Skip to main content

internal talent mobility: why it's essential to solving your HR challenges

Imagine if a single HR strategy could help you boost engagement, drive greater equity and inclusiveness, increase retention, reduce your recruitment costs and your hard-to-fill vacancies while also improving your employer brand.....

Impossible? Not according to some internal mobility platform providers. It is true that improving internal talent mobility can have a positive impact on all these things - but just buying in a SaaS platform is not going to be your magic bullet. It requires culture change. And that's hard. But the payoff if you get internal mobility right can be immense. Here's our expert guide to developing and implementing an internal talent mobility strategy.

what is internal mobility?

Internal mobility is the practice of moving current employees to different roles in the same company, or opening up opportunities for them to get involved in projects and gigs outside of their regular job; rather than turning to external recruitment.

You build greater business agility and resilience and your employees build greater adaptability and flexibility, which is good for their career development and long-term employability.

The bottom line is, encouraging more internal talent mobility in your company is going to become increasingly important: LinkedIn's 2021 Workplace Learning Report found that 51 percent of L&D professionals thought that internal mobility is more of a priority now than before COVID-19.

why is internal talent mobility important?

Skills availability has never been more important to organisational success. Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, has said, "Talent, more than capital, will represent the critical production factor. For this reason, scarcity of a skilled workforce, rather than availability of financial capital is more likely to be the crippling limit to innovation, competitiveness and growth."

There are now a myriad of internal mobility tools available to help you build the skills you need. In this article, we'll talk about the different approaches, look at how internal mobility can impact engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and identify the steps you can take to create a culture of internal talent mobility.

download our e-book: 5 ways to develop a modern, always-on talent mobility strategy

internal mobility

internal mobility - the different tools and approaches

It seems everyone is talking about internal mobility. There's even a new vocabulary to get to grips with: the skills cloud, ontology builders, skills taxonomy and skills inference, learning experience platforms, talent intelligence, etc, etc.

related content: The new language of internal mobility - how to know your skills cloud from your ontology builder

Broadly, internal talent mobility solutions are available from five main sources: enterprise level human capital management (HCM) systems, as part of a talent management suite, as an extension of a talent acquisition platform, as part of a learning experience platform (LXP) or as a standalone talent marketplace.

HCM systems

Enterprise HCM systems such as Workday and Oracle now offer skills functionality and can be used for internal mobility. If you already have in place one of the systems offering skills functionality, the main advantage is that all your existing HR data is already in there. If not, changing your HCM system just to acquire internal talent mobility tools would be cost prohibitive.

The other drawback with using an HCM system for internal mobility is that they aren't built specifically for that purpose and may lack some of the features and AI that standalone solutions offer.

talent management suites

Some integrated talent management platforms have developed talent mobility tools to complement their core offering. These tend to be more configurable than the HCM systems and can provide more detailed insights and analytics into how talent is deployed and is developing across the organisation.

However, more of their focus can be on performance management rather than career development and facilitating internal hiring.

talent acquisition platforms

Several of the talent acquisition (TA) platforms have extended or repurposed their systems to cover internal hiring. This can be helpful in looking at resourcing as a whole, and they undoubtedly have the sophisticated AI to perform good matching between internal candidates and open work assignments.

However, the TA platforms are built to manage the hiring process for external candidates and their primary focus is on recruitment.

learning experience platforms

Unlike the TA platforms, LXPs are built for your existing employees. They are designed to assess, quantify and track the skills of your workforce and provide employees with personalised learning recommendations to fill any skills gaps for their current or future roles. LXPs create rich and engaging learning environments for your employees and help you see the breadth and depth of skills you have across the workforce - which is essential for any internal talent mobility strategy to be successful.

LXPs more than cover the supply side of the internal mobility equation. The challenge can be getting hiring managers who often default to external recruitment to engage with the platform to showcase the demand for employees' skills that they have with their work assignments, projects and gigs. LXPs can also lack guidance and support for learners to make sense of what can be an overwhelming number of options to address any one skill gap.

related content: can a learning experience platform be a talent marketplace or a career mobility tool?

the talent marketplace

Dedicated, purpose built marketplaces for internal talent to upskill, plan their career and find their next role have exploded over the last couple of years. The benefits of internal talent mobility are a hot topic and the marketplace providers do a good job of providing the infrastructure that is required to realise them.

However, as Josh Bersin has said, creating a culture of internal mobility is not a challenge "that can be 'solved' by buying a platform." If only it was that easy!

Our view is that all of the current internal mobility platforms that we are aware of miss one vital ingredient. None of them provide employees with coaching or the tools to prepare for landing that dream job internally.

It's one thing to help your employees upskill and find their perfect role elsewhere in your organisation; but if you're not helping them prepare to be 'market ready' - when they're likely to be competing against external candidates as well as colleagues - you're not maximising the chances of success with your internal mobility programme.

related content: why your internal candidates are worth investing in to outperform external candidates

It's also worth considering the negative consequences of opening up more opportunities internally and then not supporting employees when they get rejected for the perfect role they had their heart set on. A software platform or an algorithm can never do that. Even an internal mentor might struggle to re-engage an employee after such a rejection. A professional career coach is far more likely to help your employee come to terms with the setback, see the learning that arises and help them prepare better for their next internal application.

Randstad RiseSmart's career development solution is the only platform that combines a tech solution using AI to match people to internal roles, and signpost relevant learning, with personalised one-to-one career coaching that helps them establish and achieve their career goals.

related content: internal mobility - what's better: internal mentors or external coaches?

personalised career coaching

the impact of greater internal mobility on employee engagement

Implementing a strong internal mobility programme is a great way to drive engagement and retention. LinkedIn's 2021 Workplace Learning Report highlights that employees who have found a new role internally are three and a half times more likely to be engaged, and they're likely to stay almost twice as long as employees at companies that don't promote internal mobility.

However, the 2021 Work Trend Index from Microsoft shows that 41 percent of the global workforce is considering leaving their current employer within the next year - and 46 percent are planning to make a major career pivot or transition.

All employees will consider their options at some point. Many HR and recruitment leaders have been frustrated to see how often 'career development' is given as a reason for leaving in an exit interview when the current employer could have offered the kind of development that was sought. The fact that it wasn't expressed or drawn out by a manager is a strong indication that there's work to be done on the quality or frequency of career conversations internally.

Reassuringly, investment in internal talent mobility can have a significant impact on how engaged your employees are. Deloitte report that facilitating internal moves and stretch assignments can increase engagement by up to 30 percent.

related content: 4 real-world examples of internal mobility driving greater engagement

internal mobility helps engagement

how internal mobility helps with diversity, equity and inclusion

As with progress that's been made in talent acquisition and the external hiring process, one of the big benefits of using AI to match people to roles internally is the removal of bias. By opening up new opportunities across the organisation and letting AI surface the best matches, conscious or unconscious bias has less influence on hiring managers, who are encouraged to think in more diverse terms about who might bring the most to the role, project or gig.

Previously, where internal talent mobility has been happening, it was often the result of being on a high-potential programme or being 'tapped on the shoulder' by a manager who knows something has come up that you'd be well suited to. Both scenarios are forms of sponsorship to promote internal moves.

One surprising comparison of internal moves that occurred as a result of sponsorship with those that came about through marketplace posting, found that internal candidates hired via the marketplace outperformed those that had been sponsored on almost every criteria the hiring organisation tracked.

This is good news for DEI. Candidates from under-represented backgrounds should have more confidence that the introduction of a talent marketplace is going to level the playing field for career development opportunities and create more transparency.

One of the other roadblocks to internal mobility can be the lack of role models that those in under-represented groups find in their organisation. An internal mobility platform can shine a light on a variety of career journeys and give people a narrative that can help them plan their own careers and see what's been possible for others.

related content: how internal mobility can drive greater DEI

internal mobility helps DEI

how to create a culture of internal mobility

Hiring from within more often requires a culture shift. To deliver a successful internal career mobility programme there are three groups to engage:

  1. Senior leadership
  2. The broader HR function
  3. Hiring managers

getting buy-in from senior leaders

All leaders need to visibly endorse internal talent openly moving in and out of different teams, and support employees to chart a career path internally, look for opportunities beyond their current team and develop the skills that will prepare them for their next role. 

Unfortunately, some research suggests that senior leaders are too pessimistic about their employees' ability to reskill: In Mercer's 2021 Global Talent Trends Study, only 45 percent of executives said their workforce is adaptable to the new world of work, but 78 percent of the employees surveyed said they were ready to reskill.

However, the study also showed that 40 percent of organisations had made it easier to share talent within the company as a result of COVID-19, and over a third of companies plan to do so in 2021.

PwC's Talent Trends Report also reveals concerns CEOs have about the availability of key skills. Like hiring managers, they may default to looking at external hiring to plug these gaps, but the case for more internal hiring outlined above could help to change their point of view.

Of course, deciding whether to buy in or build a skill set in-house depends on knowing what you already have. Companies willing to make the investment in internal mobility tools that give them that insight will have the advantage when they next need to pivot or react in an agile way to changes in the market. This realisation may also help in getting senior leaders on board.

engaging the broader hr function

It can be confusing figuring our where responsibility for internal talent mobility lies within HR. Unless you have a dedicated Internal Mobility team, should responsibility sit with HRBPs in the business, with Talent Acquisition, L&D or Talent Management?

In truth, it takes a cross functional HR team to effect the sort of culture change that's required. This is about much more than creating a place to post internal opportunities and making some learning available. It's about creating an experience for talent in your organisation that makes them want to develop a skill set and build a career journey with your company. If you co-create a relationship with your employees that aligns their long term goals with the organisation's, you will have embedded a culture of internal mobility. We call this the Employee Relationship Economy.

HR leaders looking to create this kind of environment should consider taking the following steps:

  • Use data and analytics and assessment tools to quantify the skills profile of the entire workforce
  • Work with Strategic Workforce Planning and Talent Acquisition to review demand plans for critical skill sets and identify the gaps
  • Look at work and job descriptions through a skills lens; rather than jobs, and encourage recruiters to think "internal first"
  • Involve L&D and Talent Management to link career paths and learning to these critical skill sets and track the learning outcomes of whatever development employees undertake
  • Collaborate with Internal Comms to develop the messaging for employees and managers about their responsibilities

This requires a lot of work, but the impact it can have is immense. You'll be building a future-ready workforce with more resilience and agility. The net result is an HR function working together that will make employees feel they are a valued part of the organisation and don’t need to look externally in order to grow professionally and personally.

 getting hiring managers on board

Understandably, many managers may initially resist attempts to facilitate more internal moves. But the events of the last year or so may have softened that resistance more than you would think. Prior to the pandemic, Deloitte's 2019 Global Human Capital Trends survey identified managers' resistance to internal moves as one of the top four barriers to internal mobility. But in LinkedIn's 2021 Workplace Learning Report, 91 percent of managers are supportive of their employees finding other opportunities within the company.

Many managers may have come to realise that blocking internal moves is counter-productive. As a report from Deloitte states, "The reality is that a culture of talent hoarding can lead to a culture of talent loss: when you block people from moving up within an organisation, they often simply go elsewhere."

The old adage of 'what gets measured, gets improved' still applies here. A large US retailer rates leaders and managers on their ability to fill talent pipelines with internal candidates, so they participate on both the supply and demand sides.

Rather than start with pushing for moves to permanent roles or long-term secondments, beginning with a focus on project work can be helpful.

As hierarchies have been replaced with project teams, these teams create a useful testing ground. A project (or part of a project) can be led by someone with very little management experience. It gives them some insight into their own leadership skills and an opportunity to chalk up an accomplishment outside of their day job on the CV.

Taking on a project lets an employee work with different people, gain experience in a different area and can stretch workers’ imaginations regarding what they think they're capable of. Crucially, a project puts them in the crucible of real-life situations, allowing them to either apply new learning or realise what their development areas are.

For managers, letting their team members take on project work in a different business area is a low-risk way of showing them how they could benefit from greater internal mobility overall.

download our e-book: 5 ways to develop a modern, always-on talent mobility strategy

internal mobility culture


Creating an internal talent mobility strategy is a major undertaking. Technology is available to sift data and automate many of the elements required, but it requires a concerted effort to create the right culture, which technology can't do on its own.

Randstad RiseSmart's career development platform is the only talent mobility solution based on a track record of over 14 years' career coaching combined with developing first-of-its-kind smart matching and predictive career intelligence tools.

To find out more, or to request a free demo of our platform, please contact us.