Internal Mobility: An HR Professional’s Guide

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Internal Mobility: An HR Professional’s Guide

Internal mobility enables the open exchange of talent and ideas within an organization, encourages employees to stay and grow, and is paramount to success. But what exactly is internal mobility, why is it important, and how do you create an internal mobility program?

What is internal mobility?
Internal mobility examples
Why is internal mobility important?
Where to begin with a new internal mobility program

What is internal mobility?

Internal mobility is the movement of employees (vertically and laterally) to new career and development opportunities within the same organization. This includes promotions, demotions, new positions, mentorships, cross-team or additional projects, job shadowing, and job swaps.  

Internal mobility offers considerable benefits for any business, including savings in time and money on hiring externally, improved employee retention rates, and greater diversity and innovation in the workplace. (We will discuss this in more detail below.) This ultimately positively impacts the bottom line.

Giving the employees the chance to engage in different experiences, advance in their career, and add additional skills to their repertoire, internal mobility can help contribute to their short and long-term professional goals.

Human Resources professionals play an integral role in enabling internal mobility within their organizations. They do this by understanding the competencies of their employees as well as the needs of the business, and building an effective process to connect workers to a variety of internal opportunities.

Internal Mobility Best Practices

Internal mobility examples

As we’ve mentioned above, there are many different types of internal mobility. Here are some examples.

PromotionsWhen a higher position such as team lead or manager becomes vacant within the company, it’s common practice to fill that role from your existing pool of internal candidates. Climbing the corporate ladder – or horizontal career move – is one of the most common examples of internal mobility, but there are many other, less common examples.
Intradepartmental & interdepartmental transfersIntradepartmental transfers are when an employee is moved to a different role within the same department. For example, when a sales development assistant moves to an account executive assistant position. 
An interdepartmental transfer is when an employee is moved from one department to another. For example, when a sales assistant moves to a marketing assistant position. 
New rolesRegardless of their size, most growing businesses will constantly create new positions to meet demands. These new positions will often be filled by moving the most skilled and suited person into the role from within the company. An example of this could be a company expanding to a new market and hiring a country manager from within an existing team.
MentorshipsStaff members will often move around to learn from another employee in the company. This could be in preparation for promotion and taking on that exact role or to help the employee develop a broader skillset that will benefit them in their current position and beyond.
Job swapsA job swap is another example of internal mobility. Two employees (from the same department or different ones) will switch places for a set length of time to develop their skills and gain a better understanding of the key responsibilities of that particular job.
Supplementary projectsEmployees may be assigned different projects in addition to their day-to-day tasks. Occasionally, this is to cover someone who is temporarily absent. Other times it’s to help develop an employee’s skillset and prepare them for a promotion.

Why is internal mobility important?

As you can see, internal mobility is beneficial to the organization and the employees. Here are some of the key benefits. 

Time and cost savings

According to a Gallup report, it can cost one and a half times an employee’s salary to replace them with an external candidate. This is especially true for roles that are in high demand or require a great deal of skill and experience. In addition, a study has found that internal hires outperform external hires during the first two years of a promotion.

Internal mobility is the process of leveraging the talent you already have and avoiding the need to go through the external recruitment process. Tasks like posting job ads, sifting through high volumes of applications, and screening candidates are both time-consuming and expensive, especially if your resources are already limited.

Improved employee retention

According to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report, employees are likely to stay 41% longer with an organization that regularly hires from within. Furthermore, internal mobility has a positive impact on employee engagement and productivity. According to a report by Gartner, at organizations with greater internal mobility, employees are27% more likely to go the extra mile at work.

A lack of career progression is one of the main reasons employees leave their jobs and look elsewhere for opportunities. Therefore, if you can offer your staff career development opportunities without them having to job hunt and risk their job security, they are much more likely to stay.

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Attracting new talent

Aside from your existing employees, crafting a reputation as an organization that provides employees with numerous opportunities for growth and development will help you attract talented, ambitious candidates from other organizations who bring a growth mindset with them. 

Fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment

Promoting and retaining talent from within is one of the best ways to foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Facilitating internal mobility enables organizations to foster diversity on all levels of the organization by training and upskilling existing talent. Some of the most successful initiatives for this are cross-training and mentoring.

According to McKinsey’s report, businesses that rank in the top-quartile for gender diversity amongst executive teams are 25% more likely to outperform on profitability. Plus, those who rank in the top-quartile for ethnic diversity in their executive teams are 36% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.

Skills development

A strong internal mobility program provides employees with ample opportunities to upskill and reskill and develop their experience and knowledge.

An example of this in practice is at Spotify. They encourage all their employees to participate in rotation programs coined as “missions,” which help develop and prepare their talent for future job changes. No one has the same job for more than two years, and they’re upfront about this from the get-go. This keeps employees engaged, avoids stagnation, and prevents the workers from jumping ship.

Timely filling of skills gaps

Internal mobility also means that skills gaps can be filled promptly within your organization, depending on your needs and organizational goals.

A Harvard Business School report shows that almost 60% of businesses prefer to borrow people with certain skills from other companies rather than recruit full-time staff. Therefore, job swapping and exchange programs within one organization could alleviate the need to look elsewhere.

Enabling innovation

Internal mobility is a catalyst for ideas flowing with ease within the company, which leads to more innovation. Unilever and Vodacom recently created a digital marketing exchange program that helped provide new perspectives and spark ideas. This type of talent mobility also offered the employees a unique talent development opportunity, a key ingredient to career enrichment.

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Where to begin with a new internal mobility program

An internal mobility program refers to designing and implementing a specific process for moving around your internal talent. Here are some internal mobility best practices to consider for your program.

1. Build an internal Talent Acquisition taskforce

It’s a full-time job enabling internal mobility within a business. Depending on the size of your organization and your current resources, you may build a full internal recruiting team or appoint one or two individuals to manage this.

What matters is that you have people who understand your company brand and the variety of skills and capabilities in your organization. They also need to have a solid judgment on whether a candidate is a good fit for a role or not.

2. Cross-train employees

Cross-training refers to training an employee to be able to do the job that another employee does, as well as their primary role. This aims to increase an employee’s skillset and improve organizational flexibility. Cross-training helps everyone gain a stronger understanding of how the business functions on all levels.

Design firm IDEO is famous for its cross-training approach. Candidates are meticulously screened for collaborative characteristics, making them suitable to be molded into T-shaped employees. Such people are experts in one area of the company with a solid working knowledge of numerous other areas.

Cross-training can make your employees more effective, your organization more agile, and boost your bottom line. 

3. Consider different types of internal transitions

As we’ve outlined above, internal mobility is about more than just promotions and transfers. Therefore, a solid internal mobility program should encompass more than this. Consider:

  • temporary job rotation programs,
  • job swaps,
  • job shadowing,
  • mentoring,
  • and cross-team projects

to develop your employee’s skillset and foster ongoing growth. 

4. See it as a long-term investment

Internal mobility should not be a one-time project or an exercise in checking boxes; it should become an integral part of your organizational culture.

A great example of this is at Sodexo. Employees used to be hesitant to apply for promotions outside of their department. They believed that they needed prior experience to thrive in it. However, after conducting their own research, Sodexo found that internal candidates have many transferable skills relevant to multiple areas of the business. In fact, they could adjust to new roles quicker than external hires.

The company is now well-known for their “Come Alive” internal mobility program—a one-year growth plan to develop leadership skills within employees in preparation for promotion. All employees are encouraged to build their skills, regardless of where their career might take them in the future. 

5. Use technology to enable internal mobility

Digitization is key for the continued success of HR professionals, and internal mobility is another avenue where you can utilize digital tools to help you and your employees connect the dots. There are endless talent marketplace platforms (including Hitch, Paddle, Gloat) that can help you connect employees to internal mobility opportunities.

In fact, we at AIHR have identified internal talent marketplaces as one of the key HR trends for 2022 and beyond.

Many of these tools use AI solutions that can assist in mapping out internal career paths and provide you with insights into your employees and job roles. This can be invaluable given that modern career paths can be challenging to predict. For example, if an employee is looking to further their career but is unsure which step to take next, AI can create a personalized recommendation based on current data. This helps both the employers and employees make an informed decision together, which can also help to reduce attrition rates.

6. Focus on transparent communication

Articulating your internal mobility program is vital if you want your team members to feel respected and kept in the loop. When you first launch it, communicate your strategy to all your employees and help them understand how the process will work. Make sure everyone knows what new opportunities are available to them, what to expect, how to apply, next steps, and who to go to with any questions that may arise. 

If employees don’t fully understand your internal mobility plan, this will leave them confused and open to potentially misunderstanding why they haven’t been selected for an opportunity in the future.

7. Educate managers about internal mobility

If your managers don’t understand how internal mobility works or its importance, they won’t fully take advantage of it. HR plays a crucial role in ensuring managers are educated on spotting and creating internal mobility opportunities within the organization.  

Many managers may be reluctant to lose their top talent to another area of the business. That’s why the HR professionals must educate them on the overall benefits of internal mobility for the entire organization. This will lead to them encouraging their team to apply for relevant opportunities and help foster a transparent culture of growth and support. 

To sum up

Internal mobility helps you maximize the potential of your workforce. Providing your employees with ample opportunities to move within the company will bring immense business benefits, including employee retention, innovation, bridging skills gaps, and ultimately boosting the organization’s performance.

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