Posted: 20 Sep. 2022 8 min. read

Talent hoarding: Is it limiting your talent marketplace’s effectiveness?

How manager behavior can impact a culture of talent mobility

By Manu Rawat, Rebecca Greenberg, Randy Markush, Leticia Corona


Professor Peter Drucker, considered by many to be a pioneer in modern management theory, famously said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic.” The last 2.5 years taught organizations valuable lessons on the uncertainty of the future and the importance of agility, adaptability and moving beyond old ways of working. The linear, traditional career ladder is becoming a practice of the past and now, more than ever, organizations must respond to their workforce in a way that is deliberate and action-oriented. Deloitte’s Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey found that among those surveyed who report “not feeling heard at work”, 47% of Gen Z and 54% of Millennials leave their organization within a year. Today’s workforce doesn’t necessarily expect to build a 30-year career climbing the ranks at a single organization; more commonly, workers are seeking broader, more diverse opportunities and experiences to build a career that evolves over time - just as they do. In a time where employers have experienced unprecedented talent and skills shortages (From Great Resignation to Great Reimagination | Deloitte), many organizations are using technology-based solutions to help enable career movement decisions and support employees in identifying their next opportunity.


In an effort to retain top talent, pioneering organizations have turned to the Talent Marketplace to transform the way they manage their workforce and increase employee agency and organizational agility. Leaders are recognizing that simply designing and providing upskilling opportunities and stretch projects as part of employee development programs may not be enough to satisfy the evolving interests and unique development needs of their high performing cohorts. Many companies are embracing the idea of workers holding multiple roles for different pieces of work to form an optimized, skills-based work experience. While integrated programs, processes and the right technology must be put in place to enable the move to a skills-based work model (The Skills-Based Organization: A New Operating Model for Work and the Workforce) manager support is a key, but often overlooked, factor in enabling truly meaningful careers.


How and why does Talent Hoarding happen?


Managers are not oblivious to employees' desires for broader ranges of experiences and greater ownership over their careers, but it can still be challenging for them to demonstrate this support in a meaningful way to their own teams. This often shows up in organizations as Talent Hoarding - where managers intentionally or subconsciously attempt to retain their best employees beyond the natural course of the working relationship and often to the detriment of the employee’s personal development.  In fact, it is not uncommon to find even the most approachable managers displaying Talent Hoarding behaviors and struggling to fully embrace mobility and employee empowerment. This disparity between expressed understanding and demonstrated support is what can make Talent Hoarding so pernicious.


Many managers might not even realize they are demonstrating Talent Hoarding behaviors – yet they are. It often begins with the best of intentions. Consider this classic example: A manager likes the work that one of their direct reports is producing, so they attempt to keep them on the team. They give great reviews and tell the individual how much they’re valued. Another leader expresses interest in filling an open role with the star employee, but the manager says they don’t think the employee would be a good fit on that team. Down the road, when the employee asks to explore a new role, the manager tells them they’ll be getting an increase in responsibility, and possibly pay, if they just stick it out through year end to help the team hit its goals. A month before the year end hits, the employee gives their two-week notice – they’ve received an offer for a new role which better aligns with their ever-evolving goals. The manager, now surprised, thought they were making the best moves to keep a star player around. However, the reality is they may have been driving their All-Star away by limiting that employees’ experience and exposure. By not encouraging them to expand their skillset, suggesting new exposures aligned with areas in which the employee has expressed interest, or simply asking them what kind of experiences they are seeking, the manager may be, in fact, sending the employee a message that “my immediate need for your contributions outweighs your desire for growth.” In today’s labor market, employees will simply fill that need for growth elsewhere.


Shifting mindsets to drive behavior change


While it is natural to want to hold on to our most valuable players, a mindset change is necessary to support mobility and employee growth: from “my team” to “our team” and from “assets” to “people.” By putting humans back at the center of work, managers are able to actually expand the skills at their disposal. As a manager, the most talented person on your team may not always have the right skills/assets for your newest project, but perhaps another manager’s top analyst does. Companies that thoughtfully design a change journey around shifting what it means to “hold on to our most valuable assets” will find their managers more likely to share a common understanding of the reasons to embrace the Talent Marketplace.


By shifting the culture and opening new opportunities through a Talent Marketplace, the entire organization wins: the organization has a higher probability of retaining talent, managers gain access to seasoned company employees eager to build new skills in a different part of the business (and who can come up to speed much more quickly than new hires), and employees have increased visibility and access to new opportunities for development and growth.


But this shift in mindset is not easy, even for managers who conceptually understand the need to enable greater talent mobility - and rarely can it be achieved through strategic communications alone. There are many factors that can make it challenging for even the best-intentioned managers to fully suppress hoarding behaviors, such as:


  • The time, coaching and resources the manager might have already invested in the employee
  • The time-consuming efforts that go with recruiting a back-fill 
  • The time taken for a new employee to ramp-up 
  • The potential delay/interruption of achieving key milestones 
  • The current employee’s industry knowledge or network
  • The lack of incentives for people managers throughout the Talent Marketplace Implementation journey


Organizations can really help managers change


Thoughtful organizations can take intentional and programmatic steps to help managers truly shift their behavior towards embracing talent mobility. Take Google’s Bungee Assignment Program as an example. Google implemented this program several years ago as a short-term development opportunity that also serves the purpose of covering for an employee on a leave of absence. When an employee takes parental leave, another employee can temporarily step in, full-time, to cover their responsibilities. This is a win-win situation where the employee going on leave can have someone take over their responsibilities while the “bungee” employee can gain exposure to a different area of the business. For managers, it provides a formal process and expectations that enable the movement of talent, which helps to build the talent sharing muscle. When managers at Google are faced with the idea of team members moving to another part of the organization in pursuit of a new work experiences, they are already approaching the situation with comfort and understanding, gained through their own experience with, or as, “bungee” employees1.


Organizations who ignore hoarding behaviors do so at their own peril


Ultimately, when employees perceive that they cannot gain new learning opportunities at their current organization, or they don’t feel comfortable voicing the kind of experiences they are seeking, leaving often feels like the best solution. Organizations must acknowledge this reality. When managers are not aware of how their words, attitudes, and behaviors might be preventing team members from moving up or around the organization, those individuals may simply choose to go elsewhere.


This problem persists at all levels the risk of losing high-potential workers is more acute than ever with today’s youngest workers. According to a Gallup research study, Millennials rank the opportunity to learn and grow in a job above all other considerations. If organizations can help managers to shift their mindsets and see movement as a collective benefit instead of a team-level challenge, employees will be better able to find their next role within, rather than outside, the organization. As managers begin to chip away at their talent hoarding behaviors, they may find the benefits come full circle. Other manager’s direct reports will begin to find their way over and provide an inflow of tenured, up-to-speed talent who, perhaps in spite of their last job title, have the right skills for the job at hand – a much improved proposition compared to searching externally. Today’s unique talent environment has introduced more unpredictability, ambiguity, and complexity to talent development and retention than managers have ever faced before. With the right support from their organization, managers can meaningfully reduce the negative impacts that unintentional hoarding behaviors can have on their direct report’s ability to find the perfect next role.





1 You can read more about Google’s Bungee Program here: A Google parental leave idea that can help all workers avoid burnout (

Join the conversation