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Opportunity Marketplaces: When employees invest in themselves, everyone wins

HR is, without a doubt, one of the business areas most affected by disruption. That was already the case before the pandemic hit. This development has been further accelerated by Covid-19. In addition to new concepts for remote collaboration between employees, the focus is on personal and professional development of the people in an organization. And just like with the free choice of working hours and location, the emphasis is increasingly on self-determination. The days when middle management had the power to determine the career of the employees are over. Promoting career ownership, meaning that employees are responsible for shaping their own career in a self-determined way (with the manager in the role of a mentor and supporter), is becoming the main task of a future-oriented HR department. Organizations must create the framework for this, a framework of opportunities, if you will. Many large companies are already successfully working with software-based opportunity marketplaces such as the ones we are developing at Tandemploy. Today, we will show you what distinguishes these marketplaces from traditional talent management and why they are becoming more and more relevant.

Employees want to develop – or leave

The first reason is as banal as it is crucial: the majority of people want to continue learning and developing their skills. Studies repeatedly show that the main reason why people change jobs is not dissatisfaction with the work itself or too little money, but a lack of development opportunities within the organization. In a 2019 survey by Compensation Partner and gehalt.de, more than a third of the people cited this as the reason for their termination. In the LinkedIn Learning Report 2018, as many as 94 percent of people who changed jobs said that they would have stayed with their former employer if they had had the opportunity to develop their skills there. And we are not just talking about standard career steps. It is more about the opportunity to get involved, learn, broaden the horizon and work in different roles and projects – learning on the job! It is no coincidence that so-called “slash careers” are on the rise. These are working models in which young employees reduce their working hours in order to devote themselves to other projects, work independently or start their own businesses.

This trend reflects one simple fact: People know best what they are good at, where their true potential lies and what they want to learn more about. They are prepared to invest in themselves and their personal development. Organizations that recognize and strategically make use of this, will be rewarded with highly qualified, motivated and engaged employees that will stay loyal to the company for a much longer time. The question is no longer “How can we best invest in our employees?”, but “How can we best support our employees in investing in themselves?” The answer: By offering them opportunities instead of prefabricated career paths, for example. Opportunities to work on new projects, with other colleagues, at other locations, or even outside of the organization.

An unlimited market of opportunities – but within the organization

Again and again, employees reach a point in their career, where they ask themselves whether they should stay in their company or move on to something new. Especially the high-potentials are courted and usually have a whole range of job offers to choose from. What can an organization do to counter the infinitely large “market of opportunities” outside the company? – Offer an unlimited internal market of opportunities, for example. That’s exactly what opportunity marketplaces are all about: creating opportunities that allow employees to continuously redefine their careers, reinvent themselves, try things out, take on new roles, take on more responsibility – all within the organization in which they are already working.

The desire of the individual to develop further thus directly contributes to the development of the company as a whole. Or to rephrase it: The more opportunities the employer creates for his staff, the greater the chances are for the organization to grow, innovate and create value. A corporate strategy based on openness and quasi-infinite possibilities operates in the “sweet zone”, where the purpose of the company and of the many individual purposes of the employees come together. This is where movement, maximum creativity and innovation are created.

Skill matching or talent management or opportunity marketplace?

But what is the difference between an opportunity marketplace and pure skill matching or talent management? – First of all: all three areas are extremely important. Identifying, promoting and connecting talents and skills within the company is the foundation of modern HR work. In the end there are basically two questions that make the difference:

First: HOW can employees develop their talents and skills? Do they go through a one-time, self-contained training program that corresponds to a specific learning goal? Or – and this is where the power of an opportunity marketplace unfolds – do they look for exciting projects, working circles or offers where they learn “on the job” and in exchange with others, develop and apply their growing skills directly? And then repeat as needed? The exciting thing about this “concept of opportunities” is that it’s true dimension opens up along the way, while trying things out, in exchange with others. Suddenly, completely new possibilities arise that were not recognizable before. This is how progress is created!

And second: WHAT comes AFTER up-skilling and re-skilling? What opportunities do employees have to make an impact and help shape the organization with their expanded skill set? It makes a difference whether I learn a new skill and then return to my old routine, hoping to apply the new skills here and there. Or whether, along with my new skill set, new opportunities to help shape the organization arise directly, for example the freedom to take on a new role, set up a project or be a mentor. In other words: When organizations think in terms of opportunities, talent development is no longer just a means to an end, but has a direct impact on the creative freedom of each and every employee. Suddenly individual and organizational growth go hand in hand.

People analytics for even more opportunities

The latter also results from valuable data that opportunity marketplaces provide. People analytics can be used to paint a picture of which opportunities employees use most, which topics are relevant and for which areas there is the most need for further education in the organization. A basic prerequisite is that the data is processed ethically – namely with the aim of shaping opportunities in the interest of the workforce and promoting career ownership rather than anticipating fixed career paths. Rigid career path planning sets boundaries where none need to be and blocks career paths even before the first steps in a certain direction can be taken. Opportunity marketplaces, on the other hand, focus on openness with the aim of developing the full range of skills, talent and experience. They encourage dialogue between managers and employees with regard to personal and professional development within the company, because the right moment for seizing opportunities is not dictated by rigid career stages. Instead, this marketplace also invites “spontaneous purchases”, which means that anyone can just seize opportunities for development as they arise.

With self-efficacy against crisis mode

Last but not least, in many organizations it is the altered baseline, created by the pandemic, that contributes to the fact that opportunity marketplaces are becoming enormously important. New challenges on the one hand, and a decline of tasks on the other, mean that some employees have an extremely high workload, while others have little to contribute in their field. Opportunity marketplaces can help to correct this imbalance by giving employees with excessive workloads the space to seek support and to give individual projects or work packages to colleagues.  At the same time, employees whose areas are currently lying idle have the opportunity to become involved in other departments and projects, relieve colleagues and acquire new skills. This self-initiated form of career development allows employees to feel their strength and self-efficacy, therefore strengthening their belief in an optimistic future. Especially in times of crisis, when many people feel worried and anxious about the future, this is a function of opportunity marketplaces that should not be underestimated.

“Whoever says, “I can’t,” is only setting limits for himself. Think of the bumblebee. The bumblebee has a wing area of 0.7 square centimeters, weighing 1.2 grams. According to the well-known laws of aerodynamics, it is impossible to fly under these conditions. The bumblebee does not know this. It just flies.” (© Arthur Lassen)

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