6 Tactics Schneider Electric Used to Amp Up Internal Mobility

May 26, 2020

As we rolled into 2020, internal mobility was a hot topic. Companies were discovering — or rediscovering — how cost-effective it was to recruit their own people and how a robust program could reduce attrition and strengthen employee engagement. But in the wake of COVID-19, internal mobility is drawing even more attention — as a way for companies to redeploy their workforces, quickly and efficiently, to where they’re needed most.

Companies that are now scrambling to put together an internal mobility initiative should consider studying the farsighted efforts of Schneider Electric, the France-based energy management giant.

Schneider has 135,000 employees in over 100 countries. It launched its internal mobility platform, Open Talent Market, as a retention play near the end of 2018. Schneider’s AI-driven platform gives employees access to job postings, mentors, training, and part-time projects, creating what the company calls “an internal gig economy.” The initial focus of the effort was on helping employees move to new jobs within the company.

But as Schneider confronted the shifting realities posed by COVID-19, it saw enormous value in how its gig economy — the company-wide portfolio of short-term projects — was allowing the company to optimize its workforce by matching managers who didn’t have enough manpower with employees who had the capacity and bandwidth to help.

“Now we’re really shifting gears,” says Andrew Saidy, vice president of talent digitization at Schneider Electric, “and going toward, if you’re managing a team and you need support, raise your hand by posting a project. And, as an employee, if you have bandwidth and you can support, then we’re hoping that you’re going to raise a hand and support your colleagues.”

Here are six tactics Schneider used to create a state-of-the-art program for internal mobility and workforce optimization:

1. Revise policies that impede internal mobility — or do away with them all together

Before the Open Talent Market, Schneider did have an internal job portal, but jobs weren’t always posted on it and employees didn’t use it much, believing it was really aimed at the external market. The lack of career mobility was also about policy, Andrew says. Schneider had a regulation that stated employees had to be in their roles for three years before changing positions. That rule has been eliminated.

Andrew says that in the past managers could hoard talent. Employees needed manager approval to change roles, to participate in a project, and sometimes even to get a mentor. “All of that now is history,” Andrew says, “because it’s an open market. You own your career.”

While some policies were cashiered, others were crafted anew. A recent policy mandates that every open job — except for very senior ones — must be posted on the Open Talent Market.

2. Build a platform that matches employees with internal mobility opportunities

Over the last 20 years, Schneider has become more and more a company intertwined with technology, a leader in providing software and smart grid applications to electrical users of every size. It makes sense then that their solution to their internal mobility challenge was rooted in powerful technology.

The Open Talent Market uses AI to serve as a matchmaker between company needs and employee needs. 

Employees create a profile or upload their LinkedIn profile and managers create job postings. “That job posting,” Andrew says, “has criteria like skills, experiences, languages, and a job description. And then the magic of the AI is it finds the match between jobs and candidates.” And between need and bandwidth.

Andrew says that an important element in the company’s diversity and inclusion effort is catering to employees in their native languages. The first rollout of Open Talent Market was in English, followed by French at the end of 2019. The company plans on rolling out a Spanish version in July and a Mandarin one in September. At that point, the platform will reach 91% of Schneider employees in their preferred language.

“The great thing about it is the interoperability,” Andrew says. “It’s not French for the French and English for the English.” So, if an employee profile is in English and a job posting is in French, there could still be a match if the poster has indicated they’re fine with an English speaker.

3. Go beyond an internal job board and create your own ‘gig economy’

Not too long ago, nearly half of departing Schneider employees said they were leaving because they couldn’t find their next career opportunity at the company. This hurt the bottom line. A 1% reduction in attrition, Andrew says, could represent millions of dollars for a company the size of Schneider. And beyond the loss of money was a loss of skills. “Our employees have a very specific and special skill set that you can only find within Schneider or a couple of our competitors,” Andrew says. When employees leave, their skills and experiences — and everything Schneider has invested in them — leave too.

So, the initial impetus for the Open Talent Market was to surface full-time positions for current employees. But that was just the start. The platform also matches employees to short-term projects, or gigs — and this has become particularly important in the last couple of months.

“We’re talking about part-time projects,” Andrew says, “three to six hours per week, something for you to learn something new, to expand your horizons, to network, and to share your expertise with the broader organization.” Gigs are a way for employees to develop new skills and for Schneider, right now, to move people around to meet the rapidly changing demands of the business.

4. Match aspiring employees with mentors and training

The platform also matches employees to mentors. “You go online,” Andrew says, “specify what it is that you’d like to be mentored on, and within seconds the AI gives you the most capable mentors for you based on your requirements.”

Open Talent Market also matches employees to training. By calling out their aspirations, employees have told the platform what they want to become. The platform, in turn, tells them how to get there, suggesting courses and training that will teach them the skills and expertise needed to continue down their selected career path.

“The message that we’re currently sending employees is twofold,” Andrew says. “One, your career is not on hold. You can upskill and reskill. Go ahead and do that on the Open Talent Market. Two, and this is really a message of hope, get ready now for a brighter future — career mobility and career development are still possible.”

5. Keep your gaze on the future even as you peek at the past

The platform certainly takes an employee’s past work experience into account. “But it also focuses on your ambitions and aspirations,” Andrew says, “which is very special because most talent mobility platforms and most talent managers match you to opportunities based on what you’ve done in the past. You’ve been in finance for 20 years. The next time something in finance opens up, we think of you.”

But maybe your dream is to move into mergers and acquisitions (M&A). “When the AI sees I want to work more on M&A in the future,” Andrew says, “it takes me directly to our learning management system, where I start getting suggestions on mergers and acquisitions for me to start growing and learning new skills around M&A, and the next time an M&A role opens up, the platform will suggest it to me.”

6. Use metrics to understand what is working and where there may be chances to improve

Even though Schneider is still rolling out the platform, it is already slicing, dicing, and julienning data and commentary to see how the Open Talent Market is working.

At the qualitative level, Andrew says: “We use Yammer internally as our social media platform and the feedback on it is exceptionally positive.”

At the quantitative level, he says that the numbers of employees who have registered and opened a profile has far exceeded expectations. “Here in the United States,” he says, “in the first 10 days of launching we had 3,500 employees join. That is unheard of.”

In addition to monitoring the number of employees who post a profile, Andrew and his team are also looking at the number of project roles being posted; employees applying to those roles; and what he calls “unlocked hours.”

At Schneider, an unlocked hour of work is one that comes from an employee who found a side project on the Open Talent Market. “We have employees,” he says, “who are dedicating three, four, six hours a week to a project for which they’re not getting additional remuneration. They’re creating productivity.” Some of those people are volunteering for gigs as a way to increase their skill set; others are doing so because some of their responsibilities have been reduced and they have extra bandwidth. So far this year, Schneider has tracked some 40,000 unlocked hours.

“More managers are opening projects because they need support,” Andrew says. “So, the activity around unlocked hours is now going up exponentially and we’re expecting to see it keep going up.”

Final thoughts: An internal gig economy can help your company make sure no one is overworked — or underworked  

Andrew expects the Open Talent Market to cut attrition, increase employee engagement, and accelerate the upskilling and reskilling of employees. And he already sees how it has allowed those with shrinking workloads to help those with swelling workloads.

“Whether you are an organization of 3,000 employees or you’re Walmart with 2 million, the concept remains the same,” Andrew says. “That concept is we’re going into a world where every penny counts and where we really need to optimize every resource that we have. And by optimize, I mean you need all your resources to be giving 100%, and to do that you cannot count on the goodwill of managers to share their talents and say, ‘Hey, Ben, I think my peer needs support. Can you give him a hand?’”

According to Andrew, companies with robust internal mobility platforms should not only see productivity increases and more balanced workloads, they should see a rise in employee engagement.

For starters, a focus on upskilling, reskilling, and hiring your existing workforce should energize everyone. In the immediate moment, it also gives employees a chance to feel like they’re making a difference.

“These are very uncertain times,” Andrew says. “Giving employees a chance to lend a hand and feel they are contributing is great.”

“This is the message that we’re sending to our employees: The future is not cancelled and we need all hands on deck to make sure that we can give our customers the support they need.  Our line of business is critical — we’re helping power plants, hospitals, and data centers remain fully operational, in addition to ensuring uninterrupted energy flow to millions of homes, and that is not something that we want to stop.”

*Image from Schneider Electric

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