Internal Mobility Best Practices to Engage and Retain Employees
Providing career development and advancement opportunities internally is imperative, and L&D can lead the way.
Executives across the world are looking to fill critical roles with internal talent, according to the 2023 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn.
The report shows that executives are focused on “keeping employees motivated and engaged” as well as “providing opportunities for employees to move into different roles within the business.” That same report, however, shows that most companies are not achieving those goals.
There is a good reason to keep employees engaged: it keeps them from looking elsewhere for their next position. In fact, LinkedIn’s Chief People Officer, Teuila Hanson, says executives are embracing the motto, “Switch careers, not companies.”
The research has good news for learning and development (L&D) professionals: Among the top five most impactful ways to retain employees are opportunities for career growth within the company, and opportunities to learn and develop new skills. That is where an internal mobility program comes in.
Internal mobility best practices
For any L&D professional looking to achieve high retention rates and keep their organization’s employees engaged, an internal mobility program is a must. But, as the research has shown, simply wishing for an internal mobility program does not make one so.
Educate employees and managers on internal mobility opportunities
The benefits of shifting employees around internally may seem self-evident to L&D professionals, but internal mobility can be a very sensitive subject for those involved. Take the time to educate employees and their managers about what they will gain from promoting or participating in an internal mobility program:
The LinkedIn Learning course Navigating Internal Mobility as an Employee from author and speaker Mary Abbajay is a great resource for helping employees understand how internal mobility can benefit them. “Internal mobility can be a great career accelerant,” Abbajay says. The course provides employees with a robust curriculum to help them understand and plan out their own internal mobility strategy.
A particularly skilled employee may be the perfect candidate for another position within the organization — but their manager may have other ideas. In cases of managers who are reluctant to support internal mobility for their teams, L&D professionals can share research from LinkedIn showing that lack of manager support for career growth is more likely to cause an employee to look externally for their next role.
Internal mobility can also be a net positive for managers themselves. Instead of seeing an internal move as a loss, L&D professionals should frame it as an opportunity to gain an ally elsewhere in the organization.
Don’t just focus on promotions
Promotions are often the only thing employees — and L&D professionals — think of when they think about internal mobility. But moving up in the organization is not always the same as advancing one’s career. L&D professionals should also consider these options:
When an employee wants to explore a different department, they can often do their same role or a similar role elsewhere in the organization. A lateral move like this gives the employee exposure to a different function of the business and, in conjunction with an online reskilling or upskilling program, potentially an opening to a new career path.
Sometimes coursework is not enough. When an employee is interested in fundamentally shifting their career path and taking on entirely new responsibilities in the near term, the best option may be to take a step back on the seniority path to get relevant on-the-job experience. A downward move will also give the employee a unique perspective on how their new department operates, which may be invaluable to the team and the company as a whole.
Employees who feel that their skills are not being put to good use in their current job are 10x more likely to be looking for a new job than those who feel that their skills are being put to good use.
Personalize employee learning
Research from LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report reveals that the top motivators for employee learning are “If it helps them stay up to date in their field” and “If it is personalized specifically for their interests and career goals.” For L&D professionals, that means collaborating with employees on developing a learning plan tailored to their needs, while also keeping the needs of the business in mind.
Map training to career goals
The best way to ensure an employee stays engaged with their learning plan is to make the coursework relevant to their specific career goals. When planning a custom learning path, L&D professionals should listen to what excites the employee, what their professional ambitions are, and what new skills will get them to where they want to go.
Guide employees based on organizational skill gaps
Employee training does neither the company nor the employee any good if the skills being taught do not translate directly into filling current or upcoming skill gaps. When working with employees to develop custom learning paths, L&D professionals have an opportunity to guide which skills the employee emphasizes in line with their interests and business needs. This alignment will make any future internal mobility much smoother and more effective.
Develop an internal leadership development program
Training hard skills is a relatively straightforward process. However, soft skills such as communication and leadership are harder to train. In fact, these skills often require their own dedicated program. And since 85% of executives are looking at a dwindling leadership pipeline, L&D should look to develop their own program to train internal talent to fill those upcoming vacancies.
Foster a culture of learning
Learning happens most effectively when it is a cultural expectation rather than a “nice-to-have” or something to be done during that ever elusive downtime. Here are some ways L&D professionals can help build a culture of learning:
Make learning social
Colleagues create and participate in work culture together, so fostering a culture of learning starts with community-based learning. When employees learn alongside their colleagues using an online learning platform’s social tools, they help each other and stay motivated to learn more. In fact, social learning tends to result in better outcomes than solitary learning.
Messages from executives
As company-wide leaders, executives have a central role to play in creating a culture of learning. A quick video message from one or more members of the C-suite about the importance of continued learning, their own learning goals, and internal mobility will help reinforce L&D’s messaging.
Make learning fun
Career satisfaction and mobility can be powerful motivators to keep employees learning. But those long-term goals could use some help from something a little more immediate: gamification. By building fun challenges and rewards into learning programs, L&D professionals can create smaller incremental incentives to keep employees learning.
“Organizations have an opportunity to give employees what they want, and in the process become more agile and competitive. Leaders looking for a way forward can start by asking: Does our culture support employee growth and internal mobility? Do we model the behavior and celebrate the right outcomes? Do we know how we’re doing in helping employees find fulfilling work?”
Measure internal mobility success
While online learning may seem intrinsic to any internal mobility program, no project or program can survive if it cannot prove its worth. L&D professionals can start to establish success data by measuring these metrics:
Track business-critical skills
To understand whether an internal mobility program is effective — and where it may need to be fine-tuned — it is important to create a company-wide skills database. Track which skills the business needs and which have been added to the current workforce through internal upskilling and reskilling. With this data, L&D professionals can prove effectiveness or redirect efforts as needed.
The fastest way to an answer is simply to ask. By sending out regular employee surveys, L&D professionals can see what the learners themselves say is or is not working. Keeping an eye on learner sentiment will help ensure engagement rates stay high and may hold important clues about how to proceed if engagement lags.