The Power of Internal Job Mobility and Upskilling (and How to Harness It)

Drew Whitehurst | April 25, 2024

There’s no mistaking that the nature of work is just different than it was a few decades ago.

For example, only rarely do you see a current member of the workforce staying with the same company for their entire career, climbing the ladder at a steady and engaged pace.

It’s also increasingly common for knowledge workers in today’s market to not just change their company, but change their roles and industries altogether. Making the jump from HR to marketing or customer support to sales isn’t so rare anymore. People want to feel challenged and passionate about what they do, and, to avoid stagnation, they’re not afraid to chase that feeling to new roles from time to time.

Though unpleasant, it’s critical for you as a leader to be aware that your employees are likely always on the lookout for their next big opportunity. And every recruiter knows that losing your most skilled team members to another company isn’t just disappointing—it’s also very expensive.

Organizations that are smart about retaining hard-won talent are getting more strategic in their employee retention policies in ways that go beyond improved benefits and work anniversary gifts. They’re doubling down on nurturing that talent with development opportunities and job mobility that will help employees feel not tied down by their current company but engaged and supported in all the ways they want to learn and grow—without needing to jump ship.


Understanding Internal Job Mobility

Teams like yours are increasingly recognizing the value of internal job mobility and upskilling as a way to nurture talent, foster employee satisfaction, and maintain a competitive edge. In fact, according to LinkedIn’s 2023 Future of Recruiting Report, an astounding 75% of recruiters said that internal recruiting will be an important factor in shaping talent acquisition strategies through the rest of this decade.

But what, exactly, does “internal job mobility” look like?

Well, it starts with a plan: a clear-cut path that helps employees move from one job level to another, offering transparency in how to get to the next step and what to expect from leadership along their journey.

Internal mobility might mean simply moving from one level to another in an employee’s current job function, but it can also mean accommodating their movement from one role to another as they grow in their career and professional interests. For this reason, truly robust internal employee mobility programs offer company-wide blueprints that can be similarly applied to each department and function.

Other best practices for internal mobility programs include:

  • Frequent communication for employees: Managers should touch base with their reports on their status and forward trajectory often—at least as often as any performance reviews take place.
  • Fostering open accessibility: Employees should be empowered to access these plans via self-service methods, such as in a company intranet or HR portal, so they can reference them at any time.
  • Offering opportunities to explore cross-functionally: Rather than expecting employees to remain in their current function forever, your company should establish a culture where moving around is not just allowed but encouraged. Give employees a chance to explore other areas via shadowing or mentorship programs, if they express interest in growing beyond their current role.
  • Providing upskilling offerings that match career paths: In addition to providing performance feedback and a general sense of what skills are needed for an employee to reach a new level, you should facilitate the upskilling they’ll need to get there with internal and external learning opportunities.

A well-rounded internal job mobility policy will take advantage of all these best practices and help you facilitate not just frequent recognition and appropriate promotions for your employees, but lateral moves to new functions and even rotational and similar programs to foster growth in new disciplines.


Benefits of Internal Job Mobility

Surely life is easier—on HR, on managers, on teams—when people remain in their current roles and grow with their departments as needed. But that isn’t the way to retain talent in the current landscape.

The benefits of fostering internal job mobility include:

  • Enhanced employee engagement and retention: Your team members will be much more invested in, and excited about, their job if given the opportunity to learn and grow at their own pace, according to their own interests.
  • Diverse skill sets and broader organizational perspectives: Moving an employee from one team to another might feel like a loss for one group, but it remains a win for your organization. By keeping employees on board—even in a different function—you retain an established member of your company culture, spread new perspectives across your teams, and foster varied and creative skill sets in functions across your organization.
  • Cost-effectiveness compared to external hiring: When you can place an already successful employee into an open role (rather than recruiting, screening, interviewing, negotiating with, hiring, and onboarding a brand new one), you can save some serious cash—and enable a faster start.
  • Fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth: Although team members may initially be disappointed to see a close colleague join another team, ultimately, they’ll be glad to be working on the same team—and encouraged by how the company fosters growth and development for its employees. Knowing internal mobility is an option, and that upskilling is welcome, will help foster a culture where longer tenures feel worthwhile.

Put simply, you won’t be sorry once you see your internal hires hitting new strides in their new roles.


Upskilling as a Catalyst for Internal Mobility

All of this being said, saying internal mobility is welcome is one thing—but making it happen is quite another. And if you aren’t supporting your employees in their drive to learn and grow, they’ll find someone who will.

Begin by socializing the value of upskilling throughout your company, and giving employees many opportunities to pursue it at their own pace and based on their own needs and interests.

Upskilling is the method by which employees can learn new disciplines, understand how to apply their current skills to new functions and improve their effectiveness over the course of their career. Facilitating it doesn’t have to be hard on your organization, but it does require some investment.

For example, you might provide subscriptions to services like LinkedIn Learning—self-paced platforms on which employees can take the courses that interest them and grow their skills accordingly.

You could also allocate funds for external learning opportunities, such as conferences and professional network groups, to help employees pursue the development opportunities that interest them without emptying their own pockets.

And if you’re looking for a less expensive option, take advantage of the talent you already have in-house! Encourage employees and internal resource groups to set up workshops for their colleagues; create and encourage mentorship and shadowing programs that can help encourage cross-functional growth and exposure; and set up lunch-and-learns with executives to help teach and network amongst employees.


Common Challenges of Facilitating Internal Mobility (and How to Solve Them)

We can’t pretend building a program like this is easy, even though it is essential.

Here are some common challenges organizations face building internal mobility policies, and ideas for how to address them:

  • Overcoming resistance to change among leaders: Not all managers will love the idea that other leaders might entice their reports away to other teams. It’s essential to build a culture of non-competitiveness and reiterate that internal mobility is focused on employees helping one another and rallying together to meet the needs of the entire organization.
  • Assessing skill gaps: How can employees begin upskilling—and how can leaders coach them along—if they don’t know where they stand, or where they want to go next? Begin building your internal mobility program with a thorough assessment of the current state of things, including: an audit of roles and levels already in place around the company (and calibrations where needed), surveys of current competencies and desired skills, and market research to ensure you’re competing with other employers.
  • Building a culture that encourages mobility: It’s a lot easier to create a career map, send an email about it to your employees, and hope for the best than it is to build a culture of mobility. But the benefits of this strategy don’t shine until it is a part of your culture. Facilitate frequent conversations about growth opportunities in your company, host open office hours for HR to help answer employees’ questions, and make sure you build career planning into performance review cycles to ensure things stick.

A great way to anticipate and course correct for challenges unique to your organization is to create a multifunctional task force to help you build your career mapping program. Make sure employees from different levels and teams can get involved; diverse perspectives will help set you up for greater success.


In Summary: Best Practices for Implementing an Internal Mobility Program

We get it—that was a lot of information. We’d encourage you to bookmark this page so you can come back and reference whatever you need to as you embark on plotting the career paths of your employees.

But if you need a quick guide on best practices, here’s what you should keep top of mind.


#1: Establish clear pathways for career advancement and skill development.

Crafting an internal job mobility program for your organization requires a defined, transparent career map that can be referenced by employees across the company.

Your team members need to be able to access it at any time, and easily understand: what level they’re currently in, what levels are ahead of them, and what skills and competencies they’ll need to move forward (either in their own discipline or in another area of interest).

#2: Encourage a culture that values learning and embraces change.

One way to make internal mobility a reality for your organization is to establish a learning mindset. Offer plenty of ways for team members to develop new skills and explore new areas of interest. You can do this by offering on-demand courses, hosting workshops, reimbursing for conferences, and/or plenty of other methods.

And don’t make mobility a taboo subject. Spotlight the opportunity frequently, and visibly congratulate movers as they change roles within your organization to underscore a positive mindset around making these types of career changes.

#3: Provide support and resources for employees pursuing internal mobility or upskilling opportunities.

Career mobility should be a natural and consistent part of performance review cycles in your organization—not just as a status check-in, but as a chance to offer support and ideas to employees who are ready to grow.

You can also consider building mentorship or rotational programs to encourage cross-functional exploration and help employees network among other teams.

#4: Continuously evaluate and refine internal mobility and upskilling programs based on feedback and outcomes.

Don’t assume this is a one-and-done exercise. Revisit your career paths frequently to ensure they’re still working—both for the company and for employees. And gather feedback from managers and employees on a regular basis to get their input on the subject.

Your HR team should also track how many employees take advantage of internal job moves, how they perform in their new roles, and what the lasting sentiments are among the movers and their colleagues.

#5: Embrace technology to foster mobility and upskilling opportunities.

You don’t need to build all of this, from scratch, by yourself. There are plenty of blueprints and software applications out there to help. Explore what learning platforms, recruiting platforms, and other tools exist to provide the structure you need to create your program—and socialize it for your employees.

If you’re interested in learning more about how interviewstream can help streamline your internal hiring process, reach out to our team here! Or check out our list of top internal mobility interview questions for a quick reference on good questions to ask in your interviews.

About The Author

Drew Whitehurst is the Director of Marketing at interviewstream. He's been with the company since 2014 working in client services and marketing. He is an analytical thinker, coffee enthusiast, and hobbyist at heart.


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