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Jun 15, 2017

Internal mobility is one of the trickiest issues to navigate. More specifically, how can employees tactfully discuss the possibility of changing departments with a manager; and how can managers properly address the employee’s interest in making that change?

This conversation creates a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about the best way to handle it. However, companies should make a concerted effort to inspire and help guide employees in their career journey.

A critical part of this initiative is teaching managers how to be more open to their employees’ desire for professional development outside of their comfort zone. This is often a difficult task for managers because for most, professional development has been an individually owned function, and not one focused on surveying broad company opportunities and sharing talent. A level of trust needs to be built for the initiative to be successful.

I recommend three different areas to focus on when developing talent at your company:

1. Experiences should be the focus of building skills

As HR professionals we need to find new ways for employees to find value in their development that isn’t tied directly to a vertical promotion in job title. The problem arises when employees want to move around the organization, but they don’t know how.

How One Company Makes Lateral Moves A Win-Win

To solve this problem, companies need to make it easy, creating a guilt-free, transparent environment in which employees can explore different areas inside the organization. This may be by networking, having employees work closely with a mentor or have them volunteer to work on special projects outside their current job. This gives employees access to new opportunities, while learning new skills. It benefits the company when they then bring those new skills back to their departments.

2. Employees need to take initiative

Employees should be encouraged to take initiative with their own development and growth. Historically that was by marching into a manager’s office making the case for a promotion. Today that discussion may more often be about lateral or diagonal moves, down or up into new areas and proficiencies. But they need to know about these opportunities, and the evidence is that even in companies with internal mobility programs, only a small percentage of those workers leaving for a new job were aware of the program.

Companies should develop a talent acquisition team to proactively look at individual employee profiles that may fit a new or open position. At Ciena, we call this program “Inside First.” It obviously cuts down on costs from a business perspective, but more importantly, it allows us to cultivate talent from within.

If your company can’t develop a talent acquisition team, that’s okay. Everyone can play a role in the search. Managers should make time for career coaching conversations and show visible support for the employee’s career mobility. In turn, employees should be encouraged to network with what others are doing in their departments, asking co-workers about their jobs and learn from each other.

3. Managers must feel empowered, competent and secure

Raising the subject of mobilizing a high-performer to the benefit of the individual and the company seems fraught with risk for the manager. That manager might find themselves “man-down” should the employee’s exploration lead to a new opportunity outside their current team or with a different manager. Talent hoarding of high performers is a possibility.

It is important in these situations to have managers recognize the value of being open and candid with their employees, and feel like they have the skills to do that. This is a learned behavior for most. In order to overcome this challenge, it is imperative to not only create an environment for managers that fosters change and leaves room for risk, but also trains them on how to handle these situations. Managers also need to feel secure that there is a robust talent pool or the necessary support to back-fill a role, should their employee leave for another position in the company.

Companies need to be open to mobility among their employees. It definitely isn’t something that comes naturally in some environments, but the long-term benefits are worth the time you put into this new initiative.

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