You’ve probably heard that old management saying, “We need the right person, in the right role, at the right time.” We need to modernize that saying to, “What if there were more right places?”

It’s an interesting question, and a necessary one in today’s business environment. Think about it. The career ladder, with its finite number of promotion positions available, would cease to be an obstacle when it comes to satisfying top talent with great skills, tons of ambition and no place to use them.

By identifying more “right” career places, talent leaders can create a development culture where everyone has growth opportunities in different sequences tailored to individual preferences, abilities, timing and tastes. We just need to adjust our vision to see beyond the traditional career ladder, and take advantage of its adjacent possibilities. That requires a mobility mindset, not just for an organization’s talent leaders, but for talent as well.

  1. Ensure talent know they are in control of how they define career success. Employees have to be willing to assess what success means to them personally and professionally, to take responsibility for their futures. They have to ask themselves, “What do I want from a company by way of development, career advancement and general growth?” They have to be willing to ask for feedback – and listen, even when what they hear isn’t all good. Essentially, they have to be willing to do the work. Employees have to not only dig out these truths, they have to get up the nerve – and feel free – to ask their managers to help them realize their career goals.
  2. Managers have to shift their mindset from day-to-day operations to provide strategic talent development support. Providing stretch assignments can’t be seen as “extra work.” Coaching, mentoring, preparing individuals to learn – these activities must become part and parcel of the manager’s regular lexicon. Development has to be a key underpinning for everything that happens on the job. The support role is a big one. It requires that managers debrief with employees after stretch assignments to make sure the learning sticks and ideally cascades throughout the organization. On the job learning stops being solely a task for the learning function and becomes a key step to advance business growth and employee satisfaction that managers never want to miss. Further, managers have to keep a keen eye out for growth opportunities to share with talented direct reports. They may have to ask some tough questions, listen to some not so pleasant answers and be willing to endure uncomfortable conversations in the name of talent development, retention and growth.
  3. Organizations have a substantive role to play in establishing a mobility mindset. While employees are owning their career futures and managers are looking for growth opportunities to share, the organization at large has to create a continuous development culture that will enable an employee and a manager’s mobility mindset. The HR function, senior leadership and other stakeholders have to provide access to systems and tools that employees can easily use to find out what development opportunities are available and how they can apply for them. That might mean setting up the suitable communication vehicles to promote mentoring programs or formal stretch assignments. It could mean celebrating lateral moves as well as promotions “up” the career ladder. Or it could mean rewarding talent leaders who share talent across departments or functions.

At the end of the day, career mobility has to be an essential part of an organization’s talent management strategy. That mindset has to flow through different – perhaps even all – areas of the business.

Promoting flexibility, agility, skill acquisition and lateral internal career moves that provide a rich mix of experiences is a journey. But it’s a journey top talent are eager to go on, and one that top organizations are equally eager to make happen.