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When talking about mobility and employability the associations are often with elderly people that are being confronted with their limitations. Old people that are not able or willing to perform certain activities. It is not a very ‘sexy’ subject and the terminology used is somewhat misguiding. These terms, however, are very much in use in companies nowadays and especially in the area of HR. Moreover, these terms are in the top 5 of the most important themes for most HR departments. Often connected to themes like the ‘war for talent’, strategic personnel planning and employability (recruitment – development – outplacement). These elements directly impact the results of the organisation.

Albeit probably not completely accurate, these themes are of the utmost importance. Because many, often larger, companies have failed to invest timely in the employability of their people. That’s why they are now looking for a solution for this urgent and increasingly expensive problem (both in financial and moral terms). Of course the employees are part of the problem as well. Isn’t it true that some of them have been sticking to the thought that companies would exist forever, would take care of them and nothing (or: little) would change?

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From mobility and employability to strength-based development

So let me introduce another term that hopefully appeals to the imagination. What about ‘strength-based development’? Probably nobody is against it and many will be in favour of it, I expect. Many of us know books like ‘Now Discover Your Strengths’ (Buckingham & Clifton) and research by Gallup underlining the importance of using and capitalising on your strengths. The findings are a strong plea against the traditional focus on putting energy in developing people’s improvement point. Many of us know this frustration as we were confronted with this traditional focus at school. And in most companies competence management in fact boils down to incompetence management. As soon as you enter the company your function was predefined, your manager told you what to improve and these improvement points were the focus for the trainings you attended. So, how motivated were you to work on your improvement points? This new label hopefully is a promising start of something new.

As far as I am concerned, there is another important reason to use this new label. Let’s go back to the title: ‘How do I get things in motion and how do I achieve positive impact by working on mobility and sustainable employability? Not only by ‘telling & selling’ the importance and the intended effects. This helps in the beginning, but it is not enough. It is about the same as ‘telling & selling’ integral cooperation, instead of using ways of working that enable capitalising on differences in practice.  That the leads to making it worthwhile for every individual and team to engage in integral cooperation because they harvest the fruits of doing so.

Mobility and employability are outcomes, not activities

Mobility and sustainable employability are outcomes we strive for: they are ‘lagging’ instead of ‘leading indicators’. People only set themselves in motion in their journey towards sustainable employability if they have enough (self)confidence, feel well and if they know that – and how – they add value (which is also a ‘lagging’ indicator). To achieve this we need to go back to the start, the activity that puts all other things into motion: ‘strength-based development’ (which is a ‘leading indicator’).

Let me summarise this in the following table:

strength-based developmentStrength-based development as a leading indicator

So I suggest using the new terminology in the right sequence. Possibly it helps to better explain what I mean with the term strength-based development.

  • You receive help to get self-conscious so you can easily mention 10 talents or personal strengths.
  • You receive feedback that helps you to act ‘consciously capable’: you know which capabilities to put to use when and how to deal with pitfalls, especially under pressure.
  • You have gotten challenging assignments that fit your talents, people acknowledge and validate you and trust your capabilities. This enables you to experience and learn how your different talents reinforce each other and you can mention moments of ‘flow’ (= moments in which you excelled with ease using your talents and thus added value for others). So you can look for assignments where you can optimally contribute.
  • You get help formulating your personal drivers and passion. You can indicate which personal values drive you and for whom, with what and how you want to be of value. This enables you to determine your fit with an organisation and in a team to indicate what you need to feel safe and connected.
  • You are acknowledged for who you are and you feel appreciated, you dare to show yourself and people know where to find you based on your talents. You dare to be vulnerable and powerful in asking for help instead of keeping up appearances and sticking to mediocrity. You can explore new paths when things turn out to be different from what you expected.
  • People engage in a constructive conversation about diversity in teams. You can co-create synergy and the co-intelligence needed to tackle complex challenges.

I hope this creates a lively picture of strength-based development: would you (now) feel motivated to go on a discovery journey?

Kick-starting strength-based development

The remaining question: what can I do to kick-start the process?

From knowing:

  • Does everyone within HR understand the importance of the right ‘labelling’ and the right sequence? Is the link with the ‘war of talent’ (input/recruitment), strategic personnel planning (throughput/development) and employability (output/leave) understood and do all these elements have a prominent place on the dashboard (‘what gets measured, gets done’)? So that you can start to act yourself into the new way of thinking instead of continuing to talk about the desired outcome).
  • Does (senior) management understand the risk/price of not acting and the business case (morally and financially) of investing in ‘strength-based development’? Specifically for people (sometimes older) who are candidates for a job switch or outplacement, but also for all others who could or would like to contribute more. Do you need more proof? Here is an article from Harvard Business Review on this theme.
  • Do employees understand their own interest and responsibility to engage in (re-) discovering and formulating their own ‘personal brand’? In order to become (more) aware of what they are capable of and what they strive for? Resulting in embracing the fast changing future with (self-)confidence?

To doing:

  • Which interventions are developed in this area and when are they planned?

Want to exchange ideas? With pleasure!

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