Internal Mobility and Its Impact on Employee Retention

How would it affect your organization if your most valuable employee suddenly quit? Chances are, this would limit some functionality in your daily operations, damage morale, and cause a few other employees to leave as well. You’ll upset stakeholders as you try to catch up, then exhaust more resources finding a new candidate to backfill those responsibilities.

For any business, losing good employees is a threat that shouldn’t be taken lightly — especially when it happens at scale. But, if you’re already offering competitive wages, respectable benefits, and flexible arrangements to encourage work-life balance, why would anyone want to leave?

Simply put, many workers today can’t handle stagnation. A recent study from McKinsey found that the most common reason (41%) workers left their jobs between April 2021 and 2022 was a “lack of career development and advancement” — and that trend isn’t set to change any time soon.

If you want to improve employee retention in your organization, research suggests that internal mobility is an essential part of a good retention strategy. What’s more, internal mobility is beneficial to every level of the organization. Imagine if every department was more flexible, more agile, and more likely to last through periods of uncertainty.

Let’s explore how you can open the gates for internal mobility in your organization to keep more of your employees on payroll and committed to the work they do best.

The Key to Better Employee Retention

In the post-Covid era, traditional methods for engaging and retaining employees have changed significantly. Human Resources professionals are now striving to strike a more effective balance between the needs of the employee and the employer. Today, HR teams take a two-fold approach:

  1. Give the employee a better experience…
  2. So they perform better work at the company for a longer period of time.

Like developing a company culture, offering a great employee experience is more than just a vague sentiment — it’s a strategy. Companies need to create specific policies and take intentional steps toward the outcomes they want to see among team members.

You also need to be aware of retention risks in your workforce. If you aren’t paying each employee at least the market average compensation for their position, they’re already a retention risk. As years pass and they remain in the same position with no advancement, the risk only grows.

Consequences of Poor Employee Retention

Failing to retain your valuable employees can cause serious organizational and systematic disruptions. Of course, losing a highly valuable employee means losing some level of functionality, but it’s more than that. You also won’t capture and utilize the full value of the people you hire.

The sooner employees leave, the higher your turnover rate, which in turn increases hiring and onboarding costs and makes it harder to secure great talent in the future. Any time an employee departs for what they perceive as “greener pastures,” they will likely view your company in a negative light, even if they technically leave on good terms. Some form of that narrative is bound to spread in your industry, and you don’t want anyone to perceive your company as a place employees get “stuck.” This deters otherwise great talent from applying to your company at all.

Fewer good employees and more people quitting (especially model employees) also damage morale, which compounds on itself, causing more people to leave even if they were otherwise content.

The bottom line: poor employee retention means you’ll only have mercenaries working for you. You won’t be able to keep dedicated, long-term employees who are immersed in your company culture and workflow.

The Employee Experience Framework

To truly capitalize on the potential of your employees, you need to work within their journey. To start, you need to capture their attention. Expose them to new opportunities within your company and allow them to explore what’s possible in new positions.

As employees begin to feel the potential for new, meaningful work, they quickly reach a decision point: to commit further or move on. They may be thinking, “Is this company going to allow me to further my career, or am I going to feel stagnant?”

This is why promoting internal mobility is such an important strategy for employee retention. But “promoting” is more than just an attitude — it takes work to make internal mobility part of your company culture and work environment.

What Is Internal Mobility?

Internal mobility is when employees change positions or “move” within the same organization. A company with adequate internal mobility is one that does not have unnecessary obstacles in the way of advancement to new positions. But simply allowing employees to advance is not enough to retain your key staff. It’s also important to promote advancement through intentional training and development opportunities, providing the necessary resources for your shining stars to follow their desired career paths while staying loyal to your company.

Benefits of Internal Mobility

Internal mobility offers benefits for employee retention on both the individual and company-wide levels — and those interests aren’t counterintuitive.

Employee Level

The promise of internal mobility makes staying at the company more promising to all employees looking for meaningful careers. This happens in several ways:

  • Encouraging people to explore new internal opportunities shows them they are not limited to a linear path, although some moves make more sense than others.
  • Improving the employee experience and engagement also improves the customer experience. Happier employees serve customers more effectively, improving customer satisfaction naturally.
  • The ability for employees to easily move between jobs makes it harder for departments to stay separated and prevents working in silos.

Employer Level

As the employee experience improves, employers benefit from increased productivity from engagement, gaining more value from each employee.

  • Internal mobility allows people to experience multiple aspects of the business. This, in turn, makes for a more connected organization as employees share skills, knowledge, and experience across departments.
  • Engagement and commitment increase over time, and even small upticks in productivity can drive thousands or even millions of dollars per employee.
  • If you consistently embolden your top performers to develop their skills and advance, you will always have the committed employees you need to pivot as a team whenever markets change.

Obstacles to Internal Mobility

While supporting internal mobility is a great first step to a healthier employee retention rate, sometimes your efforts to promote may fail. This isn’t always because you are making the wrong choices. You might just have a hurdle in the way of progress. Here are a few common obstacles that prevent internal mobility from flourishing.

Poor Management Support

From a manager's perspective, hard-working, intelligent, highly skilled employees are golden. They don’t come around very often, either. Because of this, a manager may have a strong selfish desire to keep the hardworking employee from advancing or leaving their department (even if they remain in the company). While the manager may never directly verbalize this desire, their actions (not providing training, discouraging promotion, or even badmouthing the employee) may be a real obstacle to development. Eventually, the employee will catch on and leave the organization entirely simply because a manager blocked them from moving forward.

However, with company-wide tools that encourage communication across departments, employees can share experiences and thoughts with people other than their direct managers. This can circumvent the problem by allowing the employee more than one avenue for promotion.

Lack of Resources

Sometimes, internal mobility is limited because no one is afforded the resources they need to move into new positions. Otherwise, employees may not realize what resources are available for training or what modules they should consume. Remember, if employees can’t envision a clear path forward or aren’t being supported in their careers, they will likely leave to pursue a path elsewhere.

Disconnected Data and Departments

If your company operates on multiple software platforms separated across different databases, the ability to cross-train employees and share information between departments is limited. If training and knowledge bases or career options aren’t available, you won’t be able to automate internal mobility workflows, such as training and interview requests. What’s more, legacy systems and clunky tools are only going to frustrate and demotivate users. Invest in tools that are easy to use, then make training and resources available to all departments.

How to Improve Internal Mobility

Improving internal mobility potential is about creating an environment where development and growth are encouraged at every point in an employee’s journey. You’ll need to put intentional effort into a strategy that encourages this kind of culture and develop processes that make advancement possible. Here are some steps you can take:

Improve Onboarding

Ideally, employees should be immersed in the job responsibilities and company culture from the first day. Your onboarding process should actively bring employees together with other team members through group activities, mentorships, and job shadowing opportunities.

Preboarding also goes a long way in helping employees understand your company culture. Before day one, you can provide new hires with personalized messages and key resources to help them succeed sooner. This will also increase the likelihood they gain a promotion, thus encouraging them to commit to your company for longer.

Encourage Exploration

Don’t just allow people to explore opportunities within your company — encourage them. Don’t assume employees always know what resources are available and where. If the discussion about exploring a career path never emerges during a 1:1 or performance review, the possibilities don’t matter — employees will still leave to find what they perceive as better opportunities.

Invest in helping your employees grow by showing them new opportunities. Open a company-wide job board and post the success stories of other employees who have been promoted and how they were able to achieve that. While it might not pay off for every individual, encouraging the idea that “opportunities are right here” will help more employees develop a vision of their futures at your company. Word will also spread to others in your industry, helping you attract better talent and more valuable applicants over time.

Provide Resources for Development

Part of encouraging exploration means intentionally providing development resources. Make training modules, courses, and job shadowing opportunities available to all employees. While scheduled timeframes for using these resources may be necessary, it’s also beneficial to allow for more employee self-service options.

Assuming there are enough open positions available, it’s important to provide key training and professional development opportunities so people can gain the skills and knowledge necessary to move forward. You might create dedicated training times or provide a training “time bank” employees can use at their discretion. You’ll also want to provide direction about what training courses are required to advance to a specific position. This helps employees make the best use of training time.

Spotify provides a great example of intentionally promoting internal mobility. The company encourages each employee to become part of a job rotation program. Regular “missions” help prepare employees for future job changes and expose them to new opportunities within the organization.

Practice Good Position Management

In order to make career paths clear and accessible, you need to have a solid framework for what positions are available. Position management is about keeping track of responsibilities and labor requirements. These “seats” (positions) always exist, whether or not an employee is there to fill them. With this structure, each “job” has a predefined set of expectations, requirements, and attributes (benefits, salary, metrics, etc.). This makes the path to advancement (and the transition of internal employees) much clearer and smoother.

Personalize Employee Recognition

Now, more than ever, personalization is critical to employee engagement. However, it requires more than just knowing an employee’s name. Managers also need to apply different styles of coaching and encouragement to each team member. They should know each employee’s aspirations and dreams, providing personalized feedback to help them reach their goals.

In that, each employee should also be fully aware of their value. Reinforcing this through rewards and recognition is one of the best ways to promote engagement and motivate employees to reach their goals within your company. This means treating everyone at the organization as if they have a high potential for value in some capacity (not just your top performers). This feeds the imagination of the whole team and helps them validate what career path they want to be on. You never know who will be the next rising star.

Create Career Frameworks

A career framework, an outlined roadmap of progression through an organization, is useful for offering employees clear visions of their potential. It’s a direct answer to the question, “If I stayed at this company for 5, 10, or 15 years, how would I move up the ladder?” To make these frameworks truly valuable, you’ll want to include tangible steps and requirements for shifting from one position to another. You’ll also want to make these frameworks readily available and allow employees to develop their own paths as they learn more about your organization.

Improve the Entire Employee Journey with Criterion HCM

The real key to promoting internal mobility is accessibility. Employees need transparent access to career opportunities, potential frameworks, promotion requirements, training materials, etc. The best way to make these available is to use software specifically designed to manage and distribute resources across your company.

Criterion’s powerful, user-friendly HCM is designed just for this purpose. With Criterion, you can promote internal mobility at scale in several ways:

  • Develop custom onboarding and training sequences
  • Distribute training materials and courses through employee self-service portals
  • Create new org charts and manage position details
  • Keep track of employee development opportunities and skills to encourage promotion
  • Match job skills with qualified employees to promote internal advancement opportunities
  • Manage employee data across all departments with a central database
  • Build career frameworks and make pathways accessible to all employees
  • Interview, hire, and train employees with ease
  • Seamlessly integrate with all other tools in your organization

Criterion HCM is designed to be a configurable solution that helps HR teams do what they do best: motivate and manage their workforce for better engagement and productivity.

Final Thoughts

Employee retention is essential to your company’s long-term success and profitability. If you aren’t able to pivot by moving employees to new positions as necessary, you won't be able to keep up with ever-changing markets. Internal mobility gives employees a reason to stay at your company for longer, with the promise of a bright future ahead.

However, in order to develop any aspect of a great employee experience, the initiative needs to be owned by the entire company — and by the organizations it partners with.

At Criterion, we built our software to make talent engagement, payroll, and other HR-related processes more efficient and effective for real professionals. We designed our platform according to best practices for modern HR teams across multiple industries. You get complete configurability, several automatic payroll calculations, and multiple levels of complexity with reporting right out of the box. Plus, our team is available to help you tackle new HR, payroll, and talent engagement challenges whenever you need.

Want to learn more about Internal Mobility? Watch the webinar with influencer Steve Goldberg.

Invest in technology that makes internal mobility possible within your organization. Book a demo to learn how Criterion can improve your operations today.

Amos Frajnd
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