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Kelly Palmer


Chief Learning and Talent Officer

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How to make the business case for internal mobility

Turbulent times call for greater agility.

Internal career mobility has had its 15 minutes of fame recently, but it will remain in the limelight for decades to come. The benefits of having an effective internal mobility strategy are simply too significant for business leaders to ignore. They have come to the forefront over the past months as a way for businesses to quickly respond to changing needs, pivot their products, build resilience into operations and create a more agile workforce. We will see even more internal mobility in action as businesses get to grips with a volatile market and take advantage of incoming innovations.

Internal career mobility will be the competitive edge that leading organisations will use to navigate uncertainty and to go after new market opportunities. 

At its core, internal career mobility works to place people into high-demand projects and business areas based on their skills, experience, and interests. For it to work effectively, there must be complete visibility and insight into what skills people have and are building, as well as an openness amongst managers to ‘share’ their teams. When done well, internal mobility can help both businesses and employees grow, innovate, and adapt to constantly evolving economic conditions.

Internal mobility in action

When the pandemic and global lockdown first impacted businesses, many sprang to redeploy their workers into high-demand business areas or other industries. This has given us many examples of internal mobility in action. Several airlines including Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and British Airways redeployed staff as healthcare support, drawing on cabin crews’ first aid skills (plus their ability to remain calm under pressure). McDonald’s and Aldi struck a deal to shift interested McDonalds workers into store positions. One group of companies in the US food sector created an online talent exchange in just six days (during April 2020) to share in-demand skills and ramp up essential food production.

Making the case in the long-term

Of course, urgency is a big driver of many innovations. For innovation to stick in the long-term, however, there must be a compelling, ongoing business case. The good news is that there are many business drivers that leaders can bring to the boardroom to convince their peers that internal career mobility is worth it in the long run.

More agility

To start, embracing internal mobility will create a more agile workforce. People can be moved into different business areas and roles when demand for their current work falls. While 84% of business leaders view workforce agility as very important to the future success of their organisation, only 39% of leaders feel that their workforce is currently agile. There is an urgent need for businesses to become more agile, as the recent crisis has highlighted.

Financial perks

There are significant cost savings to be had as well – 59% of business leaders feel that filling vacancies on an internal basis is more cost-effective than hiring externally. Meanwhile, 56% feel that there is a greater cultural fit amongst internal hires (as they are already familiar with the company and its processes), and 56% say that they filled vacancies more quickly when looking within.

Companies that quickly reallocate talent based on the business’ needs are also more likely to report higher shareholder returns and outperform their competitors.

Both companies and employees win

Ultimately, this is all about the supply and demand of skills: your company needs people with the right skills, and people with right skills want more opportunities. This is a win/win for both managers and employees. When managers have new projects, they can look for people with specific skills. At the same time, when people feel that they’ve outgrown a role, they can look internally for new opportunities.

While 40% of European workers feel that their skills are under-utilised, if someone discovers they haven’t got the right skills for a project or role, then they can upskill to prepare for the next step in their career journey. By allowing every employee to reach their full potential, your company’s innovation and productivity will soar while employee job satisfaction and engagement will rise exponentially.

A boosted brand

Finally, there are benefits to your employer brand as 41% of employees now see job security as the most important reason to engage with and stay in a company. This rings true across all age groups, Boomer and Millennial alike. With an effective internal mobility programme in place, your company will reassure employees that they will always have work to do.

Challenges to consider

Of course, nothing worthwhile comes without some hurdles and internal career mobility is no exception. When making the case to the C-suite, it’s worth considering some potential challenges you may encounter with your internal mobility strategy, and come equipped with solutions.

Know what skills people have

If you do not know what skills your workers have, you cannot effectively redeploy them onto new opportunities. In fact, 53% of HR leaders said that a lack of skills visibility was the number one impediment to their workforce transformation. Internal mobility starts with skills, so make sure you have a plan to collect accurate skills data, analyse it to make it actionable, and feed this into your internal career mobility strategy.

Cultural changes

Make no mistake, this is a significant change happening to your workforce and everyone from your CEO to your frontline staff need to be bought-in, especially your managers. Without manager buy-in, your internal mobility will fail. They won’t share their team members, instead choosing to hoard their best talent. Then, without opportunities to grow their careers, that talent will leave your organisation.

Your internal mobility strategy must also be person-centric. Careers are very personal things and each worker should feel empowered to steer their career in the direction they want. This cannot be dictated top-down, it needs to be a collaborative effort where you find the sweet spot between what the business needs and what each worker aspires to.

Providing good jobs

This ties closely with the above point. Job quality matters. Good jobs are defined as work that’s paid fairly, is reasonably secure and motivating, and that uses an individual’s skills effectively. Focus on this and your workers will feel more fulfilled, be more productive, and more likely to engage with conversations about their career growth.

Time to get started

Fast forward a few months, and internal career mobility will be the competitive edge that leading organisations will use to navigate uncertainty and to go after new market opportunities. By starting the conversation with your C-suite now, you can ensure your organisation isn’t left behind. The reasons to embrace internal career mobility are clear. Do it well and you’ll see your employees flourish and your company goals of agility, productivity, transformation, and innovation accelerated.

Interested in this topic? Read Talent management: the internal mobility metrics you should be tracking.

Author Profile Picture
Kelly Palmer

Chief Learning and Talent Officer

Read more from Kelly Palmer

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