The chatter around employee skills and internal mobility brings to mind one of my favorite sayings, coined by author Hugh MacLeod: “The market for something to believe in is infinite.”
Organizations want to believe in the potential of their people, but many don’t know where to start. When I counsel HR executives, I remind them that retention starts with creating a place for their internal talent to learn, grow and evolve. It’s not just about helping employees find their next job; it’s about helping them develop the skills that lead to career-defining opportunities.
Every employee is approachable and poachable, whether it’s for a bigger paycheck, a longer title or the ability to work remotely. That’s why, regardless of industry, the strongest companies are the ones investing in employee growth.
3 ways to reduce churn
- Embrace radical ownership of career growth and engagement.
- Guide your employees through career pathing and establish the infrastructure for them to succeed.
- Provide employees with constructive feedback in the spirit of skills growth and career advancement.
The Cost of Churn
Businesses routinely lose $1 trillion a year to voluntary churn, according to Gallup. Practices that combat this are empowering self-directed career planning and increasing the speed at which organizations upskill and reskill employees, which can drive retention and profitability.
Of course, there are many other costs that never register on a spreadsheet. Consider the impact on a business of losing reliable problem-solvers with institutional knowledge. And, depending on the quality of those exits, losing those employees can jeopardize a company’s brand.
What’s astounding is that most of this damage is self-inflicted. Well over half of exiting employees in survey after survey say that in the three months leading up to their departure, neither their manager nor another leader spoke to them about their job satisfaction or future with the organization.
Think about that. Not one leader asked them how they felt about their job.
Every company is on an employee engagement journey. Let me share one company’s success story.
A Skills and Internal Mobility Epiphany
The Cigna Group is a healthcare leader that does business in more than 100 countries. Its HR leaders realized a few years back that it was easier for external candidates to find a job in the company than it was for people already employed there. Even the sourcing tools the company provided its recruiters were externally focused.
“That just didn’t really sit right with me,” Effie Gikas, who leads the enablement team responsible for talent acquisition, recruitment marketing and employer branding told me in an online discussion. “We have 70,000 colleagues. We’ve got to make it easier for them to find their next role within the company,” she said.
Thus began the company’s journey to becoming a skills-focused organization.
“On average, there are 24 skills per employee, and we’ve identified 33,000 unique skills [with AI],” Gikas said.
Artificial intelligence now gives insights into employee skills the company never had before, allowing recruiters to know who has what skills and enabling them to proactively recruit from within the company as effortlessly as it did externally.
“On average, our employees have 24 skills per employee, and we’ve identified 33,000 unique skills,” Gikas said. “We had skills in the ecosystem informally before, but we weren’t really using them. Now we’ve got these great insights.”
Within months of launching the AI platform, half of The Cigna Group's talent base went into the career portal to voluntarily update their skills. They’ll receive job recommendations based on their skills, interests and ambitions.
The Cigna Group gets it. Here are three pieces of advice to companies about how to make a similar switch in thinking and hiring.
1. Decide who owns talent management
Who owns talent acquisition? Talent acquisition does! Who owns talent management, employee development, and internal mobility? In many organizations it’s not as cut and dry. So much of traditional succession planning lands in the laps of managers. As you get deep down into the inner workings of an organization, it can become unclear who’s in charge of what.
My advice: Embrace radical ownership of career growth and engagement. This is a top-down, bottom-up process that values internal mobility and career growth, takes the time to do it right, allocates sufficient resources and celebrates employees’ successes.
2. Give your employees the tools to grow
Organizations must provide employees the tools and guidance needed for career pathing. Once an organization has developed the right mindset and set up the systems and tools, HR leaders need to dedicate time to show employees how to update skills and teach them how to use the internal portal. It’s then up to employees to take the career growth opportunity and run with it. They need to take responsibility for their own career development.
An AI-powered, self-service platform gives employees a clear line of sight into new roles and the skills needed for each one. If an organization is using AI fit score assessments, then employees will be introduced to roles that are a good fit but that they might not have considered applying for before. This technology can be critical for individuals’ career development and for the company in hiring for hard-to-fill roles.
My advice: Guide your employees through career pathing and establish the infrastructure for them to succeed. Then encourage employees to update their skills and take charge of their personal career development. Be clear with employees about what’s in it for them.
3. Communicate with employees about the process
If you’re new to being a skills-first organization, or if you’re thinking about putting a formal program into place, know that you don’t have to have the answer for everything. This is a journey. You’re not the only one trying to figure this out. What works for another organization may not work for yours.
I believe in the value of scores that measure a person’s suitability for a role, but using this powerful tool alone can cause confusion for internal employees about what percent of a fit they should have before applying. This is why a clear, engaging communication strategy is so important.
My advice: Employees and leaders should have confidence in the mobility process and know that whether there’s a fit or not, this skills-focused method will provide each person with constructive feedback in the continued spirit of skills growth and career advancement.
Prioritizing Skills is Not Just an HR Thing
The problem virtually every company has is that in order to grow, they have to hire and transform people for new roles. The job market is very competitive. Unemployment is at a five-decade low. Skills are in short supply, and talent is in short supply. Yes, people are changing jobs a lot, but it’s still hard to attract them.
So, if you’re not building skills, if you're not building capabilities to perform and scale intelligent internal mobility, you're not going to grow as a company, period. It's going to hold you back. The results are indisputable — better employee engagement, better retention and better productivity.