Sometimes it is easier to just quit – the challenges of internal mobility

Does your organisation want more people to move internally?

Almost every client that I speak with is interested in reskilling their workforce, and promoting or moving current employees into new roles.

Yet, it is often easier to find a new job outside than to go through the internal bureaucracy and process. The poll below attests to this when 57 percent think it is easier or much easier to find a job in another company.

There are many reasons for this, yet perhaps the largest is that most organisations over-regulate movement. HR creates policies that restrict transfers and place conditions such as length of service, the criticality of the job, and so forth on any employee’s potential move. Bosses have to be notified and give their permission. Employees are afraid to ask for fear of being seen as not loyal or for fear that asking might impact their performance review or pay.

Hiring managers often look at internal mobility as something they should control independent of the employee’s wishes or timeframe. No one wants to lose a good employee and when there is a conflict between what the manager wants and what the employee may want, the employee usually loses.

While older employees may not be concerned about moving internally and believe that their hard work and effort will lead to a higher title and more pay in return for loyalty. However, since the 1980s there has been less and less regard for loyalty or long-term service and layoffs are common among older employees.

Gens Y and Z see this and look at things differently. They see internal movement as a way to gain skills and experience that will be useful later in their careers.

Increasing and motivating internal mobility

Creating an atmosphere and a culture where internal movement is easy and encouraged not only improves retention but also increases loyalty, engagement and attracts Talent to the company.

Here are five questions to ask yourself and your organisation. If you answer yes to most of these, you should have engaged employees and low turnover.

#1. Do your HR policies encourage mobility?

HR policies should be abolished that limit or control how or when employees apply for positions within an organisation. Every employee should have the same employment at will opportunities inside the company as exist in the open marketplace.

While managers have every right to try and convince a person to stay in their current position, they should not have the right to deny them a transfer. Employees should not have to seek permission to interview and these internal searches should as confidential as their external searches. If an employee seeks to learn new skills for a different position, the hiring manager should try her best to provide a learning opportunity.

#2. Does your organisation offer cross-employee development?

Companies should make it a policy to encourage employees to share expertise and skills broadly. After all, it is the networking interconnectedness of employees that add value and accelerate the development of new products and ideas. 

Creativity does not arise in stable, rigid, and change-adverse organisations.  The most exciting new concepts and ideas come from small firms where people wear many hats and move between responsibilities as exemplified by the many start-up companies of Silicon Valley.

By creating an internal knowledge-sharing database or by utilising an internal social network such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, organisations can make it more likely that people with essential skills are found and given an opportunity to use their skills in ways that help them and the organisation.

#3. Is internal mobility part of TA’s responsibility?

Let recruiters work just as freely inside as outside the organisation and let them work on backfilling positions that may be vacated by an employee who is moving on to something else. 

If a recruiter knows that an employee is leaving for a new position, they can help the manager find someone else for the old position at almost the same time. And, by tapping into an internal social network recruiters can source current employees with the right skills for open positions.

#4. Do you offer internal internships?

Create policies that allow employees to try out new jobs for a short time to see if they like it and can do it well. Let employees share their job with someone else so they can sample more than one kind of work or more than one project. 

Foster a spirit of sharing expertise and skills, not of owning the mind and body of someone. Creating cross-functional teams is a good way to get started on this.

#5. Do you reward managers for promoting or moving employees?

The only way to ensure that managers develop and encourage their staff to move on is when they are incentivised. Give managers a KPI to promote or move a percentage of employees each year. Attach that KPI to a bonus.

Managers will always want to keep their best people. But they need to learn that retention and diversity can only happen when people are allowed to do different things. Incentivising movement can be a powerful way to change the culture.

#6. Do you have a generous tuition reimbursement policy?

Put into place a tuition reimbursement policy that not only pays for tuition, but also for books and other expenses. Encourage employees to go back to school and learn new skills even those things that are not considered useful to the organisation. Who knows what future needs might be? With the growth of virtual universities and online training, this is easy and convenient.

For example, allow an employee to go back to school to learn coding or software development. Encourage a focus on hard-to-find skills and actively encourage employees to gain those skills.

Many organisations are already doing some of this. Policies that restrict or limit transfers and change within an organisation are leftovers of 20th-century organisations. A modern organisation needs to focus on collaboration, skills development, and knowledge-sharing.  It needs to foster change and innovation, not try to maintain the status quo. 

Internal mobility should be your most important development and retention practice.

Cover image: Shutterstock

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