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Internal Talent Mobility: Facilitating a Rich and Full Career in One Company

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Mon Aug 21 2023

Internal Talent Mobility: Facilitating a Rich and Full Career in One Company
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Job hopping has become a common practice today. Most senior leaders frown upon applicants moving from company to company, but they fail to look at their own management practices to understand exactly why this happens. Employees want to learn and grow, and sadly it is often easier to find another job elsewhere than it is to discover a new opportunity within your company.

The Problem With Career Management Today

A few years ago, I was consulting with a large, global company, helping them develop a career management process. I interviewed people about their career experiences and what they thought their opportunities were in the company. I wanted to know where they wanted to go and what tools and resources the company provided to help them get there.

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I was struck by a woman who said, “Unless my boss dies, there’s no place for me to go. The only place I can go is up within my area; my boss is young and not going anywhere. My career opportunities are limited here.”

This was a big, diverse company with many divisions, and this employee couldn’t see past her boss’s job. Neither this employee nor her boss had any line of sight to where else in the company she might use her skills and experience. Her perceived best opportunity was to leave the company.

There is an alternative to losing valuable talent because employees can’t move up. The idea of climbing the corporate ladder (for example, from engineer, to engineering manager, to director of engineering, to VP-engineering) is not the only way to progress in one’s career.

The world of work is changing rapidly today, and with it, new skills and roles are emerging all the time. The best way to advance a career today is to seek openings to learn new skills that create new career opportunities within the company. Leveraging the complete range of skills and abilities an employee has allows them to find new ways to make an impact, leading them to have an interesting career. Internal talent mobility enables employees to have a rich and full career within a single company.

From Engineer to CEO—in One Company

Rami Rahim, CEO of Juniper Networks, is an example of someone who had a complete and satisfying career at one company. Rahim wrote about his career trajectory and lessons learned in a piece for Fast Company. He began with Juniper as an engineer in 1997. He then pivoted into product management. After several general manager positions, he became CEO of the company in 2014. Homegrown CEOs like this are few and far between. Every employee does not aspire to become CEO, but Rahim’s story shows that this type of career is possible.

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Rahim had a rich, full career with diverse experiences where he steadily developed new skill sets, and Juniper allowed him to do this. One of the lessons he imparts in his article is that he found a company culture where he was comfortable and enjoyed the people he worked with. “If you’re going to stay married to one company, make sure it’s a company you love,” Rahim wrote.

If an employee finds a company they feel in sync with, they should be able to grow and find new opportunities there. If the company aligns with an employee’s purpose and mission in life, companies should be organized to do whatever they can to create a context that can provide a full and rich career for that individual.

Retaining Employees Is Key to Workplace Productivity

Retaining employees is vital if you want to get the best out of them, because job tenure positively affects worker productivity. According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, employee age in and of itself has no important effect on performance, but tenure does. The researchers found that a lengthy tenure with a company “had a significant positive and sometimes very sizeable impact on financial performance and operational excellence.”

The researchers found that long-tenured employees garnered “general human capital” that made them more productive in often invisible ways. This capital manifested as “knowledge, skills, learned capabilities, and patterns of behavior acquired through a lifetime of work and working.” More experienced workers know how to navigate the company and how to get the information that they need, leveraging networks that they build. The researchers concluded that “the accumulation of employee tenure” is a source of competitive advantage.

Given that we are currently experiencing historical lows in workplace productivity, and a very tight labor market, finding new ways to retain employees is more important than ever.

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Allowing Employees to Grow Increases Retention

The problem is that too many companies lose potentially valuable, long-tenured hires because they are not organized to allow employees like Rahim to grow as they wish. Valuable employees leave their companies because they can’t find new ways to grow their skills or find new career opportunities. In other cases, their manager or the company culture does not support them in their search for internal opportunities.

In many organizations, if an employee talks to a manager about another job, they’re seen as disloyal. This type of culture, where the assumption is a talent shortage that each manager feels duty-bound to protect, has great difficulty retaining talent. This is because employees crave new experiences that build and grow their careers. They will remain loyal to an organization where they feel that sense of growth.

Managers must understand that their job is not to defend their turf but to ensure that the company’s employees work effectively. And one way to get the most out of the best talent is to put them in a position where they can fully contribute to your organization. But many organizations are not as oriented toward employee success as they should be.

Internal Mobility and Retention

Some companies that want to excel at employee growth have adopted an internal talent mobility platform. These platforms give employees insight into their organization’s career development potential. For example, more than a decade ago, I worked with the Gap, Inc., finance organization to help educate employees about their career possibilities and what skills they needed to acquire as they moved along their career path. We helped employees envision where they might pivot earlier in their career to go down a different path or have an experience that would add value to their career and the company— even leaving finance to apply their skills elsewhere within Gap, Inc.

If an employee had a specific career goal, we showed them all the different paths they could take to arrive there and the skills and experiences they would need to build along the way. So much more was possible when employees had a line of sight into various career options. This type of transparency led to employees developing themselves thoughtfully. It also allowed the company to fill open senior-level positions with internal talent because they were developing the skills and experiences they needed for future roles.

Today’s talent marketplace technologies are helpful for providing insights into employee opportunities across the company. Talent marketplaces connect employees to projects or new roles that can help them learn and grow. These enabling technologies can show employees where their skills are a 50, 75, or 90 percent match with another job within the company. Then employees can learn about the skills they need for their desired roles and identify various ways to develop them. Talent marketplace technologies may also connect employees with mentors and identify specific learning curricula that can help employees achieve their goals.

The old-school corporate ladder with a gold watch at the end of the career may be a thing of the past. But you can still have a rich and full career within one company, usually through moving to different positions across functions and organizations. Employees don’t have to leave your company to grow. What employees need is management that allows them to develop across the company—and the mobility to move to where they can contribute the most.

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