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Corporate talent experts share retention, mobility strategies at Roundtable luncheon event

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Roundtable staff

Your company has hired some top-quality talent, and you certainly want your valued employees to keep doing great work for your business for years to come. So, what emerging retention strategies can help you do that in this challenging talent environment?

Two top talent executives answered that question and several others when they shared their expertise on talent mobility and retention with attendees of the Tennessee Business Roundtable’s Spring HR Luncheon on May 10 at Pinnacle Financial Partners in Nashville.

Susie Long, vice president of talent, engagement, organization and culture at Bridgestone Americas, and Tom Stone, senior research analyst at the Institute for Corporate Productivity, shared their insights with 30 Roundtable member-company executives and guests during the two-hour lunch-and-learn.

Stone – who has led major research studies on corporate workforce readiness, hybrid and remote work, succession management, HR technology and other topics – framed a key challenge facing corporate talent leaders by outlining a key finding from recent i4cp research.

“We did a study, which I personally led in summer of 2021, called Accelerating Total Workforce Readiness,” he said. “The headline key finding was that only 30% of survey participants, and these were HR leaders, had a strong belief that their organization had the skills and capabilities needed to advance their organization's strategy over the next one to three years. It was higher among high-performing organizations at 47%, but it's still below 50%, so there's a lot of doubt out there in organizations, large and small, across all industries… Across the board, [there’s] this belief that they didn't have the right skills; they didn't have the right capabilities in the organization for what they needed to do.”

Stone said one major reason for that sentiment – borne out by another key finding – is that employers themselves are not well-informed about the skills and capabilities of their own people.

“Only 18% of survey participants said that their company has a skills database or a system of skill profiles for their employees.” Of those, he said, “Only 10% had a skills database that covered all employees, while another 8% had some sort of skill database that just covered critical roles. But overall, less than one in five had that kind of information in-house.

“We asked this provocative question – does LinkedIn know more about your people's skills than you do at your organization? And 27% said yes, and another 25% said yeah, maybe. So, it was more than 50% that said that LinkedIn, with its profile information on employees, knows more about the skills and capabilities of their workers than their own company does.”

Benefits of Internal Talent Databases

While acknowledging that gathering and maintaining skills databases can be difficult, Stone said the insights gained by companies that choose to create them can help talent leaders optimize internal talent flows and their learning and development investments.

“First, in terms of learning and careers, knowing the skills and capabilities of your people can greatly enhance talent mobility,” he said. “[It allows employers to] create career paths for individuals in the organization, learning journeys. It can help you [effectively allocate] your precious L&D budget, where best to spend that in terms of upskilling and reskilling. So, to help prioritize, you need to know where there are skill gaps in the organization, who needs what training. And then overall, just supporting a stronger learning culture.”

Stone also explained how such skills databases can deliver strategic advantages for the companies that create them. “If you know where the skills and capabilities are [within your workforce], you can quickly pivot as new things come and hit you. And then also, how you compare with your biggest competitors. Do you have a skill gap in one area that maybe your competitors do as well, so you're not really behind? Or maybe you've got a skill gap, and they don't, so you're behind the eight ball there.”

Stone noted that evolving talent acquisition away from focusing heavily on degrees and other proxies, and toward a rational, skills-focused approach, helps employers hit their recruitment and retention targets.

“Degrees are still important – college degrees, certificates and so on – but we can all admit they're proxies for what we really care about, which is skills and capability. And they're not perfect proxies,” he said. “With the overall employee value proposition, being able to focus on talent and development will help you with both attraction and retention of talent.”

Stone added that a skills-based approach can also assist employers committed to high performance through diversity, equity and inclusion. “Moving away from sub-perfect proxies, like degrees and other things, and instead making decisions for project assignments based more on skill capability and experience will help you with your DE&I goals, as well.”

Shifting Mindsets for Success

If skills inventories make so much sense, why aren’t more employers utilizing them? Stone said ic4p’s research points to corporate leadership mindsets as a primary barrier.

“The No. 1 step that organizations fail at is this one, which are the mindset shifts and the culture shifts that organizations, particularly leaders, but really everyone at the organization need to go through. If they're going to get serious, they really need to focus on the skills of their people,” he said.

Another key mindset shift adopted by high-performing organizations, added Stone, involves managers shifting from a tendency of “hoarding” talented employees to embracing talent mobility, which allows skilled performers to flow into new roles within their organizations.

“If you develop that person, move them on in the organization, at least the company or the organization wins, even while you may have the short-term pain of needing to backfill,” Stone said. “Talent hoarding versus managers being more developers and movers of talent always gets mentioned [among employers in i4cp’s research].”

In addition, Stone told attendees that corporate mindset shifts are also key for companies that want to incorporate skills and mobility strategies into broader efforts to “renovate” their entire corporate cultures.

“One of the things that I found in talking to several organizations that actually use this language, it's about that mindset shift away from talent hoarding to having your leaders become talent magnets, having them become the kind of people that everyone wants to work for,” he said. “And then once you get that mindset shift, that culture change in place and have more leaders that everyone wants to work for, then the problem of moving people alleviates itself. So, there's a lot of benefits to internal talent mobility.”

Bridgestone’s Journey: A Corporate-Culture “Renovation”

Susie Long of Bridgestone Americas then spoke to attendees about her company’s ongoing cultural journey – a corporate “renovation” effort she said was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and several other major changes.

“So, we have been on a journey since 2020, and I said, ‘nothing like a great pandemic to really kind of accelerate your talent agenda.’ But we've had a lot happen since 2020,” she said. “In the last three years, not only did we get a new CEO, but we also [adopted] a new business strategy, and that's really been a catalyst for a lot of our change and ‘cultural renovation.’”

As Long described it, Bridgestone’s “cultural renovation” effort involved rebuilding all the way down to the foundation in several areas.

“We shifted from traditional performance management and went to continuous performance management,” she said. “We got rid of the old 1985 bell curve and the calibrations and sitting down and having those conversations led to ongoing discussions. And we really wanted to make sure that we were bringing our teammates along with us to say, ‘this is about development; this is about continuous career conversations’ and making sure that we were keeping our teammates engaged.”

Why so much change? In a word, it was competition.

“With the ‘Great Resignation,’ the war for talent and socio-economic dynamics, it was very competitive, and it continues to be a very competitive climate for talent,” said Long. “…[We decided that] we want to be agile. We want to be digital. We want to be entrepreneurial. That's really forward looking. Then, ultimately, how do we want to get there? We want to get there together. We want to be inclusive. We really want to be inspiring and trusting.”

Preparing for the Culture Renovation

Long described how her company began its transformation by aligning first on a set of cultural concepts.

“We came up with this cultural framework, and that was our ‘handshake’ between one another, that these are really our cultural characteristics in terms of our agreement with one another as teammates,” she said. “This really set the stage in terms of a ‘north star.’ This is how we want to interact with one another. It really set the tone for our culture.”

To compete effectively, Long said her global enterprise decided to focus on giving its employees “experiences.” But corporate executives quickly recognized that, in order to deliver those to their workforce, they first needed to support the needs of the company’s people-managers themselves.

“We needed to enlist our managers, and we knew over the course of the last three years, our managers were not equipped,” she said. “Many felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, I've never had to lead in an environment like this, where now all of a sudden I'm having to lead a team that might be hybrid, that might be virtual, maybe across the globe, where I'm not seeing people on a daily basis.’

"We were expecting a lot from our managers, and we had not equipped them appropriately. So, we needed to take a step back first and say, ‘How are we taking care of our leaders? Are we making sure that they're equipped to take care of themselves first?’”

Restarting Bridgestone’s Race for Talent

Once her company had recast its cultural foundation and equipped its managers to lead change, Long told attendees, Bridgestone was then ready to restart its race for talent.

“We then really started to focus on how we were going to go to market to attract talent,” she said. “We sent out some really great information around walk a mile in my shoes, having our teammates tell the story of what's it like to be a teammate at Bridgestone,” she said. “Not just a day in the life of working at Bridgestone, but their personal lives, too – opening up about their personal lives and telling the story of their whole self – really showing that inclusion piece that they can bring their whole authentic self to Bridgestone. We included the stories of our ‘boomerangs’ too – people who left our organization, but then came back.”

At the corporate headquarters, Long described how flexible schedules have become part of the company’s attraction and retention effort. Long said the flexible scheduling and work-from-anywhere initiatives have broadened the talent pool Bridgestone is attracting and improved its diversity.

“We said, ‘You know what? You can come to work when you want on the days you want.’ We allow each leader to create their own norms for their team,” she said. “We don't mandate what days you come to the building. We said, ‘Leaders, you decide when you want your team to be in the building.’ You don't have set days. You can come in when it makes sense for you.”

Talent Upskilling, Reskilling and Mobility

Long said Bridgestone also made significant investments in talent development.

“We literally doubled our investment in terms of how we were going to develop our teammates over the last several years,” she said. “We went digital. We made a big investment in LinkedIn Learning, which has really helped upskill a lot of our talent, as well. Our teammates were hungry for development.”

And internal talent mobility is also part of the equation.

“We have a business expo, where teammates can go around and learn about the different businesses and the different opportunities,” she said. “And it's an internal hiring fair, essentially. Teammates have an opportunity to explore different opportunities within the organization and to apply for open roles. This gives them not only a real live marketplace, but also a real live learning career fair, where they can go and give their resumes to other parts of the business, and we encourage that. We want that cross-pollination.”

Bridgestone’s commitment to internal talent mobility plays a critical role by helping the company fill a significant portion of its open positions with existing employees who’ve already bought in to its culture framework.

“We have a 60% internal movement rate, and 40% is external in terms of filling positions,” she said. “We basically feel like that's a healthy mix for us, because there are about 40% of the roles that we have today that are new roles that we simply do not have the skills internally. So, we're focused on upskilling for that new capability.”

The result? Long told participants Bridgestone’s employee engagement and retention metrics are exceeding benchmarks.

“We had a phenomenal engagement survey in 2022,” she said. “Our 2022 engagement survey and retention percentages exceeded retail and manufacturing benchmarks, and we have the data to prove it.”

For more photos from the luncheon, click here.


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