Internal career paths have traditionally been about climbing the corporate ladder, with employees diligently ticking all the role requirements before stepping up from one rung to the next. But times have changed. Today, many employees don’t aspire just to move up and many are not interested in management roles. They are however interested in doing well. While still motivated to make valuable contributions in their current organisation, they often crave moves in different directions that offer new learning and ways of working.

With business leaders continually challenged by the talent dilemma of employee attraction, retention and engagement, there is a real danger in not fostering career mobility. While bucket-loads of energy, time and money have been spent on internal recruitment frameworks and talent development programs to manage these issues, too many good employees are still leaving because they can’t see career paths within their companies.

Internal mobility programs send a clear message that organisations value individual growth, potential and ambition. However, according to a recent report by Futurestep, while 87% of companies acknowledge the value of these programs, only one third have them in place. Yet studies have found that those companies that do embrace internal career mobility benefit from increased employee engagement, productivity and collaboration. Furthermore, those companies are also more likely to be considered “best places to work” by their employees.

So what prevents organisations embracing career mobility? As with many partnerships and relationships, the problems stem from a lack of communication and/or transparency. Too often companies fail to communicate their business direction and talent requirements. When they do make the effort, it is often patchy and not communicated broadly enough for employees in all parts of the business to see and investigate. Siloed thinking, process and practice simply gets in the way. Often managers can act as blockers and not support lateral moves to new projects, teams or business units because they don’t want to lose strong performers. Consequently employees look outside to avoid ongoing frustration and confrontation.

Internal mobility programs will never succeed without strategic workforce planning; transparent and easy-to-use technology to manage the process; open communication; and cross-collaboration between all functions and departments within an organisation. They also need to be easy to engage with, provide the right degree of information and connect people to the broader business, regardless of where they are based.

A recent discussion with a client saw them looking at ways to build an internal version of LinkedIn: providing all employees, regardless of role, level and location, access to people, jobs, business unit profiles, recent news and updates from across the business globally. In doing so their belief was that career management and mobility was central to their success.

Five tips for building an internal mobility program

  • Develop a culture of career mobility: When employees feel empowered, encouraged and expected to consider lateral moves as well as vertical moves, they are more likely to do so.
  • Foster career partnerships: When individuals and their employers have a strong sense of partnership and community, they are more likely to engage in pragmatic conversations that are rich in ownership, purpose and focus.
  • Invest in career conversations at all levels of the organisation: With two in three individual performance drivers tied to career conversations, their value cannot be underestimated. Managers need to know what their people want and how to conduct these conversations; employees need them if they are to confidently navigate their careers and opportunities within the organisation.
  • Make it easy: Too often opportunities are lost through clunky processes, poor communication and time delays. Invest in timely conversations, robust technology platforms and processes that empower rather than impede individual and business outcomes.
  • Measure it: The adage that “what can’t be measured can’t be managed” is so true. So too is “success drives momentum”. If you are to invest time, energy and resources, you need to know it is working and how.