Competency Management and Secondment Programme


OECD created new programmes to increase inter-departmental mobility to better support project requirements. The goals of the programmes are to broaden the capabilities, experience and thinking of professional staff, develop future leaders, and retain top talent. Mobility at OECD starts not from a people driven viewpoint, but from a business standpoint.

The problem addressed by the campaign: 
  • There was a shift from more stable cash flow to voluntary contributions (project based).
  • More projects “horizontal” in nature required collaboration across multiple units, skills sets, constituencies.
  • Projects needed to become more flexible, because they were more unpredictable in nature.
  • Silo mentalities, lack of managerial skills in expert groups impaired ability to effectively collaborate in delivering projects.
  • Sometimes there was a lack of clarity on who “owns” talent.
  • The HR strategy unit and senior management through consultation, working groups and official internal communication, design talent mobility programmes.
  • OECD recruits from all 34-member countries so it is recruiting a mobile workforce. However, not all regions are equally represented. The OECD is working to recruit a more balanced representation from all member countries.
  • Coordinating HR strategy with the business strategy was challenging at times. HR leaders had to convince business leaders to implement certain promotions, transfers, and contract conversions.
  • At OECD, moves usually involve two or more people because any shifts in the budget require approval from the council. From a workforce planning perspective, high-potential employees (HIPOs) and people that are able to move early on must be identified.
  • Mobility is increasing, driven by promotions, transfers, and contract conversions.
  • Promotions increased by 43% from 2006 to 2010; transfers increased by 57%.
  • It is still difficult to promote because it takes two to move due to budget constraints. Only the office of the secretary general can make a one-way transfer.
  • Statistical modelling of workforce dynamics shows that moves across Directorates have the strongest retention effect of any human capital factor and also contribute significantly to the likelihood of promotion.
  • Some resistance to mobility remains – some believe technical depth requires people staying in place.
  • To develop employees, OECD has begun using two-way secondments with other international organizations, for example, a two-way exchange programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  • OECD only has 2,500 people and 20 departments, so moving outside the organization allows employees to gain a deeper understanding of their field of expertise in an outside environment. The goal is to eventually integrate this kind of exchange programme into the staff development function.
  • There are currently 10 to 20 people on exchange/secondment and this number will grow in the future.
Why has it worked?: 
  • Mobility is business driven, and not simply a reflection of HR goals.
  • Because so much is now project based, mobility that does occur can better align capabilities and tap complementarities in capabilities of those involved.
  • Mobility programmes are effective in that they create close and equal relationships with management groups.
  • The primary benefit of collaboration is for one of the stakeholders to gain something new from the experience. People of comparable quality get to learn from each other’s organizations. There are slight differences in strengths between OECD and IMF for example, so secondment gives both organizations an opportunity to tap into each other’s expertise.
  • Silo mentalities are starting to diminish – but it takes time.
Conclusions and Recommendations: 
  • International organizations need to move towards collaboration that goes beyond just an exchanging of information.
  • HR needs to build alliances and equal relationships with business owners within in their organizations.
  • Do not be afraid of not knowing all the answers – indeed prepare for it. It is useful to get hard numbers to support your case, but you cannot be too rigid.
  • Agencies need to lessen their territorial mentality in order to promote growth within the industry.
  • International organizations are increasingly dependent on each other, including in the realm of talent. Offering opportunities for secondments and assignments in other agencies is critical to developing and retaining talent, as well as succeeding in their respective missions.
Foundational Issues: 
Public and private constraints on mobility
Level of Collaboration: 
Level 3: Collaboration on an industry or regional level
Global (all of the above)
Economic and political context: 
  • Member countries fund OECD. National contributions are based on a formula that takes account of the size of each member's economy. The OECD budget for 2011 is €342 million. The largest contributor is the United States, which provides nearly 24% of the budget, followed by Japan. Countries may also make voluntary contributions to financially support outputs in the OECD work programme.
  • The size of OECD's budget and its work programme are determined on a two-year basis by member countries. OECD's planning, budgeting and management are all organized on a results-based system.
  • A Supreme Audit Institution of an OECD member country, appointed by the Council, performs independent external auditing of OECD’s accounts and financial management.
About the Author(s): 
  • OECD is an international economic organization of 34 countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.
  • OECD defines itself as a forum of countries committed to democracy and the market economy, providing a setting to compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practices, and coordinate domestic and international policies. Its mandate covers economic, environmental, and social issues. OECD cooperates with businesses, trade unions and other representatives of civil society.