Canadian Underwriter

Why top performers should rotate throughout your company

August 26, 2021   by Jason Contant

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Allowing top performers to move around your brokerage or insurance company will be critical to retaining talent as businesses emerge from the pandemic, according to information adapted from a human resources think tank.

“Of course, it’s human nature to want to hang on to the superstars in your group, department, or division,” wrote Kevin Oakes, CEO of Seattle-based The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), in a blog posted on Harvard Business Review Aug. 20. “But ultimately, that’s detrimental to the organization, and to the individuals involved.”

Multiple studies on talent mobility show that actively moving employees into different roles is one of the most under-utilized, yet most effective, development and cultural enhancement techniques in companies today, Oakes said in the blog, Let Your Top Performers Move Around the Company. Research conducted by i4cp found that high-performance organizations — as measured by revenue growth, profitability, market share and customer satisfaction — are twice as likely to emphasize talent mobility versus low-performance companies.

In fact, a common trait among low-performing, non-agile and slow-to-change companies is talent hoarding, Oakes wrote. “This is the practice of allowing managers to keep their top performers from moving anywhere else in the company.”

By contrast, building a culture of mobility is a trait of very healthy organizations, Oakes said. “And the benefits are clear: Cross-functional collaboration increases, departmental cooperation is enhanced, innovation improves, and companies begin working more as one cohesive team instead of separate fiefdoms.”

But despite the benefits, too few companies place a priority on moving talent or have a formal talent mobility program in place, the blog said. Talent mobility is not just moving people from one department to another; top organizations view the practice as the ability to identify, develop, and deploy talent to “meet the needs of the business.” It could be a lateral move to another business group or division, but also a subsidiary, geography or even another company for a while.

Oakes recommends the following to create a culture of mobility:

Give managers incentives

Consistently rotating talent — especially high-potential talent — needs to be built into a manager’s performance objectives and made part of the performance review process.

In other words, build a culture where mobility is expected, and an environment that relies on this movement. “When this occurs, a funny thing happens to those former hoarders: they become talent magnets,” Oakes wrote. “Everyone wants to go work for the person who has a reputation of advancing employees’ careers.”

Reduce bureaucracy and stigma

“Poaching” talent internally is often frowned upon in many organizations, and hiring managers often need to go through significantly more steps if they want to bring an internal employee into their group or department instead of hiring someone from the outside, Oakes noted.

From an employee’s perspective, outside opportunities don’t come with managerial rules of engagement. There is very little stigma attached to looking at roles externally, whereas doing so internally can come at a great political price. As well, when looking externally, employees can free themselves of any labels that have been applied to their role, rank, compensation, department, etc., which often hinder internal movement.

To combat this, progressive companies are taking a “talent ecosystem” approach and are staffing projects based on matching the best skills to the work at hand, versus proximity or even where someone resides in the hierarchy. Often, the best person for an open role is already in the organization, but lack of data on the workforce keeps hiring managers from discovering them.

Think of talent mobility as a lattice, not a ladder

When companies only view mobility in terms of upward movement, it’s important to have positions available. If organizations lack positions to move people into or have limited opportunities for upward mobility, they often leave employees feeling stuck.

“Crisscrossing the organization as a lattice can also create a more inclusive culture and improve diversity,” Oakes wrote. “Cliques and insider versus outsider feelings are minimized when movement is plentiful. It also helps retain diverse talent who might otherwise get discouraged about slow-to-open senior roles if mobility is only viewed as upward.”

Get comfortable with change

One last reason talent mobility often doesn’t take hold: it requires frequent change.

“If employees describe change as overwhelming, wearing them down, or destabilizing to what they do normally, it’s likely they are working within a low-performance organization,” Oakes said. “Employees at top-performing companies are not only more likely to say change is normal and in fact part of the business model, but they usually describe it as an opportunity. Several of these organizations even induce change on a regular basis under the theory that consistent change actually boosts productivity.”


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