December 15, 2020

How to Teach Managers to Embrace Internal Mobility and Career Development

Internal mobility and career development boost retention by keeping employees within the organization, even as their skill sets expand and their interests change. Yet employees can only drive their own mobility and career development within an organization that actively supports their efforts.

Managers who think long-term about internal mobility and career development have the tools to support employee growth. They’re able to shape the tasks they assign today with two goals in mind: The short-term need to complete today’s tasks, and the long-term need to keep experienced, trained workers within the organization. 

When organizations train managers to support internal mobility and career development, they can reap the benefits of these endeavors.

Why Your Managers Need to Think Long-Term

“A few years ago, I started to notice an interesting trend: Frustrated with finding and integrating good external candidates, organizations were beginning to invest increasing amounts of time, energy, and money into developing their internal hiring capabilities,” writes JR Keller in the Harvard Business Review.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated these efforts in many organizations. A Gartner poll found that 54 percent of responding companies planned a near-complete hiring freeze in 2020 in order to address uncertainties related to the pandemic. 

Recruiting internally is one of the “alternate employment models that present a lower risk to the organization’s growth,” says Lauren Smith, vice president at Gartner for HR. The company still has key tasks covered by its employees, and it also boosts retention and engagement by ensuring that a worker’s position within the organization grows with them.

Internal mobility and career advancement within the company can also help control payroll costs. Internal hires cost less than external hires and help boost morale by demonstrating there are real paths to advancement in the company, writes Lin Grensing-Pophal at SHRM. Internal hires also tend to perform better than external hires: They get up to speed more quickly, since they already understand key relationships, processes, and expectations within the workplace. 

Building a strong internal talent development approach may even boost a company’s ability to hire talent from outside the organization. When external candidates see a company’s commitment to employee growth and advancement, they are more likely to apply to that organization. This is particularly likely to be true for candidates who are driven by an internal desire to learn and advance, writes Ideal Outcomes founder Jason Richmond

Managers with a clear long-term vision can help connect the dots between the company’s needs and their individual team members’ abilities. They can then translate these insights into real opportunities for those employees. 

two professionals in hard hats discuss the job site; managers should encourage internal mobility concept

Cross-Training for Internal Mobility

Internal mobility isn’t just the movement of workers from one job or position in the company to another. It also includes the ability of workers to temporarily switch to another job’s tasks without leaving their own positions.

Workers who have cross-training build relationships and gain a better understanding of the organization’s overall goals. Experiencing internal mobility through cross-training prepares these employees for internal mobility opportunities that involve changing positions entirely.

Traditionally, training has occurred outside of the normal flow of work. Sending workers to classes or seminars has been a deviation from the standard work day, rather than part of it.

Learning does not have to interrupt the workday, however. Rather, “learning can be built into the workflow experience” with tools like specific task-related training videos and coaching sessions, write Terry Paterson and fellow researchers at Deloitte. 

On-the-job training that is integrated into the work day may help workers learn more effectively, as well. By immediately applying the new skills, employees see for themselves how they work and where mistakes might occur. They also have the opportunity to ask questions or seek more information before serious errors manifest.

Using internal mobility as a form of cross-training that leads to career advancement can help companies address looming skills gaps, too. 

Internal candidates often possess an understanding of the organization’s goals, as well as relationships with others within the organization. As a result, transitioning these workers to new technical tasks is easier than hiring externally for the same role, writes Brad Arkin, SVP, chief security and trust officer at Cisco. Workers can even transfer gradually, taking on the new role’s tasks piece by piece as they learn new skills, and eventually leaving their old role behind. 

young professions in a conference room at a hip office; managers should encourage internal mobility concept

Help Managers to Think Career, Not Job

Even when companies have internal mobility programs or career development opportunities, they don’t always communicate those options effectively to their teams. 

Currently, the gap between employer and employee understanding of internal mobility and career development options poses a serious problem for many organizations. In one LinkedIn study, for example, 73 percent of organizations said their internal mobility programs were very important to their overall recruiting strategy. Yet an equal percentage of employees, 73 percent, said they were dissatisfied with their internal mobility options, writes Samantha McLaren at LinkedIn. These numbers suggest that workers either don’t find internal mobility programs suited to their career goals or that they don’t know what the programs offer. 

Managers who know about these programs can more easily communicate them with their team members. When managers are actively engaged in understanding their team members’ skills and aptitudes, they can communicate internal opportunities to workers in a way that’s personal. They can help team members visualize themselves in new roles, which is the first step to taking on the new role. 

Internal recruitment programs help managers better understand their workers as whole people, navigating a decades-long career. When managers understand workers’ past work histories, abilities, and aspirations, they’re better equipped to guide each team member toward the projects and opportunities that will support internal advancement and long-term career growth, says David Marzo, general manager and vice president at Futurestep.

To understand and promote internal mobility and career development, managers need access to data and insights about their teams’ work and aptitudes. Gaining this access has been a challenge for many leaders, however.

“One of the main barriers to managing internal mobility is that few of us have any idea of the composition of skills in our current workforce,” says Hung Lee, curator of the Recruiting Brainfood newsletter. Information about employees’ skills and backgrounds tends to be siloed, and it is rarely in a format that allows for insights to be derived from patterns in the data. 

Here, technological tools can help managers see where individual workers and the team as a whole have strong skills and where more training is needed. The right tools can even help managers predict the most promising internal career paths for individual employees, then work with those employees to choose a path and build in the learning and experiences required for the employee to take the next step. 

Taking a skills inventory of employees is a vital first step toward engaging those workers in cross-training and other means of generating internal mobility and long-term career development, says Ben Eubanks, principal analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory. 

“Be clear about what skills you have among your employee population and what skills the business needs. Next time an opening pops up, you know who would be great for that role and who wants to take that role on,” says Eubanks.

Managers often think narrowly. Juggling a number of different tasks and responsibilities means that managers may attend only to the short-term demands of a particular project, rather than the long-term view of employee career development and mobility.

Like the teams they lead, managers need guidance and support in order to see how their work connects to the organization’s larger goals and long-term health. When companies provide this leadership for their managers, they can reap the benefits in terms of improved retention and engagement from everyone on their teams. 

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