The world of talent retention is like an ever-evolving puzzle. As companies scramble to keep employees engaged, they're overlooking a key aspect: talent mobility.

Several cognitive biases can help explain why leaders often succumb to a knee-jerk reaction of acquiring new talents to fill skill gaps, rather than tapping into the potential of their existing workforce:

  1. Recency bias: We tend to place more value on recent information and experiences. In this vein, leaders may be more influenced by the skills and qualifications they have recently come across in new candidates rather than considering the skills and potential within their current workforce.
  2. Availability heuristic: When retrieving information, your brain is prone to put more weight into the information that was easier to recall - even if that’s not the information based on an example that doesn't match reality. In the case of HR managers, information on external candidates' skills and experiences is often more readily available than that of existing employees. To counter this heuristic, companies should invest in maintaining an up-to-date database of employee skills, experiences, and accomplishments, making it easier for HR managers to consider internal candidates for new roles.
  3. Sunk cost fallacy: We are inclined to continue investing in a decision based not on its current and future returns, but rather on the number of resources already invested. When it comes to talent management, leaders may be reluctant to invest in the training and development of existing employees, as they feel that they've already invested time and resources in the hiring process for new talent.

Talent Mobility: The Secret Sauce

When your workers believe they're stuck in professional limbo, morale plunges. To fight it, you must empower your employees to take charge of their careers within the company. By doing so, you transform your workplace into a dynamic ecosystem that nurtures growth and development.

Not all companies are ready for this, but there’s one kind of company where talent mobility is required for their survival: consulting firms.

Consulting firms cater to a wide range of clients across various industries, each with unique problems and requirements, making it essential to address these diverse needs effectively by assembling teams with the right mix of skills and expertise. Moreover, consulting engagements are often project-based and time-bound, requiring firms to staff their teams efficiently to ensure they can deliver results within the specified timeline. This dynamic nature of work and diverse client needs has led consulting firms to become adept at allocating resources based on skills and availability, driving them to develop advanced staffing strategies.

Skill-based Staffing: The Consulting Firms' Playbook

Consulting firms have turned skill-based staffing into an art form. They deploy consultants like a shrewd poker player, assessing factors such as:

  • Skillset and expertise
  • Project needs
  • Availability
  • Career development

Organizations like McKinsey have dedicated staffing maestros ensuring each project has the right talent mix. This intricate dance of efficiency offers valuable lessons for companies striving to keep their top talent engaged.

It’s not easy! What happens when the skill they need is not readily available? Consulting firms weigh the criticality of project requirements against consultants' ongoing commitments. There are several strategies they employ:

  1. Smooth transitions: In the lack of available consultants, they prioritize those who can transition smoothly without jeopardizing the success of their current assignments.
  2. Skill flexibility: To minimize the impact on other projects and provide diverse opportunities, they may allocate consultants with adjacent skill sets or those who can quickly learn the necessary skills.
  3. Availability: Firms carefully manage consultant availability to avoid overbooking or prolonged bench time. Not only do they have to plan the project transitions but they also need to anticipate specific skillset needs.

In addition to these, firms actively monitor their consultants' career development needs, ensuring exposure to various projects over time. This approach helps maintain employee engagement and expand the workforce's collective skillset, making it easier to staff future projects.

Versatile talent toolbox: skill management enables consultants to tackle a diverse range of challenges - Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Alternative Staffing Strategies: The Road Less Traveled

Beyond the well-trodden path of traditional staffing, alternative strategies lurk, waiting to be explored. Alternative staffing strategies include:

  1. Part-time consultants: Juggling multiple projects without committing full-time.
  2. Shared resources: One resource, several projects, maximum efficiency.
  3. Remote resources: Geographic barriers? No problem.
  4. Outsourcing: Delegating work to third-party vendors.

Each strategy comes with its unique set of tradeoffs. For instance, part-timers might be less committed, shared resources risk spreading themselves too thin, remote resources grapple with timezones and communication barriers, and outsourcing could potentially sacrifice quality if the vendor's interests are misaligned.

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

Finding the Right Balance: A High-Wire Act

Navigating the pros and cons of these strategies is not trivial. The goal is to strike a balance between cost savings, flexibility, and access to a broader talent pool. Here are some steps that might help find that balance:

  1. Assess your current talent pool: Identify the skills, experiences, and potential within your existing workforce. Understand the resource you already have and also the opportunities for upskilling.
  2. Create processes that address cognitive biases: Encourage HR managers and decision-makers to consider existing employees when filling new roles and investing in their development.
  3. Implement skill-based staffing: Adopt and adapt consulting firm’s staffing strategies by forming a dedicated team that sits between Recruitment and Learning & Development. This team should be responsible for evaluating factors like skillsets, project requirements, and career growth when assigning resources.
  4. Explore alternative staffing strategies: These can help you with your short-term needs in the case of a skill gap. They all have pros and cons, so you must choose the one that makes more sense to your organization.

Skill gaps cost time and opportunities. With the right talent management strategy, a workforce can rapidly pivot its focus to develop new products or services in response to evolving customer needs. They can proactively identify and capitalize on new business opportunities.

It’s a superpower that not only benefits individual employees but also contributes to the long-term success and resilience of the organization.

Fernando Cordeiro

Fernando Cordeiro

I'm a Lego aficionado. Also, I'm the founder of Pluckd, a tool to help companies discover which skills and talent are available to them in real-time.