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4 ways to encourage internal mobility for your employees – and why you should

Do your employees see a future for themselves at your company? Do they feel like they’re constantly growing?

If your answer isn’t a resounding “yes,” there’s a good chance your retention strategy needs work.

Your employees want to see that there’s potential for their rising career at your company. When they do, they’re more motivated to stick around and bring their best selves to work each day.

So, are you ready to create an internal mobility initiative that inspires your stars to stay and grow? Consider these four tactics as you move forward.

1. Build your employees’ knowledge base through mentorships

How are you preparing the movers and shakers on your team for their next pivot? Are they ready to leap into action on cue when the time comes?

Chances are that your employees need some coaching before they hit center stage. Mentorships can help facilitate this growth by enabling employees to share key information. From gaining wisdom on how to dodge common rookie mistakes to finding ways to overcome organizational hurdles, mentors can pass on insight that can’t be properly taught in a classroom.

Whether it’s through a formal program with assigned mentors, or informal relationships that allow more flexibility, mentors can help guide employees toward professional improvement so they’re rehearsed and ready to take on their next role.

You have two options on how to move forward with this.

A formal mentoring process can help set the stage of how your program will run by providing consistency and setting expectations. For example, you can match mentors directly with employees and establish parameters on how meetings will occur.

Or, you can simply have an informal program that encourages mentorship relationships. For instance, an employee interested in moving into leadership might want to meet regularly with a director to get insight into how she makes tough business decisions.

Regardless of how you set it up, if you don’t want your program to flop, you must not only give time to mentors to fulfill their duties, but also provide plenty of encouragement. You’ll want to ensure that mentors are open to giving advice, listening and sharing, and that they will dedicate the necessary time and effort to make it work. Meanwhile, mentees need to be committed to gaining new perspective and embracing feedback.

Overall, the program should make employees appreciate their professional progression and feel more prepared to take on their next role, whatever it may be.

2. Give your employees stretch projects

Pacing is important in employee development.

Stretch projects give employees an opportunity to expand their skillsets slowly by working on new assignments that challenge their norm.

For example, you might give an employee the lead on a new project. Or, you could invite an employee to attend a regular leadership meeting as a representative of their team (instead of their manager).

These opportunities allow employees to showcase their capabilities and help you understand how ready they are to take the next steps in their careers.

Pull back the curtain, and be transparent as you dole out these responsibilities. Let your team members know why they’re being selected to be a part of these projects and how these could be stepping stones for upward mobility in the future.

Incorporate these projects into performance review goals and periodic check-in conversations, too. But don’t make it a monologue – you want a two-way dialogue. For example, at the beginning of the year, you could ask “What kind of projects do you want to work on?” or “Would this project on the horizon be of interest to you?”

When you give employees a chance to chime in, they become more invested and engaged with an understanding of the potential impact on their lives and the business.

Be sure to set your employees up for success. Have follow-up conversations about these stretch projects throughout the year. This gives your employees a chance to tell you what’s working and what challenges they’re facing.

Little by little, your employees should become more confident in their skills and ready to take on even more responsibility.

3. Showcase potential opportunities through job shadowing

Not every employee will take a linear path in their career and seek a promotion. For some, career mobility simply means moving to a new team for a job that’s a better fit.

When a team member expresses interest in playing a new part in your organization, job shadowing allows them to spend time with someone who’s currently in their desired role. It’s a backstage look at what they do, how they do it, and how it impacts the company. And it should help the employee to determine if it’s a match for their skills or interest.

Keep in mind that job shadowing doesn’t have to be a formal program, as long as there is agreement and understanding between the departments or groups that are participating.

Be sure to communicate with leaders and their direct reports alike – whether it’s through a memo, email, intranet site or their manager – about the benefits and expectations of job shadowing. The more conversations you have, the more people will feel like they understand why job shadowing needs to occur.

Stop any related gossip before it starts. Be clear that no one will be stealing someone else’s job. You can simply say, for example, “Jessica will be job shadowing this week. She may be interested in a role like this in the future if it opens up. She just wants to learn more at this time.”

And, to ensure time is well spent, employees should go into each job-shadowing experience with some expectations about what they want to get out of it – equipped with a list of questions and an open mind. Meanwhile, the person being shadowed should be prepared and have an idea of what information they will share.

After a job-shadowing session, managers should ask follow-up questions. For example, “What did you learn? What did you like? What questions do you still have? Is this something you’d like to pursue? If so, how can I help you?”

Depending on timing, you may be able to place your employee in a new role on occasion. If and when an opening like this occurs – and your employee is a good fit – embrace the possibility this brings to your company. While you may be reluctant to lose an employee in one area, consider what you stand to gain: Your employee will bring new experience to their new team. Plus, imagine what this can do for alignment between two departments in your company.

4. Create a culture that supports career mobility

If you want employees to see that there will be ample opportunity with your company, show them from the get-go.

In your employee orientation, let your rock stars shine. For instance, do you have a payroll specialist who became a marketing specialist and then was promoted to a marketing manager? How did she choreograph her career?

Share stories that remind employees that they shouldn’t pigeonhole themselves into one role. Encourage them to inquire about other positions.

Continue this encouragement after orientation. For example, send out company-wide emails when new positions become available. Or, create a bulletin board and intranet post about new positions. Often times, employees perceive that there are fewer opportunities than what’s actually available because they simply aren’t aware of the openings.

And remember to be open if your employee comes to you inquiring about another position. Try not to typecast – your technical engineer might also have a great background in business development that you’ve overlooked in the past.

Built-in succession planning

By putting in place the right development opportunities, your employees will have a better understanding of their potential and feel more empowered to shine on your stage – not your competitors’.

Meanwhile, you’ll have understudies on standby – because let’s face it, succession planning isn’t just for top roles. You need potential successors at the ready for every critical role in your company.

Want to learn more ways to develop your HR strategy? Download our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.