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Internal career mobility – how much is enough and what works?


Do you know how much internal mobility is enough to increase engagement and growth in your business? If the answer is, ‘I am not sure’, then you are in good company.  About half the HR leaders at The Big Career Conversation  did not know their current internal mobility rate and the other half thought it was probably too low. A select few thought it was about right.

Being clear about where and how much you want to grow your people through internal recruitment is key to delivering the capability you need for today and tomorrow’s business needs.

Getting internal mobility right is not without its challenges, as some of our clients shared;

‘It can feel like moving the deckchairs around’

‘It can be easier for our employees to get a job externally than internally!’

‘External hiring gives us new skills and more diversity so we lean into this’

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to internal mobility. What is right for one business may not be right for another. The single biggest impact you can have on internal mobility is to advertise all vacancies internally, in a transparent and accessible way, at the same time or preferably before looking externally. This act will encourage employees to believe ‘I can grow here’ because they see their organisation actively seeking to grow their employees careers and as a result their employees are more likely to actively seek internal moves.

What else can businesses do to ensure their employees get every opportunity to grow through internal mobility?

  1. Be clear ‘why’ internal mobility is key to your organisation’s success

In our work our clients often start with the employee lens as a reason for supporting internal mobility. Strong internal career mobility is a key driver of engagement. Employees join businesses to grow with them and will stay longer and work harder if there are opportunities to grow.

It is important to look through the business lens too, specifically what skills a business needs to perform and grow and where these skills will come from. If hiring these externally, how will the cost and additional risk be managed? With a growing skills gap in most countries, businesses are increasingly focused on forecasting the skills they need to build – and those they need to decommission. Building the skills required using internal talent – talent known and onboarded – is less costly and risky than always buying new skills in.

  1. Ensure ‘how’ you hire internally fits your culture

Whatever the ‘why’ for internal mobility, getting the balance between internal and external hiring is vital. Internal mobility always needs to be supplemented with external talent to keep refreshing a business’s people capability. It also needs to be balanced with any talent management practices. How a business does this should reflect its culture as experienced through its people practices.

Wherever possible be open and transparent about the process for internal hiring, especially when it is prioritised over external hiring and talent management. Keep your internal process fair – but light enough to be an advantage over external hiring. A short list of rules around time in role, notice for internal moves, any requirement to notify line managers of an internal application is helpful to ensure a level playing field across the business. Encourage managers to be talent exporters and consider incentivising internal moves. They make commercial sense, so consider passing some of the recruitment cost-saving to the successful internal applicant.

  1. Provide enough support and information to fuel internal mobility

Employees need information about what is important for internal mobility.  What skills, behaviours and experiences are required to progress across or up the organization? What career pathways are on offer?  This information is also important to prospective employees of any business.

The trick is to provide information that is accessible and current and to find creative ways to cut through internal communication messages. This is where technology can help. If you haven’t recently evaluated how newer, AI-driven platforms can broaden employee career horizons and facilitate cross-organisation talent movement, now is a good time to take a look.

Of course, not everyone is growth or career-focused so supplement good information with occasions for employees to talk about their careers and growth. Equip managers to have quality career conversations. Encourage employees to explore career options with a wide range of people in the organisation. This builds their networks and broadens their thinking. Plus it’s the one conversation all leaders and line managers are open to.

Finally, how much is enough internal mobility? There isn’t one answer. If you are a mature business with scale then filling 60% of vacancies internally is a realistic goal with more external recruitment at lower levels. If you are a start-up then a 10% internal fill rate is acceptable in the early years of the business. Being clear about the internal fill rate you need to drive your business forward at any particular time – and how to make this happen – is what matters.

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