Future of Work Part 3: Internal Mobility

July 5, 2022

Generation X came of age as the “company man” was being relegated to the dustbin of history, forced to become career opportunists for their advancement and skill development. In stark contrast to the long tenures seen by their predecessors, it was common to jump from company to company with each shift in the economy. As the torch was passed from Gen X to Gen Y&Z, the career opportunist gave way to the gig economy.

Mobility and career growth have gone hand-in-hand for almost 30 years. The upside was a dynamic talent market where critically-skilled folks moved without much resistance into growing parts of the economy that needed those skills. The free-flow of talent was a catalyst to economic growth. If you needed skills on your team, you could find them in freelancers or free-moving FTEs. The barrier and cost to hiring was relatively low. As an employer, a team member’s departure to a competitor was your opportunity to upskill the role with new blood.

The free flow of talent worked for everyone until we were all forced to take a pause and reflect. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the rat race that the new economy was. All work and no balance. Everyone constantly looking over their shoulders or forward to see what was next. The last two years have exposed the Faustian deal our economy forced us to make. Nobody was safe or balanced in their lives and careers. Our collective head-long dive into career and focus on the bottom line corresponded with our increased disengagement and mistrust of community institutions. We were starving ourselves from our communal sustenance. Our safety net and support systems had eroded.

Until we restore our faith in our community institutions or something new takes their place, people are looking towards their employer for fulfillment. I think it’s unreasonable to believe a job can be everything a person needs to be fulfilled, but it is a critical factor to our well being.

The Return of the Company Person?

Emerging from the pandemic, the cost of talent acquisition has increased considerably. It’s a candidate’s market and they are being choosy. As is discussed in Parts 1 & 2, candidates are looking for well run, culturally attuned, purpose-driven, and career growth opportunities in the organizations they choose to join. In this final installment we look at Internal Mobility as a future trend; the return of the Company Person, if you will.

Driving this trend is the increased cost of talent acquisition. Today’s highly competitive talent market is spurred by demographic shifts and retention challenges. Talent acquisition budgets, in turn have ballooned sending up red flags to those watching a company’s bottom line. If budgets aren’t adjusted, the pain simply moves elsewhere, cascading poor outcomes across an entire practice. Talent acquisition teams, hiring managers and their teams who pick up the slack risk burnout from the additional workload. Budgets increase elsewhere, paying for huge counter-offers and pre-emptive pay increases.

What if retention was based on something more centered? An approach driven by a sense of purpose (Check out my first in this series) integrated with the company goals and a feeling of belonging. Guide your employees with skilled and supported managers leading the way. Add in on-going investment in skills development, an individual map for career growth and internal mobility, and I think you have a powerful recipe for retention. More importantly, your team will be more productive and fulfilled.

In Practice

Some practical things to think about. Creating pathways for your employees to feel confident in becoming a “Company Person”  isn’t an easy fix. It’s going to take some planning and manager training to pull it off in a meaningful way. Perhaps start with mapping the internal careers with your teammates or disciplines most likely to leave. Examine the next two to four years in departments and roles versus an entire career. A well thought out four to five year plan revisited biannually can be a simple first step.

The two critical implementation points are manager/employee reviews and the on-boarding process. Discussing internal mobility during the interview process can be a talent magnet as well. Make sure your hiring managers can talk confidently and honestly about the company's commitment to progression in every interview.

A final thought: Think about enabling significant career shifts. I have talked to candidates who wanted to shift from creative to strategy or account to creative and everything in between. They had to move and make significant compromises to make these career shifts. Taking on another job with the experience in an adjacent role can bring added insight. It also saves you the loss of institutional knowledge and expense of training in someone from scratch.

Thanks for listening. As always, I’d like to hear from you.



Photo by Laurie Decroux on Unsplash

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