among recruiters and hiring managers, training and development departments and HR Business Partners.


It’s important to remember that an effective talent mobility programme does more than simply track movement within an organisation. It is a strategic endeavour that can yield significant business results. In addition to experiencing positive bottom-line results, organisations that thoughtfully and strategically address talent mobility are positioning themselves for more sustainable and long term performance.

In the next article we will look at phase one of the three step talent mobility process in a little more depth. How you can best ‘understand’ your talent and ensure leaders are made accountable. We will explain how and why organisations must focus on talent mobility as a priority, help leaders to understand and assess their talent and actively communicate information about career opportunities across the organisation.

2 Responses

  1. Emerging Markets

    I agree with your comments.  We find expatriate deployments do have a high failure rate and this is often down to:

    1) the lack of assessment of capabilities and

    2) a lack of preparation for the role and culture

    By putting in place a clear assessment of the capabilities required for success in the role and then assessing the individual against these capabilities, organisations can cut the risk dramatically.

    In addition, putting in place a plan for the first 100 days of deployment and preparing (through coaching and development) the individual for the role is a critical element.

    By doing this organisations can dramatically improve the success rate of these roles.

  2. deployment to emerging fast growth markets

    Great, comprehensive coverage of critical element within overall talent architecture and often overlooked. I would just suggest that the identification, assessment and preparation of candidates for offshore roles particularly as it relates emerging markets also be considered as context significantly different be it a start up, acquisition, partnership or merger or downsizing context.

    Expatriate deployments notoriously have a high failure or discontinuation of assignment rate and at huge cost hence need to consider risks and make provision accordingly.

No Image Available
Matt Russell

Head of Talent

Read more from Matt Russell