Ever heard the phrase “golden handcuffs?”

If you’ve never experienced this phenomenon (and lucky you), it typically refers to the state of being so skilled and well-compensated at your work that you’re a bit stuck—the company needs you, so they’ll do and pay whatever it takes to get you to stay. 

If you truly love your job, maybe that’s not so bad. But often, this stagnation is a recipe for decreased job satisfaction, innovation, and productivity. That’s not just boring and unfulfilling for workers—it also harms companies, and holds them back from achieving their goals. 

That’s why today, bold-thinking companies are unlocking those golden handcuffs. Instead, they’re embracing some pretty surprising business advice—to let their best-performing people move around different roles, departments, and teams within the company. 

It’s called talent mobility, and we’re here to explain why it’s such a game changer. 

What Is Talent Mobility?

Talent mobility is exactly what it sounds like—making it easy and encouraged for people (especially high-performing ones) to move around your company!

That might not sound like anything new. Aren’t high performers usually the ones getting promoted and moving up anyway? 

Of course they are—but this kind of mobility is so much broader than the typical upward trajectory. In companies run this way, people jump laterally between departments, applying their skills in new and different ways. They might be joining different teams within their own department as needed. They might even be relocating to other subsidiary companies, or to different geographic locations.

Innovative companies aren’t embracing all this movement just because it’s fun (although it certainly can be, if you like that kind of thing). 

Talent mobility is actually good for business. It creates a culture of cooperation, collaboration, and innovation, resulting in better employee engagement, greater job satisfaction, reduced turnover costs, and improved productivity. 

Turns out that ironclad hierarchies and rigidly separated business functions don’t exactly breed creativity and fresh ideas. That’s why high-performing organizations are twice as likely to have cultures with high talent mobility.

Mobility Now

Profitability, innovation, customer satisfaction—no matter what, these are important business goals, and they’re ones that talent mobility can support. 

But there’s another reason talent mobility is so important right now. Letting people move around your company creates agility, and that’s pretty much essential to thrive in today’s fast-paced business world. 

Hopefully you like roller coasters, because that’s pretty much what it feels like trying to keep up in our constantly accelerating, information-saturated digital economy. It’s no longer realistic for companies to seek out and hire new people whenever their needs change. It’s simply not fast enough, because today those needs are changing by the month, week, and day. 

Businesses need to meet their needs and goals efficiently even as they keep changing, and that’s why ‘agility’ has become such a buzzword. Two decades ago, few would have guessed we’d be describing businesses with the same words as a gymnast or tightrope walker, but here we are. 

But building flexibility and agility isn’t the only way talent mobility helps organizations keep up. It also makes it much easier for them to hang on to their people. 

Thanks to the Internet, employees have thousands of opportunities at their fingertips 24/7—and high-performing people are likely the same ones who are hungry for growth already. The rise in remote work exaggerated this even further by making available job pools much larger, and creating a squeezed labor market where skilled people are in even higher demand. 

All this adds up to a situation where people will simply leave if you don’t provide them with opportunities. So not only do organizations need to hang on to their star workers, they must be able to quickly apply their skills anywhere in the business they’re needed. 

Creating Cultures Of Mobility

For most companies, letting people move around more freely feels like a pretty drastic change. How can businesses make it a reality, especially ones that don’t pledge daily allegiance to the Agile Manifesto?

Start With Managers

If you have something good, it’s human nature to want to hang on to it. That’s why, despite (usually) good intentions, managers are the greatest barrier to cultures of mobility. 

When they’ve found a great performer, it’s only natural for managers to want to keep them on their team. It takes active encouragement, and incentives for them to act otherwise, and for good reason— they’re likely worried about a drop in team performance should their superstar shoot away, which they (and their crew) could be penalized for. 

The solution is to make it a normal, expected fact of company life for people to bop around to new teams, roles, and function where they’re needed—or even just ones they’re interested in. 

Proactively recognize and reward managers who produce this kind of mobility. They just might turn into ‘talent magnets,’ who excel at uncovering people’s hidden strengths. 

Promote Transparency

If you want your people to move around, you need to show them what’s out there. That’s why secrecy, closed doors, and a hush-hush attitude are kind of like saying avada kedavra to your untapped internal talent. 

Instead, bring all your opportunities for internal job-hopping, recruiting, and promotions right out into the open. What about company job boards, with who’s hiring, who’s on the team, and all applicants easily visible? Or, imagine managers taking time out once a month to connect with their people, sharing projects, tasks, and open positions that they think could be a good fit? 

This culture of acceptance will also erase the judgment and stigma that can sometimes crop up when striving for internal mobility. If people are worried their colleagues or managers will feel abandoned, betrayed, or insulted by their making a new career move within the company, they simply won’t try, because if they don’t make it, there’s too much at stake. 

Leverage Data

There’s a reason businesses of yesteryear were run in these restrictive silos—because it’s much, much, simpler to operate that way.

That’s not to say it’s confusing or stressful to actually work in a high-mobility organization. But it does take a little more planning, and maybe some software magic, to create one. 

Companies everywhere are working towards talent mobility, and there’s a new crop of exciting tech tools designed to help them get there. These platforms are designed to help companies understand what skills their people have, and where those skills are needed within their organization, both now and moving into the future. 

From internal talent marketplaces to upskilling platforms to career pathing software, data can revolutionize how employers engage with their people. For a small family-run business, sure, this might be overkill. But for companies dealing with hundreds or thousands of people, this kind of data-driven talent planning power is a pretty big deal. 

Go Forth And Be Mobile

Nobody likes to feel confined or held back by their job description—and that’s why talent mobility is an exciting idea for both companies and their people.

As the business world has become more complex, competitive, and data-driven, smart management has increasingly become about giving power and autonomy back to a company’s people. 

Whether it’s letting people seek out opportunities they find most exciting and engaging, or letting your mission-driven team use their expertise to determine how best to achieve a goal, today’s leading organizations are looking a lot less authoritative, and a lot more flexible, collaborative, and individual-centric. 

We don’t know about you, but that’s a future we’re glad to be part of.

Talent mobility: why you should let your top performers move around the company