Getting Strategic on Mobility Programs

An executive survey on internal mobility finds nearly one-third of workers keep their in-house job searches a secret from their bosses. What role can HR play in facilitating open discussions about the organization's internal-mobility programs?

Monday, December 21, 2015
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As we all know, good employees can be hard to find and even harder to keep. In an increasingly global environment in which competition is heating up for both customers and employees, organizations need to ensure they have programs and processes in place not only to attract and retain employees, but to help them navigate the internal pipeline of opportunities throughout their careers.

"Successful internal mobility programs help hiring managers learn about the skills, experiences and aspirations of internal candidates, while employees learn about new roles that will allow them to contribute to the organization in new and different ways," says David Marzo, general manager and vice president for Futurestep's On Demand platform, based in Waltham, Mass. "This kind of organizational transparency can increase employee engagement and retention while shortening time to productivity and reducing competitive intelligence leakage."

Unfortunately, 32 percent of employees keep their intent to apply for positions within the organization a "secret" from their managers, according to 1,189 global respondents to the Futurestep Executive Survey.

Why the need for such secrecy?

Experts suggest there are multiple reasons that employees may keep their advancement desires a secret from their immediate supervisors. Managers, themselves, may be part of the problem. For managers, Marzo says, there may be a tendency to "view the desire for an employee to apply for another role as a form of disengagement -- right, wrong or indifferent." For employees, he says, "there's a certain fear that if you apply for a position and you don't get that position that you are jeopardizing potential advancement opportunities within your team."

Robyn Wheeler, a Chicago-based Towers Watson senior consultant in the talent and rewards segment, agrees. "What I see with some of our clients is that employees are worried about 'What happens if I don't get the opportunity?' If I don't get the job, I'll look like I'm a traitor or I'm betraying them -- sometimes it's real, and sometimes it's perceived."

Another factor, says Brian Ruggeberg, a partner with Aon Hewitt's performance, reward and talent practice in New York, may be employees' concern about their own readiness for a move. "They may feel that, if they express an interest in a global role too early, they may be pushed out of their comfort zone or asked to take on roles they're not ready for."

The culture of the organization and the way incentives are aligned can also be factors, says Vince Cordova, a mobility consultant in Mercer's talent operations, based in New York. In many cases, he says, "managers aren't really seen as broad people developers, but more as narrow resources to help meet the group's business goals." How managers are measured and evaluated can be an important driver here, he says. "If part of my objective is how well I develop people for the next step or for future contributions, I would probably be more apt to work with my employees to place them outside the group."

Having a strategic internal mobility program in place that is well-communicated to both managers and employees can help to address some of these issues. Unfortunately, according to this survey, while 87 of executive respondents indicated that having a strong internal mobility program was important, only 33 percent said that their organization had such a program.

One of the issues facing many organizations, says Marzo, is that the internal mobility process is more episodic than strategic. That's somewhat understandable, he says.

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"We're on the back side of a long, nasty recession and HR probably hasn't been as motivated to think strategically about mobility," says Marzo. But, now is the time, he says, for HR to "double down and think strategically." This is not, he says, about the application process.

Moving talent is always going to be somewhat of a risky proposition, Cordova says, because employees want to know where they're going to be in three to five years. Unfortunately, "when you take a look at international assignments," he says, "it's difficult for any organization to commit to that."

HR, says Ruggeberg, should be having "candid conversations about opportunities and interests -- not just thinking about a particular role, but continuing to look at the longer term, or big picture, about individuals' overall career trajectories."

In addition, says Wheeler, HR can play a role in working with individual departments and managers to "help ensure that they have the bench strength to handle internal transfers" so the department is not reliant on one or two people; having succession plans in place help to identify who's going to step into key roles.

Aligning incentives is also critical. "I think a lot of companies are starting to get savvier with having a people component in goals," says Wheeler. "Some companies are really good at saying that a core part of being a manager is the ability to inspire, manage and lead people."

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