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Internal Mobility Programs: Retaining Talent in the Modern Organization

A recent study by Bersin found that around three quarters of companies have only basic internal mobility programs.

And yet, internal hires perform significantly better than external ones on their first two years at a new role, according to a Wharton study published in 2011. They’re also 61% less likely to be laid off, and usually take 18% lower compensation than their external counterparts. They are an attractive proposition for every organization.

The biggest draw of internal mobility programs from the perspective of business leaders, however, is a longer term one, and it concerns the company’s ability to retain and promote top talent internally. There is a chicken-and-egg relationship between internal mobility programs and retention that was well-summarized in this Deloitte article:

“There’s no implied loyalty between employees and employers, so employers don’t want to invest in career planning and learning programs. Because there are no career planning and learning programs, employees don’t have the skills to be considered for promotion—and there’s no internal mobility. Because there’s no internal mobility, the very best employees keep leaving, hurting the organization’s brand in the career market. And the cycle begins again.”

Retention is more and more dependent on effective internal mobility programs

The concern over retaining top talent for the long-term success of the company is real: only 15% of companies in America and Asia feel confident about their ability to internally promote employees into key positions. Talent leaders are turning to internal mobility programs because they need effective methods of retaining top talent and ensuring they can fill key leadership roles in the future.

The current crop of employees on the market, which is comprised in large part of millenials, are generally perceived as less loyal because of their openness about not seeing themselves staying long at their current roles. According to Linkedin’s 2016 Talent trends, 41% of employees do not want to stay at their current company for more than 2 years, but it’s important to keep in mind why they might want to leave.

Only 1 in 3 millennials feel their organization is fully leveraging the skills and experience they have to offer, and according to Linkedin’s Job Switcher Global Report, lack of opportunity for advancement was the reason why 45% of job switchers left their companies in 2015. If employees feel like their current employers do not offer them the kind of growth path they are looking for–one with a steep learning curve and opportunities to leverage their full potential–they have every motivation to try and create such a path by changing employers.

It’s not just about the promise of a one-dimensional growth trajectory and a raise every 3 years. It’s about allowing employees to find new ways to challenge themselves, learn more, and choose whether they want more responsibility, a higher level of technical expertise, or a more balanced working life, among many, many different things.

What TA can bring to internal mobility programs

Internal mobility is traditionally seen as part of the job of Human Resources, and specifically teams such as Learning and Development. And yet, many of the skills and techniques needed to successfully achieve these programs' goal–retaining great talent–are very strong in talent acquisition teams.

Communication and Marketing Campaigns

Marketing skills come into play in different ways when it comes to internal mobility, the most obvious one being the ability to tell the story of how an employee might grow and find purpose inside the company for a long, long time. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool in promoting internal careers, and is the core piece of any marketing or communication efforts around internal mobility.

Beyond developing the core story of internal mobility in a company–the brand, the values, the sense of purpose and belonging, as well as the tangible benefits–internal mobility programs also have technical and tactical communication challenges to overcome.

Internal communication campaigns have to be designed and deployed, and they can include everything from emails to events to displays in the company. Not to mention, internal mobility initiatives usually have a lot more success when they make the process of searching and finding jobs easier, for instance by building an internal job portal such as this one by Balfour Beatty.

Screenshot 2019-08-14 08.32.22

Communication is one of the main difficulties faced by organizations when it comes to their internal mobility programs, and it makes sense to leverage talent acquisition teams’ experience to do it right.

Skill-based recruiting

Instead of hiring for past experience, or based on the current job openings, more and more talent teams are advising hiring managers on how to hire for skills and development potential. Skill-based hiring is a proven way to retain top talent, and more partners are available every year to help talent teams find qualified hires who do not fit the usual mold.

The model below is an example that applies specifically to executive hirings, but the methodology can be applied to most other role types. Shifting towards skill-based hiring can be owned almost entirely by the TA organization, but needs internal adoption from hiring managers and senior leadership.

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Organizational redesign and agile recruiting

Many hiring managers hire and allocate talent to a specific function or track: marketing, software development, data science, human resources… They don’t consider the ability of a candidate to move around functions, as they have to prioritize allocating talent to their own function.

The reality of the new talent supply, however, is that a degree of flexibility in both career path and ways of working is necessary for employees to thrive. Talent acquisition teams are familiar with this state of affairs, and can advise business executives throughout the organization on new ways to design their team structures and bring in the talent they need.

Companies who have a more agile approach to hiring see their internal talent like a marketplace.

recruiting for agile organizations McKinsey

They have a central executive body that keeps everyone aligned on the common vision, and a network of small, cross-functional, project-based teams that can more or less function as independent business units. Every time a project is completed, the team dissolves and the employees move on to the next thing.

In companies like these, you hire someone who can do this current job, but also easily move on to the next one when the time comes. Culturally, this is not very different from hiring candidates for rotational programs. Think of Amazonians, who think nothing of starting in retail managing vendors, then doing a stint buying content for Prime Video, before moving on to AWS to sell cloud solutions after only a few years.

This agility is not limited to functional areas. Companies like Cisco or PwC have found ways to more easily promote gig jobs internally or to facilitate remote work opportunities for their employees. Internal mobility programs should include at least some of these options to be truly adapted to the needs of today’s employees.


Bersin's 2018 report "Six Key Insights to Put Talent Acquisition at the Center of Business Strategy and Execution" showed that high performing organizations have a number of talent acquisition best practices in common, and internal mobility is a key one among them.

In top-performing companies, internal mobility is a part of company culture, and hiring managers work with recruiters to cultivate talent from within. Implementing effective internal mobility programs is possibly one of the most impactful changes a talent leader can bring to their organization. No matter who ultimately owns these programs, talent acquisition teams can add a lot of value in the process of designing and deploying them.


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