It’s Time to Optimize Opportunities for Internal Mobility


February 24, 2023


180 Engineering

Internal mobility is critical to recruitment and retention. It may come as a surprise, but the number two reason why employees choose to leave a company is a lack of internal mobility opportunities (compensation is the number one reason). People want opportunities for experimentation, growth, and change. Most don’t want to be stuck in the same job forever. If their company doesn’t provide the opportunities they crave, they’ll look elsewhere.

Ironically, those employees leave behind an open role to fill. And, many companies that have open roles look for an external hire, creating an endless loop of recruitment. It takes intentional programming as well as investment in upskilling and reskilling to provide opportunities for internal mobility. But when companies are feeling the crunch from unfilled roles, it’s tempting to take the path that seems quicker and easier: posting a job ad.

However, if a company invests in creating pathways for internal mobility, they increase retention, decreasing the need to recruit. And in today’s job market, having a stable, loyal, highly-skilled workforce that is not tempted to jump ship is critical to long-term success.

The economic downturn and the mass layoffs in the tech sector, in particular, may make it seem like there is an abundance of talent out there, looking for jobs. That is, unfortunately, not true. Job growth across most industries has remained steady throughout 2022 and into 2023. The United States added 4.5 million new jobs in 2022, making it the second-strongest year on record. Additionally, as digital transformation continues at breakneck speed, most sectors of the economy are seeing an upsurge in newly-created IT and engineering roles.

In order to brace for the future, it’s time to take a close look at how your organization supports internal mobility.

What Is Internal Mobility?

Internal mobility refers to the movement of existing employees to new roles within your organization. While many people envision internal mobility as vertical, a way to “climb the ladder” to managerial and executive roles, it can also mean moving horizontally, to a different and challenging role at the same level.

Sure, someone might start at your company as a sysadmin and eventually advance to a role as a network engineer. While the next logical step for that employee might be into a managerial role, not everyone is suited for management. Those craving a fresh new challenge might be happy moving vertically instead, perhaps from their network engineer position to a cloud network engineer role.

Benefits Of Internal Mobility

Internal mobility offers significant payoffs for both employees and employers. When employees are given the chance to learn new skills and try out different opportunities, they feel valued knowing that the company is committed to their success. That translates to increased loyalty and better job satisfaction. In fact, a LinkedIn report reveals that 94% of employees will stay with a company that they believe is invested in their career success. This ultimately improves your company’s retention rate, diminishes the need to recruit, and cuts the costs associated with unfilled roles and recruitment.

Further, knowing in advance that a company is committed to internal mobility can be a considerable factor in driving external talent to your company. For those times when you simply can’t fill a role internally, showcasing a culture that promotes internal mobility can help attract high-quality candidates. Millennials, in particular, rank opportunities for job advancement as the number one reason why they would find an employer attractive.

How To Facilitate Internal Mobility

It sounds easy, but internal mobility doesn’t just happen. By focusing on external recruitment, many companies simply don’t have processes in place to move existing employees around. In fact, a Deloitte survey found that only 6% of companies believe they’re excelling at managing internal mobility.

New processes need to be developed, including creating a culture of internal mobility, auditing the skills of your existing employees, empowering your managers to initiate employee movement, supporting cross-functional projects, investing in upskilling and reskilling, and creating an internal recruitment process.

Create a Culture of Internal Mobility

The first step to launching a culture of internal mobility is simply to commit to it. Make it known throughout your organization that you will encourage employees to move into different jobs and provide the tools needed to make that possible.

Once you’ve committed to developing internal mobility policies, it’s time to take a close look at the resources available to you – both in terms of existing employee skill sets that can be redeployed and ways to set internal mobility processes into motion.

Audit Existing Skills

Regardless of the size of your company, you may not know your employees well enough to understand all the skills and knowledge they can offer. Even if you have a well-established taxonomy of job skills, that taxonomy is linked to the roles within your company, not to the people performing those roles.

For example, perhaps you have a manufacturing engineer on staff who dabbles in coding as a hobby. You know that the person has the skills required by their own job but you may not know that they are also adept at coding.

Internal mobility is easier to achieve if you understand what each of your employees is capable of. While you can post jobs internally, it’s ideal to be able to tap people to step into a role temporarily or to loan their existing skillset to another team while remaining in their own role. These sorts of temporary assignments are a terrific way for employees to hone their skills and learn more about other positions within your organization.

Auditing your employees to learn their existing skills will greatly improve your success in achieving true internal mobility. While you may need to implement a way to collect this data from current employees, going forward, it may be easiest to collect it when onboarding new hires.

Empower Managers

Engaged and empowered managers are critical for the success of internal mobility processes.

A good manager should make an effort to learn the career goals of each of their team members and find ways to support them in achieving those goals internally. Empower your managers to nurture their team members and tap employees for opportunities outside of their regular job duties. Make sure your managers are aware of learning and training opportunities – both internal and external – that they can direct their team members to in order to further their career goals.

Support Cross-Functional Projects

Rather than lock employees into the duties required by their specific role, look at creating and supporting cross-functional projects that will allow employees to step away from their usual tasks and contribute their skills.

Beyond fostering internal mobility, cross-functional collaboration has a wealth of benefits for employees and employers, including:

  • Increased innovation as team members contribute their own skills and work with teammates they may not have worked with before, creating new ideas together;
  • The creation of an overall collaborative culture, which fosters shared decision making and team building;
  • Opportunities to develop or hone leadership and other skills; and
  • Increased employee engagement, which can lead to increased productivity;
  • Improved communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution among team members can greatly enhance team performance both among the collaborators and among each teammate’s “home” team, as they take their new skills back to share.

Invest In Upskilling And Reskilling

Upskilling and reskilling are critical for internal mobility. As discussed in a past blog, teaching employees new skills not only prepares them for new roles but the company’s investment in that training signals that workers are valued. And feeling valued, of course, is a huge incentive to stay.

As well, it’s been found that 65% of workers consider upskilling/reskilling to be an important job benefit to consider when accepting new roles. That’s understandable since upskilling/reskilling can lead to vertical and horizontal career opportunities, increased income, improved job satisfaction, and a better overall quality of life.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, upskilling and reskilling are slightly different:

  • Upskilling increases competency in existing skills so that an employee can perform existing duties better;
  • Reskilling teaches a skill set, allowing employees to either move to a different role or to adapt to an evolution in their existing position.

Create An Internal Recruitment Process

When it comes to internal mobility opportunities, “recruitment” can mean both the more formalized recruitment process of posting job ads and accepting applications as well as a more informal process of tapping employees to add their skill set to another team or project temporarily.

If you audited your employees’ skills, as suggested above, and created a database, it will be easy to locate those who might be interested in lending their skills to another team or project on a temporary basis. To achieve true internal mobility, it’s critical to consider these types of work placements as well, and not just movements from one specific role to another.

But when you do have a role to fill, your recruitment processes should be adapted for internal applicants. For example, instead of relying on employees to check job postings, those postings could be shared via regular company communications or through platforms like Slack.

As well, the application, interview, and assessment processes can be adapted for internal employees as well. Is a resume necessary, since there may already be one on file? On the other hand, since they are already paid employees, a project that the new role would typically handle could be assigned to employee applicants, as part of the assessment process.

Creating a culture of true internal mobility requires commitment and resources but the payoff can be tremendous, resulting in happier, more loyal employees, increased retention, and a decrease in recruitment efforts and costs. All of these benefits not only make good business sense but help your company solidify its footing, so that it’s ready to manage whatever new crisis the world may throw at it.