Musical chairs, anyone? Four ways to boost internal mobility

By prioritising hiring from within and promoting up-and-coming talent, businesses can foster loyalty and collaboration and cut the cost of recruitment. How can HR teams help them to get this right?
Art3 Gettyimages 165529438

Big names such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google may be making layoffs by the thousands, but high levels of vacancies and low overall unemployment mean that the labour market remains remarkably tight. 

For those looking to hire, that’s a problem – and one worsened by the fact that the cost of recruiting can be steep, especially when you account for the time and disruption involved in getting a new employee up to speed. 

One solution might be for firms to double down on internal mobility, hiring for their trickier vacancies from among existing staff.

“When you think of your organisation as a team – each department and every single employee working together to achieve goals – it makes sense to have a system that allows employees to move easily between roles, departments and specialisms,” says Charlie Wright, operations director at cloud-based software provider Epos Now. 

Employees gain experience and become familiar with the functions of other teams

He continues: “The benefits are many: employees gain experience, developing their skills in different areas; they become familiar with the functions of other teams, which gives the organisation more flexibility; and they develop collaborative ties across departments and can bring their expertise from one area into another.”

Indeed, a survey of more than 8,000 employees around the world by human capital management software company Ceridian has found a significant level of interest in the idea of internal mobility. Nearly half (49%) of respondents said they would like to contribute their skills to new projects from within their current role, and 43% expressed an interest in moving into a new role in a different team. A further 35% said they would like to change career paths within the company. 

But fewer than half (47%) of respondents said that they could see clear routes to do this at their organisation. Similarly, a 2019 survey by Deloitte found that only 6% of companies believed that they excelled at moving employees around internally. 

So what can HR teams do to facilitate a greater level of internal mobility?

Have more in-depth performance reviews

Prioritising internal recruitment starts with a cultural shift to view employees as rounded individuals. This means using your catch-up meetings to find out more about their skills, passions, interests and performance, says Amie Devero, founder and president of Beyond Better, a strategy and coaching consultancy for startups. “Managers need to be trained in how to conduct one-to-ones that are more than simple check-ins,” she says. “And employees need opportunities to learn about the entire organisation: its strategy and all of its functions, not just those in which they work.” This means cross-training, shadowing, training people in areas they love but don’t know, and an internal communication network that connects employees to more than their adjacent peers. “Without this scaffolding of processes and commitments, it’s difficult to recruit internally,” Devero says. 

Create systems to promote internal vacancies

Using technology to highlight internal vacancies or even match employees with them can be a good way to start this process. For instance, by creating detailed personal profiles within the platform, employees could help the HR team to learn more about their interests and identify other roles in the company that might suit them. Developing this kind of platform doesn’t have to be costly or complex, notes Matt McFarlane, senior director of people experience at software provider Oyster. “A company can take some basic steps in facilitating internal mobility by simply ensuring that its workforce is aware of upcoming and active roles in case someone is interested, or – equally helpful – they have a referral they’d like to make,” he says. For example, the team at Oyster actively post openings to an internal Slack jobs channel. Anyone in the firm can join it to view opportunities that might suit them and submit questions to the hiring managers. 

Start a rotation programme

To draw out employees’ skills and see where they shine, consider giving them exposure to other teams. “One of our key strategies at Epos Now is cross-team collaboration,” Wright says. “We encourage our employees to work together on projects that cut across departments or require multiple skill sets.” This enables people to learn from each other and keeps them motivated by helping them see how their contribution fits into the company’s strategic directives, he adds. Epos Now also provides opportunities for employees in certain divisions to spend time in other departments or shadow members of other teams. This way, participants can assess whether it’s something they’d like to pursue before committing further time and effort.

Educate management

Adopting what McFarlane calls an “inside-first mindset” – perhaps by setting internal mobility targets – is key to building a culture of internal hiring. But none of that can come to fruition unless senior executives and middle managers are on board. “Creating that mindset starts with building awareness among managers that it’s OK for employees to actively evaluate opportunities,” he says. “It’s incumbent on these leaders to ensure they’re considering how the company can retain talent, over and above how they can retain talent in their teams. That starts with acknowledging that no role is forever, and part of any manager’s responsibility is to help an employee chart their course by delivering in their existing role.”McFarlane also notes that building a culture where internal mobility is celebrated is a great way to reduce the stigma that managers may feel when a member of their team moves to another part of the business. “It’s about helping them to view a move as the success of their leadership in enabling that step, helping that employee to further their career and doubly helping the organisation to retain talent,” he says.