Historically, organizations have defined their “talent” as an employee who works for one company, often in the same job or discipline, for their entire career. The assumption is that the relationship between the employer and the employee will be a long one. However, the employee from a decade ago isn’t the same as the employee who we are starting to see today. A number of recent studies report that although older employees may have stayed with their employer for careers lasting more than 20 years, it’s unlikely that their children or grandchildren will experience the same job tenure. A longitudinal study by the American Bureau of Labour Statistics that tracks the frequency of job changes points out that even for the Baby Boomer generation, individuals change jobs frequently, and on average have held 11.9 jobs throughout their careers, from ages 18 to 50 (BLS, 2017).
There are many reasons people change jobs, such as increased compensation or new opportunities. One strong motivator for change, especially for younger employees in STEM fields, is an ongoing desire for new experiences and challenges that support their learning and development. This inherent restlessness provides organizations looking for fresh ideas, new perspectives and a more engaged workforce with a unique opportunity, but it requires rethinking the definition of “talent.”
NASA is adopting a new definition of talent that includes the traditional full-time employee, but also recognizes the value of part-time workers who serve on short-term, project based assignments, emeritus employees who desire to contribute after retirement, and gig economy workers that contribute through an increasing number of channels. NASA even recognizes that talent may include “machine talent” such as robots, algorithms, and artificial intelligence and robots. As we broaden our definition of talent, we are also developing new ways to inspire, develop and mobilize our workforce.
Providing tools for development and growth remains an essential ingredient to success in the Future of Work. Good leaders ensure that the workplace offers plenty of opportunity to help people develop new skills, experience new roles and responsibilities, and advance into new career paths. They understand that when employees grow, their productive capacity increases. When their productive capacity increases, the capacity of the organization increases. For many, such as the development-oriented employee or rising generation of entrepreneurial gig workers, career mobility is an essential ingredient for their own personal development.
With this in mind, organizations are developing new strategies to tap into new talent and mobilize their careers. A successful mobilization strategy identifies, develops and leverages the capabilities of a workforce and empowers them to seamlessly take on new roles and responsibilities to support the organization’s changing needs. Google’s approach permits extensive latitude for employees to select their projects; other companies, such as McKinsey, fully exploit the use of the talent marketplace to efficiently match talent with opportunities.
While the idea of encouraging employee development and mobilizing talent to meet organizational needs is clear, organizations may be held back by legacy talent management systems, processes and practices that have been designed to meet only the needs of the full time tenured employee. For example, NASA does not have an agency-wide internal talent marketplace that broadcasts available opportunities. Instead, it has relied on a traditional “pull” approach to match talent with job opportunities. Although plenty of opportunities exist, they may not be visible to the full array of potential candidates. This means that an employee has limited development or advancement opportunities and must rely on their own professional networks, personal initiative and self-assertion to organically grow their careers. Further, hiring managers are often pressed to achieve results with fewer resources and therefore has little incentive to encourage developmental exchanges across the Agency. This cumulatively results in organizational siloing, talent hoarding and a reliance on less formalized methods of identifying possible candidates.
To address this, NASA is designing a new internal talent marketplace that will give all employees the ability to discover new opportunities for development and advancement, such as details, rotations, and reassignments. The goal is to improve the transparency and accessibility to these opportunities and provide managers an ability to better tap all Agency internal talent resources for their work. By developing a single, Agency-wide talent marketplace, NASA will be better equipped to share and assign talent across Centers, meet employees’ needs for growth opportunities, while expanding and refining the skills existing throughout the Agency.
About the Authors
Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).