What is internal mobility and why do you need it?

Why internal mobility programs make all the difference.

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By Nicole Schreiber-Shearer, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat
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Just a few years ago, stories about employees taking on new roles internally within their organizations were few and far between. For the most part, people were expected to stick with what they were hired to do, even once they outgrew it or started getting curious about new areas of the business.

But as talent shortages grow more severe and consumer expectations shift, HR leaders can no longer rely solely on external hiring to fill vacancies and bridge skill gaps. Instead, savvy executives are turning their attention inwards and creating learning and development pathways to empower their existing workforce to build the skills the future of work demands.

Particularly as the rapid proliferation of AI promises to shift job and skill needs, HR leaders must ensure their people have the tools and systems needed to hone new expertise to move into emerging roles. Rather than focusing on external hiring, leaders are now prioritizing internal mobility and empowering their people to take on new responsibilities within their organizations.

What is internal mobility?

Internal mobility is the movement of talent within an organization—both laterally and vertically.  More specifically, internal mobility encompasses the framework organizations put in place to enable greater talent agility throughout the company, breaking down departmental silos and doing away with a talent-hoarding mindset.

The best internal mobility strategies encourage people to take on new growth opportunities that align with the employee’s long-term career goals and business priorities.

Internal mobility is often used interchangeably with career mobility and talent mobility, but the foundation remains the same: giving your talent the ability to pursue a broader range of opportunities can create not only a more capable and engaged employee but also a more resilient organization.

5 examples of internal mobility

#1. Promotions

When a more senior position such as a manager or team lead becomes available in a company, that role can be filled by someone from the existing talent pool. Climbing the corporate ladder is probably what comes to mind when many people think of internal mobility, but it’s just one among several other examples.

#2. Intradepartmental and interdepartmental transfers

Intradepartmental transfers are when an employee is moved to a different role within the same department. In contrast, interdepartmental transfers occur when an employee is moved from one department to another.

#3. New roles

Regardless of their size, most businesses create new roles to meet evolving demands. These positions can be filled by the most skilled and best-suited person within the company.

#4. Mentorships

Employees can move around to learn from their colleagues in other departments. This could be to help upskill an employee for a promotion or to expand their understanding of another role or area of the business.

#5. Projects and gigs

Employees have the opportunity to work on part-time assignments to develop new skills and enhance cross-functional collaboration. Project and gig work can help companies respond rapidly to emerging needs by reallocating talent from across the organization.

What are the different types of internal mobility programs?

There are many different ways that leaders can harness internal mobility to help their organization unlock agility. Five types of internal mobility programs include:

Role-to-role mobility

Role-to-role mobility, also known as lateral mobility, describes a job change in which individuals move internally from one position to another with little change in their salary or level. Although employees aren’t moving vertically on the traditional career ladder, that doesn’t mean that role-to-role mobility isn’t beneficial. It allows workers to apply the skills they’ve acquired in their current role to other areas of the business, in turn, fueling more effective cross-functional collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

Transfers

In contrast to role-to-role mobility, transfers occur when employees keep the same responsibilities and compensation but change their physical location. Transfers can be permanent, temporary, or ad-hoc and typically take place to meet business priorities or employee preferences.

Upward mobility

Upward mobility is what employees generally think of as a promotion. It means that a worker advances to a higher job class or function within the same department because of their excellent performance. Upward mobility is a powerful way to keep employee satisfaction and engagement high while boosting morale and productivity. Promoting employees from within your own organization sends a positive signal to their colleagues that their efforts will be rewarded and demonstrates that your organization values internal mobility.

Project-based mobility

Project-based mobility allows employees to collaborate with colleagues they may not normally work with. Team members from different departments come together to achieve a common business goal or complete a specific, one-off project by leveraging a diverse set of functional expertise. Project-based mobility enables employees to dedicate part of their work to projects beyond their usual workflow and department.

Internal mobility platforms

Internal mobility platforms, also known as talent marketplaces, are new technological innovations that are designed to facilitate all forms of career movement and project-based work. Talent marketplaces are one of the most impactful technologies for internal mobility, as these platforms match employees to open opportunities based on the skills they possess and the knowledge they wish to hone.

6 benefits of internal mobility

Internal mobility is a win-win: your people will benefit from learning new skills and moving into roles they’re passionate about, which will, in turn, have a positive impact on how your business performs. The ability of a company to attract and retain top talent still ranks among the top five risks for executives, encouraging employees to pursue opportunities that they find engaging can help to keep top performers within the organization.

6 advantages associated with activating internal mobility include:

#1. Attract and retain top talent

No employee wants their career paths to be stagnant. Your people value the opportunity to learn new things and take on new challenges. In fact, a recent LinkedIn report found that 94% of workers say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. An internal mobility strategy shows that you’re serious about employee growth and that you have the systems and structures in place to help people achieve their professional ambitions.

#2. Promote knowledge sharing

When employees are encouraged to move into new roles within their organization, they take the knowledge they’ve learned with them. As more workers take on new opportunities on different teams, they will be able to freely share the expertise they’ve acquired from past positions with colleagues whom they may not have had the chance to collaborate with before.

#3. Save time and money

Even if you recruit all-star candidates, hiring new employees is going to be expensive and time-consuming. It’s estimated that large enterprise organizations lose more than $400,000 annually from the costs involved in recruiting and training new hires. With internal mobility, you don’t have to pay the sticker price to get your hands on the talent you need. Instead, you can minimize onboarding processes by leveraging employees who already know how your business works, making it easy for them to get up to speed.

#4. Increased workplace diversity

When companies take a skills-based approach to internal mobility in which employees are empowered to move into new roles based on their capabilities, leaders can feel confident that they’re making strides to promote workforce diversity. Rather than relying on potentially bias-inducing factors when making career development decisions, companies are turning to talent marketplaces to match employees to open opportunities based on their skills and interests. These platforms remove barriers that may have once held employees from underrepresented groups back, in turn leveling the playing field for your workforce.

#5. Improve engagement and morale

If you want to improve employee engagement, look no further. When your people have the opportunity to develop their skills and build on their experiences, they will be inspired to achieve their full potential. Our own research reveals that over 63% of employees are interested in being considered for new career opportunities within their company, illustrating just how widespread the desire for internal mobility really is.

#6. Create an inspiring culture

If employees see their colleagues taking on new roles within their organization, they will be inspired to follow in their footsteps. Companies that prioritize internal mobility and share internal success stories can cultivate an empowered culture in which all employees feel encouraged to pursue their loftiest career ambitions.

3 steps to enable internal mobility at your organization

There are 3 key steps leaders can take to encourage their organization to embrace internal mobility.

#1. Embrace role-to-role mobility

It’s going to be impossible to encourage internal mobility if your managers are stuck in a talent-hoarding mentality. While it’s natural to be possessive of top performers, leaders need to encourage line managers to embrace internal mobility as a means to broaden the talent pools available to them. By creating a more fluid talent movement between departments, managers will have access to even more qualified candidates capable of handling a greater variety of tasks—far more so than a siloed workforce could offer.

#2. Utilize internal transfers for experiential learning opportunities

If you want internal mobility to take off, you need to make sure employees have the support they need to learn new skills. While L&D content is certainly a step in the right direction, your people also need the chance to put these lessons into practice through hands-on growth opportunities like projects, gigs, and mentorships. Talent marketplaces allow talent to seamlessly transfer into new short-term projects based on an employee’s skills and ambitions, fostering a company-wide internal growth mindset and shoring up skill gaps as business needs evolve.

#3. Make upward mobility a reality through career ownership

While all of your employees want to grow their careers, the goals they have are going to look very different from their colleagues. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach and telling your people what direction they should take—up in their current trajectory, or even laterally to a new department —put them in the driver’s seat of their own development. When employees are at the helm of their careers, they will be more engaged in the learning experiences they are participating in, ultimately leading to superior results for your initiative.

Why talent marketplaces are essential for project-based mobility

In the past, a lack of transparency meant that most internal mobility initiatives were doomed to fail. Leaders couldn’t see their people’s skills, interests, and ambitions, and employees didn’t have visibility into the opportunities within their organization. There was no way to match people to roles or align employee goals with the needs of the business.

The rise of talent marketplaces is here to change all of that. The platforms harness the power of AI to generate relevant suggestions for opportunities that employees will want to get involved in. The newest offerings even give workers a view into their long-term growth potential by showcasing several different directions their careers can take. To learn more about these game-changing platforms and uncover the factors you need to weigh when deciding which one to implement, check out our Talent Marketplace Buyer’s Guide.

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