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Building Internal Mobility: Why It Matters and How to Do It

When looking at the future talent needs of your organization, there’s a natural tendency to focus on external hiring to fill in any gaps and build a strong talent foundation. But that overlooks a lesser-celebrated source of skilled, knowledgeable, committed people: your existing employees. 

To keep those great employees at your company for the long-term though, you must have a strategy to give them exciting and interesting career paths. And promotions, while important, can only happen infrequently. So what’s the answer? It’s a strong internal mobility strategy. 

What is Internal Mobility? 

Internal mobility is the movement of talent between roles within the same organization. That movement can happen vertically, as with a promotion, or laterally, in between roles at the same level but in a different department, team, or even country. 

Why is Internal Mobility Important? 

Having a healthy amount of internal mobility offers many benefits to your employees and your company. 

First, it offers your employees the opportunity to develop and hone new skills and broaden their horizons. It is a great way to help employees upskill by joining a new team or taking on a new role. The opportunity for promotions is naturally limited—you can only have so many directors and VPs, after all—but lateral moves can happen much more often and prepare employees for future advancement with new skills they learn now. 

Employees want to learn, grow, and develop at work—it’s great for engagement and retention levels. Feeling stuck in their jobs with no new opportunities in sight is a recipe for stagnation. A strategic plan for strong internal mobility gives employees something to strive for now. Plus, since these programs and opportunities are a boon to employees, that great word-of-mouth can aid your external recruitment processes when you need to look outside your organization. 

It also builds your company’s talent base for the future in several ways. By retaining the existing top talent you have, you avoid losing people with lots of institutional knowledge to competitors. 

With internal mobility, you’re building a deep talent bench with broad and deep experience inside the company, creating your leaders of tomorrow from within. Plus, those team members have existing relationships with their colleagues, making cross-functional collaboration and cooperation easier. 

Imagine that you have a great employee who works in your accounting team. She’s excellent, but there’s no room for a promotion for her anytime soon and you don’t want to lose her. Exploring potential lateral moves for her could mean exploring other areas of the finance team, or even a new department like a finance-focused role in marketing. She gets to expand her experience and you get to hold onto a top employee and prepare her for a future leadership role. 

How Can You Increase Internal Mobility? 

This kind of essential employee mobility doesn’t happen on its own. It requires a thoughtful strategy and a commitment from all levels of the organization. Leadership needs to create a plan for increasing internal mobility, particularly lateral moves, and potentially even design programs that facilitate the movement of employees across the company. 

These programs can include requirements to interview internal candidates for roles when hiring as well as external ones, and ensuring better communication so employees know what roles and opportunities are available to them. 

Some companies even have programs to offer employees assignments for a specific time period in another department or geographic area—sometimes another country or continent altogether—so they can gain experience and knowledge and even as a kind of leadership training. 

Building a Culture of Mobility

However, there can be internal barriers to this kind of internal mobility, and you may need to facilitate a cultural shift as well to ensure your strategy succeeds. Managers may feel territorial about their employees, particularly their best talent—it can be hard to see a valued employee be given the chance (and even encouragement) to move to a new role or team. 

To make sure managers are equipped to carry out your employee mobility strategy, be sure to give them plenty of resources and coaching to help them understand the benefits of the plan. You also should ensure that your managers are trained to be coaches for their teams so they can help them develop and grow wherever they land. 

Many organizations lack the processes necessary to move their talent around internally—more than 50% of organizations say it’s easier for employees to find a new job outside of their company than within it, and only 6% say they’re excellent at moving employees around internally. Taking the time to thoughtfully explore how to make employee mobility easier for everyone involved, from the employees themselves to their managers, leaders, and HR teams, is well worth the effort. 

You should consider evaluating the skills your employees already have and determining what gaps and opportunities exist to take advantage of those with lateral moves, or to use employee mobility to build missing skills if there’s a gap. 

Mentoring and coaching programs are also essential so employees have advocates for their careers and someone to turn to when they’re considering a role change. And formally creating internal mobility processes that aid lateral moves, such as an internal talent marketplace and cross-functional teams and projects, can enhance your efforts further. 

Looking for more ways to develop your internal workforce and engage your existing talent? With today’s tight talent market, it’s more important than ever. Cangrade can help—with our talent management solutions like Retention Forecast, we’re here to help build your internal talent.