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Managing Talent Mobility vs. Mastering It

If people develop mostly through experiences and assignments, it is imperative that we excel at mastering the moves. Moving a high-potential employee to a bigger challenge, exposing a future general manager to cross-functional roles, or bringing international talent through to a headquarters stint are all examples of masterful moves.

Yet in the unrelenting daily pressures of business, we often fall short of mastery. At times, we fill critical openings with the most available employee. We let average performers linger in high-quality developmental roles. We hope everyone just settles down and endures another year in the same job for the sake of the business. In short, we just manage as best we can.

The difference between manage and mastery can be viewed as playing out two different game strategies on a talent formation board. The manage strategy is operating as a game of checkers; all the pieces look the same, can make the same moves, and essentially are of equal worth to win. At first the checker strategy feels right as pieces move ahead, taking advantage of immediate open places. But in the long run, problems occur as we realize not all pieces do well in all roles.

Mastery, by contrast, is seeing the talent formation board as a chess master. Each piece has unique properties with different potential and move capabilities. Each opening is seen as part of an unfolding strategy pattern of move options with equal consideration of today and tomorrow.

So how do we move from talent development manage to mastery? The i4cp research on talent mobility released last week poses many of the critical questions we face and highlights how high-performance organizations answer these questions in clearly different ways than average organizations. In short, Talent Mobility Matters (i4cp members only) separates the checkers players who only manage through their talent mobility challenges and the chess masters who excel at producing ready-now talent for today and the future.

As you read through these findings, I encourage you to note the two or three key practices that will elevate your game, and then engage your leaders in understanding the importance of playing the talent formation board as masters. Agree to take the risk to make a few moves differently in the future. Doing so will increase your odds of winning the talent mobility challenge.

This blog is an excerpt from the i4cp report Talent Mobility Matters. Kevin Wilde is a strategic advisor for i4cp and former head of talent and organization capabilities at General Mills.

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Kevin Wilde
Kevin D. Wilde is a strategic business advisor to the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and currently serves as an executive leadership fellow at the University of Minnesota. His prior 34-year corporate career includes serving as the head of learning and talent management at General Mills. Chief Learning Officer magazine named him CLO of the Year in 2007. His most recent award-winning book is, “Coachability: The Leadership Superpower.”