Thursday, 20 January 2011

The four Ws of internal mobility – what, when, why, who (and how)

Internal mobility is the procedure, which should be clearly defined by means of a policy, regulating the transfer of employees from a position to another within the same organisation.

Habitually used to cover for the temporary absence of the present incumbent of a post, to fill the vacant positions eventually arisen within an organisation and the new positions created within it, internal mobility can without question be firmly considered as part of an organisation recruitment strategy.

The introduction of this policy can indeed enable employers to achieve remarkable additional objectives compared to “just” allowing organisations to effectually execute the essential of their recruitment practices, basically aiming at identifying and appointing the right person for the right position.

As suggested by Jeff Joerres (2010), Manpower Inc. Chairman and CEO, "Internal mobility programmes should be pursued to promote the cross-fertilisation of ideas and commitment by all employees to the global mindset of the company."

Businesses can have recourse to internal mobility programmes for a wide range of reasons, for instance, in order to: improve the effectiveness of their retention practices, enhance productivity (maintaining thus unaltered the existing staff size), pursue cost saving strategies (controlling severance, sourcing and on-boarding costs) and reduce labour costs.

Internal mobility can be implemented differently according to the different objectives an organisation intends to pursue and the aim it is expected to achieve.

According to the results an employer is expected to attain by means of its implementation, can be indeed identified a number of different options:

Internal sourcing
Implemented through the internal job posting approach, the aim of this programme is to fill all the types of positions arising within the organisation internally.

The main objectives habitually associated with this approach are to: provide opportunities for growth and career development to existing employee; attract and retain staff in general and talented individuals in particular.

Employment exchange
This scheme is implemented by means of offering employees inter-departmental working and co-working opportunities; where applicable, also amongst the company subsidiaries and branches.

Main objectives: enhance engagement and team working.

Fixed term mobility programme
This type of programme is habitually realized by offering staff fixed term assignments in different areas of the organisation.

The main objectives are: broaden staff skills and experience and favour individual development.

This option also represents an effective cost-free solution to fill internally short-term vacancies quickly and create a flexible workforce in order to effectively and efficiently use the skills and resources available within the organisation.

Managers’ mobility
This programme is implemented by planning the rotation of the company managers in the different organizational functions and units.

Main objectives: develop the prospect business leaders, forge and prepare the future executives and facilitate succession planning.

This method also has the valuable, additional benefit of enabling the managers of the business to gain a full understanding and knowledge of the company’s operations and to know its customers’ expectations from the different functions and units perspective.

Making reference to the different functions existing within an organisation Stiles et al (2006), reporting on a scheme used at P&G, illustrate how internal mobility can be implemented through:

Job rotation - within the same function but in different business units and locations;

Broadening assignments - temporarily moving employees to a different function;

Career moves - permanently moving individuals to a different function.

The final choice amongst the available options obviously depends on the objectives an organisation intends to pursue. Business executives need to have from the outset crystal clear ideas about the objectives and aims an internal mobility scheme is intended to achieve. The purpose needs to be therefore clearly identified and outlined before the policy formulation and implementation.
The identified objectives need to be aligned with the organisation recruitment strategy and the overall business strategy as well.

Whatever the choice amongst the different options available, internal mobility will invariably reveal to be an effective contributor to employee satisfaction. Moreover, as revealed by a study carried out by iLogos (2003), internal mobility is expected to enable employers to achieve valuable results to protect intellectual property, maintain competitiveness and innovate faster.

As long as individuals tend to stay with the organisation, the risks associated with the disclosure of confidential information are sensibly reduced; although a recent case at Renault France (where the alleged three spies have been dismissed) seems to undermine this principle. On the other hand an exceedingly “closed” environment could potentially hamper an organisation capability to see things from a different perspective and outlook. External recruiting is indeed supposed to bring organisations what is commonly called “fresh thinking and ideas.”

Another likely backlash of internal mobility, but this very much depends on the frequency it is used with the same people, is that albeit mobility allows staff to expand their capability and perform different tasks, it can represent a barrier for employees gaining a deep degree of expertise and specialisation.

Nalbantian and Guzzo (2009) wisely warn against the negative impact caused by a careless and inadequate mobility frequency and suggest that managers, but their advice can be extended to the generality of the cases, should stay in any given position at least for the time necessary to enable them to “enjoy the fruits or suffer the consequences of their decisions.”

Organisations should hence adopt “time-in-position” schemes to avert the disruptions normally associated with a too high mobility turnover rate.

It goes without saying that organisations trying to adopt internal mobility programmes in order to reduce their turnover rate, should avoid adopting measures causing further turnover (although of a different type) and the negative effects usually associated with these.

Before implementing an internal mobility programme within an organisation, some considerations are absolutely crucial in order to subsequently take consistent decisions.

The first aspect to consider concerns the decision to internally post all of the positions eventually available within the organisation or otherwise. Even though the business may decide to advertise all the openings internally, this should not prevent the organisation to extend the research also externally, in the event the position could not be properly filled internally. This type of decision should not produce any negative impact on the most important aim of a recruitment procedure, that is to say finding the right person for the right position. Such decisions should also be made duly considering the workforce skills and capabilities currently available and the external labour market conditions.

Understanding and knowing the internal pipeline, succession pool and career progression opportunities, as well as having an in depth knowledge of the local labour market trends and features (demographic trends included) is of paramount importance to decide whether it is preferable to source internally or invest time and resources to recruit externally.

Research carried out by Taleo provides some interesting and useful hints in order to better cope with the issue. In particular, findings of the Taleo study revealed that organisations having a high rate of internal redeployment may find it more advantageous recruiting externally. The study also warns the organisations using to fill an exceedingly number of positions internally against the likely disruptive effects caused by replacing the vacant positions with the employees participating in the internal mobility programme. Obviously, moving a person from any given position accounts in turn for that position to fall vacant and needing to be hence filled, generating a sort of vicious circle. The fact of the matter is that for each moved person two recruitment processes are thus required: one aiming at replacing the person involved with mobility and the other at filling the vacant position let by the person who will be moved.

Internal mobility should not be intended as about merely filling jobs and moving people around (Systematic HR, 2010). These programmes should specifically aim at effectively and properly using resources and talent within an organisation and moving them within the different areas of the business in order to use them most aggressively and achieve competitive edge.

Whatever the aim of internal mobility and whatever the way it is implemented, internal mobility is basically and invariably destined for the improvement of individuals’ skills and for providing these possibilities for growth and career advancement.

Employers should therefore struggle to offer this opportunity to individuals genuinely and truly committed to their career development, who have what it takes to assume new and different tasks and responsibilities, who are keen to take initiative and who have in some ways showed to be ready to develop and learn new skills.

Organisations should also ponder the eventuality to consider a minimum period of permanence in the current position before deeming an individual eligible for the internal mobility programme.

When preparing and developing the policy, employers should also take into consideration whether they would be willing to accept applications from the staff involved in disciplinary proceeding, especially whether on account of unsatisfactory performance claims, at least as long as the proceedings have not been resolved.

Managers definitely play a remarkable role in the successful implementation of internal mobility programmes so that their full support is definitely required from the outset.

As appropriately suggested by Stiles et al (2006), managers should encourage and foster staff move for personal and professional growth and act as mentors and coaches. Managers should also be able to avoid “silo thinking”, that is, to show concern just for their units’ interest, rather than for the benefit of the whole organisation. The effect of such a practice will indeed have a strong negative impact on leadership development and knowledge sharing across the organisation.

Open job posting, considered much more likely to succeed in environments whose culture encourages managers to facilitate talent transfer across the organisation, is considered a helpful and successful way to break down the barriers eventually raised by internal “silos.” Yet, open job posting is likely to be very effective not only to retain existing staff but also to attract qualified and skilled individuals as well.

Some organisations, in a move which might apparently seem leading to take internal mobility to extremes, extend internal mobility programmes to employee representatives and trade unions. To ensure that employee representatives have the skills and qualities enabling them to be effective negotiators, for instance, Shell provides union representatives special opportunities for mobility.

Research shows a clear positive correlation between career advancement opportunities, retention rates and productivity levels (Kelly Services, 2004). Yet, in terms of productivity, an external newcomer can require up to twice the time to reach the same productivity as an internal hire. Studies also show that businesses having and resorting to internal mobility programmes record turnover rates four percent lower than organisations without any internal mobility policy.

Introducing internal mobility programmes and providing the necessary tools to effectively implement them is not exactly plain sailing and lot of efforts and resources are obviously required. However, it just takes to carefully consider the cost incurred by the organisation when lose trained staff and replace them to find out whether the investment is worth the efforts or otherwise and can be eventually quickly recouped.

Finally, as for the relevance of internal mobility in terms of employment law, more specifically as for what concerns the contract of employment, organisations planning to formulate and implement internal mobility practices within subsidiaries should include in the terms and conditions of employment a mobility clause. Businesses can invoke mobility clauses, specifying that individuals must work in any location as needed by the firm, as long as that discretion is used reasonably by the employer, as usual: “the acid test is whether or not the employer acts reasonably” (Armstrong, 2006).

Longo, R., (2011), The four Ws of internal mobility – what, when, why, who (and how), HR Professionals, [online].

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