Talent Management

How the COVID-19 pandemic and reskilling agenda are driving internal mobility

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the crucial role internal mobility plays in creating agile, adaptive and resilient organisations. The pandemic thrust HR into the spotlight, as many businesses were forced to shift staff from one part of the organisation to another, while adjusting to disrupted customer demand. Organisations that lacked a digital approach struggled to cope, forcing many to digitise internal mobility quickly, introducing new technology or fine-tuning existing systems.  

Now, as organisations move out of the pandemic, they are facing the next big disruption: climate change.

Recent catastrophic weather events around the globe serve as a reminder of the climate challenge faced by societies, industries, and employers. In response to this challenge governments are starting to adopt net-zero emission targets that will have a significant impact on industries, and therefore skills. This will drive a reskilling revolution as organisations transition to more environmentally-friendly operating models. 

At the heart of this revolution is internal mobility – the ability to quickly match skills with demand and create new skills where and when they are needed. 

In this article, Sven Elbert, Senior Analyst at Fosway Group, looks at the new role of internal mobility in Talent & People Success, how it supports agile and adaptive organisations and how it drives employee engagement and retention. 

Internal mobility had its place – but also its flaws 

For years, internal mobility has been dominated by two main schools of thought.

The first considered it a hiring process in which roles were advertised to employees first before being offered to the outside world. The objective was to pay less for better outcomes. The second approach understood internal mobility as a vehicle for employees to gain experience and to extend their relationship networks, mostly to breed a new generation of leaders or to retain key staff. Hence, it was aimed at a specific group of employees.   

And while these approaches have not been entirely wrong, they came with substantial flaws. For one, internal hiring had become a monster-process, where multi-step approvals stood in between the job appearing on an (often fairly well-hidden) internal job board. To avoid ‘fishing in foreign waters’, candidate selection often had to be executed under a strict regime of internal policies and works council agreements.

Both resulted in lengthy processes and cumbersome execution, leading managers to perceive internal mobility as an inefficient exercise that stopped them from getting their hiring tasks done efficiently. Our recent Fosway research on the Reskilling Revolution highlights that a stunning 45% of organisations are ineffective at matching their workers to new opportunities and roles.

The more developmental approach, with its focus on high potentials following linear processes set against career paths, was too narrow, required too much planning and was too slow. While it helped organisations to retain selected key talent for as long as the programme was running, it did not attempt to optimise the value of all employees, nor did it provide democratic access to opportunity.  

COVID-19 gave a new spin to internal mobility… 

The COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, and it’s probably fair to say that we have never worked in a more challenging environment in our lifetime.

As a result, we perhaps intuitively appreciated the importance of being agile, like never before. We were able to see, in real time, what our organisations were doing to renew, adapt, change and succeed (or otherwise) in the face of the pandemic. 

Many organisations had to pivot where and how work was done, by whom and when.  This put slow HR-centric processes under threat and gave rise to more agile approaches across HR, in particular in internal mobility.

Fosway research shows that 42% of organisations have seen an increase in the importance of supporting talent mobility within their organisation, compared to the year before the pandemic. Organisations had to ensure the right skills were being used on the right projects and initiatives in order to cope with the unprecedented change brought by the pandemic. 

As a consequence, many organisations felt a need to redesign, simplify and accelerate their approach to internal mobility. 

…that is accelerated by Reskilling and Upskilling

The wider consequences of the pandemic for supply chains and cross-border operations are leading to significant shifts in operating models, and the workforces that support them. 

We are now seeing price increases and rising wage inflation as a result. But further shockwaves beyond the pandemic, automation and digitisation are inevitable, especially as societies accelerate their decarbonisation efforts.

A prime example is Germany’s automotive industry that expects to reskill and upskill half of its workforce. The status quo will be challenged in almost every industry causing the loss of a significant number of existing roles and the creation of many new ones.

As a result, the skills agenda has gained in importance and has been accelerated in 56% of organisations. Fosway research shows that organisations find on-the-job activities to be most effective in building new skills (Digital Learning Realities 2021, Fosway Group). Therefore, one of the key differentiators of these new, agile approaches to internal mobility is to not only look to roles, but more granularly at projects or gigs, that are part-time and time-restricted in nature (see Figure 1). 

By focusing on projects and gigs, managers can distribute work quickly and transparently, without having to worry about budgets, reporting lines or org charts.

Figure 1: Talent Mobility & Worker Employability Maturity Model.  
Copyright Fosway Group. All Rights Reserved. 

For employees, this transparency provides opportunities to acquire new skills and capabilities, to build new relationships and to discover new purpose in working on challenging tasks. By being more granular, agile talent mobility looks to join-up both schools of thought, allowing organisations to be more responsive and more dynamic. In this setting, skills become the new currency the new strategic driver for the business. 

Corporates intend to use new tools to reach Internal Mobility maturity

And, whilst there are good reasons to use internal mobility marketplaces currently only 6% of organisations are using this technology consistently

There are many reasons for this. Internal career marketplaces have been implemented within a system of slow multi-step approvals, internal policies and works council agreements. They are fit-for-purpose for roles, but not for projects or gigs. And vendors have only very recently started to build the necessary sophistication into their skills and matching technology that provide reliable outcomes. 

But, since 45% of corporates are intending to change their HR system for talent mobility and career opportunities within the next two years (HR Realities 2021/22, Fosway Group), Fosway expects this to be a continued area of investment for many specialists, as well as Cloud HR suite and Talent & People Success suite vendors, and one of the main areas of disruption in HR in this decade.  

About Fosway 

Fosway Group is Europe’s #1 HR Industry Analyst focused on Next Gen HR, Talent and Learning. Founded in 1996, we are known for our unique European research, our independence and our integrity. And just like the Roman road we draw our name from, you’ll find that we’re unusually direct. We don’t have a vested interest in your supplier or consulting choices. So, whether you’re looking for independent research, specific advice or a critical friend to cut through the market hype, we can tell you what you need to know to succeed. 

Talk to us today on +44 (0) 207 917 1870 or via info@fosway.com, or visit us at www.fosway.com 

Sven Elbert,  Senior Analyst, HCM and Talent at Fosway Group
September 2021