Back to insights

Barriers to internal mobility

Pitfalls every company should avoid

Welcome to a new world


Before COVID-19 changed nearly everything, the world of work was evolving through demographic shifts, technological advancements, and unprecedented labor dynamics.


Now, in this momentous time, we have all been slingshot into unchartered territory, leaving companies and workers unprepared for a perfect storm of external factors and an accelerated need for internal transformation.


To achieve a workforce fit for the future, there are many obstacles and opportunities we need to navigate: a proliferation of disruptive technologies that threaten jobs, historically fast job growth, the epic shift to remote work, severe talent shortages not seen since the 1950s, and future unknowns that are hard to predict. 


Many articles and studies look at trends and changes impacting companies, but the most overlooked component that will largely determine any organization’s fate is—their people. How we invest in and develop them—will ultimately determine whether companies thrive or merely survive. 


Is your company hindering internal mobility, forcing people—your most valuable resource—to look elsewhere?


Lack of vision into skills needed for the future


When it comes to the changing nature of work, organizations know some of the skills they need, but others are harder to predict. What’s apparent is the strategies they use to measure the demand for skills are out-of-date. This doesn’t bode well and needs to change.


An in-depth study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group for the World Economic Forum cautioned employers that “relying solely on new workers entering the labor market with the right ready-made skills will no longer be sufficient.” Of those employers who do perceive shortfalls in skills and competencies, few substantially invest in reskilling and upskilling their current colleague population. 


This is coupled with a widespread awareness among workers that their capabilities are not keeping pace with the rapidly evolving market. An OECD survey found that more than one in four adults reported a mismatch between their current skill sets and the qualifications required to do their jobs.1 However, far too many employees struggle to identify and access effective professional training that will make them employable for the foreseeable future. 


As technology continues to transform the workplace, and the pandemic continues to reshape the future of work, it’s important to understand the skills needed today as well as those that will be required over the coming three to five years. Simply stated, business leaders need to be sponsors of development and resources, recognizing that an internal candidate’s new technical skills—along with their existing organizational savvy—can result in a higher-performing employee, cost savings and positive business results.  


Lack of meaningful learning & development throughout the employee lifecycle


It’s like a game of musical chairs. Just about every company is running around the labor market, looking for new talent and hoping to retain the top talent they already have. However, if they’re not offering reskilling and upskilling opportunities (among a broad range of career development solutions) then they will have trouble keeping their best people and almost no chance of attracting talent with future-proofed skills. 


Recently, LHH conducted a global survey of 2,100 HR decision makers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Australia to gauge their commitment to future-proofing workforces. The results were disheartening, to say the least. 


The survey found that only 56% of all organizations are actively working to future-proof their talent pipelines. However, within that figure, there is evidence that organizations are struggling with the key components of a future-looking HR strategy. 


The survey also found that less than half (47.2%) of organizations are focusing their attention on the transferrable skills of existing employees to fill future job openings, a critical component for the redeployment of talent.


As well, the survey indicated that 40% of hiring managers have not even considered reskilling or upskilling to fill job vacancies and only 33.5% are confident in their organization’s ability to deliver reskilling and upskilling programs. 


Research shows that increasingly, top talent is being drawn to employers that offer formal re/upskilling programs. In one study2, more than one-third of employee respondents said they would leave their current job if they could not access training to acquire new skills, and nearly 80 percent said that when searching for a job, they would lean toward accepting offers from organizations that offered formal learning and development opportunities. 


Lack of management support for internal mobility


The reluctance of managers to support internal mobility is perhaps one of the most fascinating and confounding barriers. For some, it is a refusal to allow their team members to pursue other roles in other teams. For others, it is a persistent preference to hire externally to fill openings rather than look internally. 


According to the LHH Internal Mobility study, 46 percent of respondents cited “manager resistance to internal talent mobility” as a significant issue. A third did not ask their managers for training opportunities due to "fear of appearing incompetent."  


Although employees may be reluctant to ask their managers for training opportunities, they want to re/upskill. Learning and development opportunities have fast become the hallmarks of an "employer of choice." That explains why other surveys have found that when people want to change jobs or further their career aspirations, nine out of 10 times they feel they have to leave their jobs to pursue those opportunities.  


It is impossible to satisfy the cravings of your employees for career and skills development unless senior leaders are enunciating their support and backing up those words with resources. And they must communicate clearly and directly with their direct reports and frontline managers to let them know that career and skills development are essential for long-term success. 


Finally, it’s important to reward managers and business leaders who encourage and allow people to move into new roles or reinvent existing roles. This will ensure your company becomes a producer of talent, not just another consumer. 


A way forward


Removing any existing barriers to internal mobility is a key factor in achieving a workforce that’s fit for the future. 


LHH has highlighted 5 steps that will help businesses overcome many barriers that they are facing which is limiting their ability to successfully support internal talent mobility and employee development. 


  1. Get the support of senior leaders behind development programs
  2. Implement a formal process that creates opportunities for employees to re-/upskill
  3. Conduct skills inventory to identify transferable skills
  4. Reward managers and employees who move into new roles or reinvent existing ones
  5. Encourage employees to take responsibility for their own career development

Organizations that identify the skills needed to move forward; provide ongoing learning, development, and reskilling/upskilling; and support and reward employees through internal mobility, will ultimately become the winners in this new world of work. 


Citations

1 Müge Adalet McGowan and Dan Andrews, Skill Mismatch and Public Policy in OECD Countries (OECD Economics Department Working Paper No. 1210, 2015), https://www.oecd.org/eco/growth/Skill-mismatch-and-public-policy-in-OECD-countries.pdf.

2 Sitel Group (2019). Future of Work and Employee Learning. https://www.sitel.com/report/future-of-work-and-employee-learning/


Learn more about career mobility