Today’s business landscape is dynamic and complex. To adapt to this, organizations need to be innovative, especially when it comes to their most precious and scarce resource - talent.
A promising initiative that has emerged in response to this is talent sharing. In this article, we will unpack what talent sharing is, the benefits it offers, and best practices for implementing it within your organization.
What is Talent Sharing?
Talent sharing is when an organization shares its employees and their skills across different teams, departments, or even with other organizations. Its overarching goal is to foster knowledge exchange, collaboration, and innovation within and between organizations.
Talent sharing is markedly different from the traditional approach to talent management, where employees are pigeonholed by their job descriptions into specific roles and teams.
Taking a talent sharing approach means prioritizing the skills employees bring to the table, and considering how these skills might translate across different functions within the organization and beyond.
Talent sharing is closely related to the concept of secondments. A secondment is the temporary transfer of an employee to a new team or division within the same organization. Secondments can even sometimes be to a different organization.
Besides that, talent sharing is also closely connected to the idea of a talent marketplace. You can think of a talent marketplace as an internal supply and demand model, in which companies connect employees to various opportunities.
Interdepartmental Talent Sharing
There are two main forms that talent sharing can take. The simpler form to facilitate is interdepartmental talent sharing.
Interdepartmental talent sharing takes place within one organization. It involves moving employees from one team or department to another, so they can collaborate with others and apply their skills to a new context.
Unilever’s talent sharing program, Flex, is one stellar example. Flex is Unilever’s tech-powered internal talent marketplace. Through Flex, Unilever encourages its 60,000 employees across more than 100 countries to work on specific projects in other geographies and departments.
Flex was instrumental during the COVID-19 lockdown, enabling Unilever to respond in an agile manner to emerging business challenges. For example, Flex gave Unilever’s data science department the ability to create and staff a special project in response to the pandemic.
The team behind the project had wide-ranging expertise across different functions and markets. They worked together to analyze and find relationships between many different factors, such as sales and changes in consumer behavior. Their work yielded invaluable insights, which front-line teams used to respond to changes in real-time as the virus spread.
Inter-Organizational Talent Sharing
But why stop at sharing talent just within one organization when you can go beyond that? The world of professional soccer has been doing this for a long time. This practice is known as the loan system, in which players owned by one club are sent to play for another on a temporary basis.
Similarly, companies could take talent sharing a step further by partnering with other companies to exchange talent. Two organizations in related industries might share employees for a limited period. This strategically allows them to gain insights and expertise from different corporate cultures and practices.
There may also be other opportunities and synergies that can be realized between the two companies. One great example is the collaboration between McDonald’s and the German grocery chain Aldi in Germany during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aldi had a staff shortage. They needed more people to staff its warehouses and stores.
Instead of laying staff off when some of their German outlets closed, McDonald’s gave employees the option to work temporarily for Aldi.
All McDonald’s employees hired by Aldi received a short-term contract and were given the option to go back to their old jobs at McDonald’s after the crisis.
Talent Sharing vs. Job Rotation Programs
Talent sharing has many similarities to job rotation programs. Both approaches prioritize employee development in terms of skills and knowledge across different functions. Both are leveraged as a talent retention strategy and as a way to maximize the potential of a company’s workforce.
However, talent sharing is also distinctly different from job rotation programs in a few key ways.
Talent Sharing Is More Flexible
Job rotation programs are systematically structured and planned for employees by the organization. Employees rotate into different assignments, each usually lasting between three to 12 months.
The length of each rotation is pre-determined by the organization. After the last rotation, most participants move into new roles which are permanent and full-time.
Talent sharing is more fluid. The structure and terms of each talent sharing assignment can be unique and should be discussed and agreed upon between the participating teams or organizations.
Talent Sharing Can Involve More External Partnerships
Job rotation programs are typically within the same organization. The main goal is internally focused and targeted at developing in-house talent.
Meanwhile, talent sharing can be either interdepartmental within the organization or inter-organizational. Talent sharing between external partners and organizations strengthens the relationship between companies. It is often utilized as an opportunity to collaborate and exchange ideas between organizations.
Talent Sharing Does Not Always Translate to Specific Career Progression Pathways
Talent sharing tends to involve a diverse range of opportunities, each of which may be unique to each employee involved. As such, there may not necessarily be specific career progression opportunities at the home organization for employees after their talent sharing assignment.
In comparison, job rotation programs are much more structured. Some programs even include information sessions with human resources on career progression pathways. These sessions help lay the foundation for participants to learn about and map out clear career progression options.
How Organizations Benefit from Talent Sharing
Increased Organizational Capacity and Innovation
For talent sharing to be effective, there needs to be consistent communication between teams and organizations. This enables them to keep abreast of each other’s evolving needs and issues and opens up avenues for collaboration through approaches like talent sharing.
Overall, this can lead to dramatic improvements in both organizational capacity and innovation.
Fostering a Culture of Learning
Talent sharing is an excellent strategy for companies to implement if they want to foster a culture of learning within their organization. It creates meaningful opportunities for lifelong learning among employees.
Besides that, it improves employee experience. These experiences tend to be very energizing for both employees and the organizations or teams involved, as they learn from one another.
Enhanced Organizational Resilience
In the face of sudden change, talent sharing allows organizations to adapt quickly. It enables organizations to access and deploy talent quickly and efficiently from an internal talent pool.
At the same time, organizations save on costs associated with talent acquisition, training, and layoffs.
How Employees Benefit from Talent Sharing
New Career Development Opportunities
In a survey run by Pew Research, 63% of workers who quit their jobs in 2021 said a lack of opportunity for career advancement was a major or minor influence on their decision to leave. In the traditional organizational structure, employees usually can only progress vertically.
This can be a problem as at more senior levels, managerial roles are often limited. An employee may only be able to be promoted if their manager leaves or is transferred.
Talent sharing enables lateral transfers to take place so that employees can advance their careers cross-functionally. One great example is Purdue University’s Talent Share 2.0 program. The program enabled employees to leverage different skill sets in departments that were rapidly expanding without having to hire additional staff.
Improved Job Security
The new skills and experiences that employees gain through participating in talent sharing assignments make them more versatile and valuable to their organization. Job security increases because employees with a broader skill set and knowledge are more capable of taking on various roles.
Their skills will be in demand across different departments in the company, reducing their chances of being laid off during downsizing or restructuring.
Through talent sharing, employees are exposed to diverse environments and industries. This gives them the opportunity to learn and adjust to their new work context, thus honing their ability to adapt to change and uncertainty.
Recent research findings from McKinsey point to adaptability as the critical success factor during periods of immense change and volatility. Being adaptable translates to being able to pick up new skills and knowledge quickly. It also broadens one’s perspective such that you can see possibilities and not just challenges.
Best Practices for Using Talent Sharing in Your Organization
Given the benefits outlined above, you may be thinking about implementing talent sharing as a workforce planning strategy at your organization. Here are some key factors to bear in mind.
Ensure managers are bought in and incentivized to share talent.
Managers are a key group of employees to engage in order for talent sharing to be successful. Often, managers don’t want to let their star employees leave the team. This scenario is referred to as talent hoarding.
Typically, talent hoarding occurs because companies measure the success of their managers through pure business metrics. These star employees play a vital role in achieving these metrics. When we think about the future of work, we tend to emphasize data-driven indicators of success, it is therefore necessary to also have managerial KPIs that incentivize knowledge sharing.
To avoid skill silos and talent hoarding, you need to make talent sharing part of managers’ goals and include it in the performance review process. This alignment makes managers more invested in developing their direct reports, whether through talent sharing or other means. Ultimately, this will also contribute to a healthy learning culture within an organization.
Minimized Bureaucracy and Stigma Associated with Talent Sharing
Talent sharing can be seen as “poaching” talent internally. This can cause strife and stigma, both for managers and interested employees. As such, it’s important to align everyone in your company to approach talent as a fluid ecosystem.
This means taking an interest and skills-based approach to staffing projects.
Transparency is important too, so that all employees are aware of available new opportunities, and can apply if they are interested. To facilitate this, there needs to be a system in which employees’ skills are recorded and updated regularly. This enables managers to better articulate the skills they are looking for in specific projects.
A clear matrix of skills available within the organization’s talent pool and what is required of projects also allows employees to find talent sharing opportunities that align with their skill sets. Creating an open platform where these opportunities are available will lead to greater acceptance of employees moving within and outside the company on talent sharing assignments. The platform where talent sharing opportunities get posted can be hosted on the company’s HRIS, or it can be treated as an internal “hiring” funnel within an existing applicant tracking system.
Besides that, you need to make talent sharing a straightforward process. If it is more tedious and complex to go through compared to hiring externally, managers will be disincentivized from identifying internal talent to work with.
Promote Lateral Mobility — Not Just Ladder Climbing
Lateral mobility refers to an employee’s movement to another team or organization without the level of the role necessarily changing. To make talent sharing appealing to employees, it’s vital to recognize and celebrate it as an achievement that’s on par with a promotion. This will help normalize talent sharing in your company.
Lateral mobility brings multiple benefits too. Recent research from MIT, NYU, and Revelio Labs revealed companies that apply lateral mobility have both high employee satisfaction and strong company performance.
Tie Talent Sharing to Performance Management
Talent sharing is a great complement to performance reviews.
Performance reviews provide an avenue to regularly keep track of the skills and experiences employees have. They also enable managers to identify upskilling and reskilling opportunities for direct reports, such as talent sharing assignments.
Furthermore, talent sharing can encourage employees to take responsibility for their own development by identifying their own growth opportunities. This can have a positive impact on other human resource practices too. For example, succession planning efforts can be bolstered by talent sharing, as a means of giving promising employees the exposure they need to become effective senior leaders in the future.
Consistently Collect Feedback on Talent Sharing
Given that talent sharing is a relatively new concept, it should be assessed regularly for effectiveness and efficiency. Getting feedback from all parties involved, including the employee’s original team, will help inform improvements that need to be made to continue an effective talent sharing program.
Besides that, collecting feedback regularly will help create buy-in for talent sharing within and outside your organization. It is also a great avenue to raise awareness about the program.
Conclusion on Talent Sharing
Given its many benefits, it is no surprise that talent sharing is becoming increasingly popular.
As an agile strategy that can create win-win situations for everyone, it is definitely worth considering implementing talent sharing in your organization.