Want To Keep Top Talent? Create Clear Paths To Advancement

As someone who has literally had 19 different jobs at the same company, I can personally attest to the power of employee mobility. 

Growing up in an organization that continually invests in talent, I benefited from a steady stream of opportunities that has kept me engaged and challenged for 40 years. 

My path is hardly the norm with average job tenure dropping from about five years to just 1.8 years in 2021. But as we move out of a pandemic and face the very real possibility of a recession, business leaders need to seriously rethink their talent approach and focus on cultivating and retaining their people. The current landscape calls for a shift from the non-stop recruiting and rushed hiring we’ve seen in recent years. 

What we need is a greater emphasis on internal mobility programs. Leaders need to use their imagination and take the time to find the positions that people will succeed in, allowing them to change roles or even departments without having to change companies. 

Here are five reasons why business leaders should consider an internal mobility program.

People want new opportunities

The number of opportunities that you give employees has a direct effect on how people feel about their work. Entrusting employees with new roles that they may think are beyond their capability says you believe in them, which encourages them to believe in themselves. Build your work culture around the idea that your company is a place where people can learn and grow. 

More than half of people agree that investing in professional development opportunities should be the top priority for companies looking to improve their culture–even beating out mental health and wellness programs and better management.  

Flexibility is a competitive advantage

The pandemic gave people a greater appreciation for flexibility–whether that looks like remote work options, an asynchronous work schedule, or home-like amenities in the office. Indeed, when employees are satisfied with their company’s flexible accommodations they are 2.6 times more likely to be happy and 2.1 times more likely to recommend working for the company.  

This concept extends to a flexible approach to internal mobility. If you cultivate an environment that is adaptable enough that anyone can be successful–or try a new role that is better aligned to their skills or interests–your employees will have fewer reasons to look outside the organization for new opportunities. 

Protect institutional knowledge and IP

People aren’t interchangeable, so you can’t run a company like a nightclub–one in, one out. Employees’ experience and knowledge are valuable assets. And chronic brain drain from prolonged attrition can have a detrimental effect across several areas of the business–from client knowledge to legacy operations to your creative process. 

A mobility program that allows individuals to make lateral moves to new roles or new departments means that rather than leaving the organization altogether, institutional knowledge is preserved and, in many cases, is enhanced as people share and cross-pollinate ideas and experiences.

Impress the clients

Telling a client that a critical member of their core team has left your company for a job with another company can be a painful conversation. Clients may make negative assumptions about your organization (or positive ones about your competition). 

But letting a client know that a member of their team is pursuing a new opportunity within the organization sends a confident message that your talent is growing in their careers and choosing to stay with your agency. I have yet to have a conversation with a client where they objected to a professional growth opportunity for one of their team members.

It’s rewarding to see team members succeed

We’ve all had jobs that just weren’t the right fit for our skill set, and many companies make the mistake of firing someone in this situation. Instead of replacing that person, try thinking outside the box by moving them from a role they’re under-performing in and into a new role they can succeed in.

Instead of spending time recruiting and rushing to fill an open position, nurture the resources you have, invest in continuous training and upskilling, and cultivate transferable skill sets among talent. There is nothing more gratifying than finding a new place for someone where they can have a fresh start and be more successful, confident and happy. 

Here’s the bottom line: Mobility programs help you combat attrition. They’ll build a richer, more engaged company culture of continuous learning and growth that leverages institutional knowledge, projects stability and, most importantly, sets your people up for success.

Karen Kaplan is the chair and CEO and chair of Hill Holliday, an advertising agency.

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