What Is Internal Mobility and How Can It Work for Your Company?

The opportunity to move around in a company builds engagement and loyalty in employees. Learn more about how and why to hire from within.

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What Is Internal Mobility and How Can It Work for Your Company?

Here's what you need to know:

  • When business is structured to offer professional growth, either up the ladder or in other ways, retention levels are assured
  • Internal mobility allows staff to grow within their position or within the company
  • Don’t focus only on promotion opportunities — also communicate the ability to cross-train or make lateral moves
  • Create an internal mobility policy and communicate widely to employees that your priority is to retain talent
  • Once employees begin the process, check in routinely to make sure they’re staying on track and it’s all they need and expected

As retention becomes even more important to businesses, regardless of their size, internal mobility is a strategy that could be productive. Internal mobility, the opportunity to move around in the company, builds engagement and loyalty in employees.

The process also nets business staff members with higher levels of knowledge, skills, and value to the organization.

When staff members see a career trajectory within an organization, there’s no need to leave for more opportunity.

When business is structured to offer professional growth, either up the ladder or in other ways, retention levels are assured. The thought process is, when the grass is greener here, why look over the fence?

What is internal mobility within companies?

Internal mobility allows staff to grow within their position or within their company. There are several types of job mobility.

Vertical mobility — or up the ladder — is the most commonly known. To retain staff members, they must be aware there is room for promotion.

Succession planning is key to keep employees building their skills and staying on the payroll. Without a pathway to growth, they may look elsewhere for opportunities.

Lateral mobility — moving to another department where a staff member can restart (or jump-start) their career into an area of new or developing interest is another way to retain staffers.

Performing the same role and tasks for years (or decades) may be satisfactory for some employees, but for most it results in boredom and frustration. An opportunity to move to another department or discipline to stretch professionally may be key to keeping talented employees on staff.

Descending or downward mobility is another option. Workers may be somewhat ready to retire. An option may be to offer a part-time or consulting role that capitalizes on their skills and experience without a sudden separation.

Some staffers struggle with work/life balance: a move to part-time work could fill a need gap temporarily or permanently.

A strong mobility strategy lets employees know the object is to keep them on staff, in whatever capacity fits their needs.

A strong mobility strategy lets employees know the object is to keep them on staff, in whatever capacity fits their needs. For some workers, mobility may be requested. For others, it should be part of your overall people operations plan.

How important is internal mobility for organizations?

LinkedIn tracked over 30 million profiles of active users from large companies to see who stayed with their organization and who moved on. They found the longer an employee stayed with a company, the more likely it is they will leave. Retention at 1 year, they found, was about 75%: by year 5, that drops to 38%.

They found promotion extends tenure: employees who were promoted within 3 years of hire had a 70% chance of being retained. For workers who made a lateral move, 62% stayed with the organization. For those who weren’t promoted or changed jobs, there was only a 45% chance of retention.

And for companies trying to decide when to promote from within, it may increase your odds of retention if you don’t let staffers pass the 3-year mark without either a defined plan for growth or a looming promotion or move.

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How to develop an internal mobility policy and roll it out

Begin with a commitment to internal mobility for all staff members, from the most entry-level on up. You may already have a leadership succession plan: take that model and carry it down the line.

Create a policy and communicate widely to employees that your priority is to retain talent. That includes a strong emphasis on internal mobility.

Employees should be encouraged to discuss their short- and long-term career ideals with managers or HR. Your goal is to work together to develop a plan to get them there.

Don’t focus only on promotion opportunities. Communicate the ability to cross-train or make lateral moves.

You may find employees who are in a career rut suddenly gain new enthusiasm. A chance to move outside their comfort zone, challenging themselves intellectually and professionally, may be just the jolt they need.

Include your descending mobility options: remind staff they have the option to take on less responsibility, fewer hours, or move to a consulting role. It’s better to have experienced talent part-time than to lose them entirely.

Hiring and training a replacement is expensive and risky. The new hire may not work out: a good employee is worth accommodating into a part-time role, either for the short or long term.

Once employees know their options, keep the door open for discussion. You want staffers planning their future with your company, not someone else’s.

Which employees should you target for internal mobility?

When employees become stagnant they become a higher risk for flight. Typically it’s top performers that move on, and generally when you can afford to lose them the least.

Start with data: look at employee records and determine who’s coming up on that risky 3-year anniversary. Among that group, who would you least like to see leave the organization? That staff member may be a starting point to open the discussion for promotion-readiness or a lateral move.

Look to entry-level staff. When do they typically turn over? If you see attrition at the 3- or 6-month level, start having promotion discussions in advance of those dates. Talk to the employee about the possibilities for growth, and start investing in upskilling.

Look for mid-range talent ripe for a change, as well. If a once top performer is showing less productivity and engagement, they may be in a rut. Talking about career growth may be a timely option before they consider moving on.

You can begin with job shadowing, mentoring, or targeted training. Employees who have potential within your organization have potential elsewhere.

If they have soft skills, build their technical capabilities. If they have technical strength, develop their leadership skills. As long as you’re investing in their future, they’ll see that future within your organization.

Look at star performers. Whatever their tenure, these are staff members who get the work done, boost morale among their peers, and work well independently or in a team setting.

Make sure internal mobility efforts are specifically targeted to these workers. If you wonder ‘what can’t that person do?’ about any of your staff members, it’s worth finding out with internal mobility options.

Start making plans for internal mobility at your company

Whether you selected them or they volunteered for the program, create a timeline. Determine how much training they need, and how much time will it take to get them up to speed.

Once they begin the process, check in routinely to make sure they’re staying on track and it’s all they need and expected.

You may have to make adjustments along the way, particularly in the early stages of your program. Don’t let that sidetrack your policy. Adapt the program to meet the company’s needs as well as the employee’s.

If an employee’s plan isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to shift gears. You don’t want to spend months training someone for a lateral move, only to have them express they decided early on it wasn’t the right fit for them.

Make sure the lines of communication are open and risk-free. Particularly for lateral mobility: the lure of another department may be strong, but the grass isn’t always greener.

In some cases, staff members will gain a better appreciation for their original role. In others, they’ll be ripe to make a move. However, in either case, you’ve met your goal — employee retention.

Once the employee has made the move, follow up again to make sure the fit is right. Each successful move is a model for other staff members. Particularly in the early stages of your program, make sure to highlight success stories and recommend others get in on the action.

Career progression is key to retaining employees. If workers don’t have a clear line of sight to the next step in their career within your company, they’ll look for one elsewhere. An internal mobility program lets staff know your priority is their growth. They’ll stay with you if you prioritize them.

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