I am still amazed at how many organizations do not allow their current employees to apply for internal positions until they meet a whole bunch of conditions. Typically, they have to have been in a position for a certain amount of time, may have to meet performance requirements, may have to fill out an application, and then go through the same interview process as an external candidate.
Most HR people think this is fine, and in fact, often put these rules in place. Their thinking is understandable from one perspective. After all, shouldn’t a boss be aware that an employee is looking? And if a person has only been in a job for a few months, isn’t it only fair they give their boss their services for a few months?
My answer is that yes, it would be fair, if we were not in the midst of a talent shortage where “fair” has little meaning. Is it fair any employee can simply tell her boss she won’t be back tomorrow because she has another job? Is it fair that employees can often get a salary increase of 10% or more simply by moving to another company? Is it fair that we have a labor shortage? There is little in life that is fair, and the days of stability and loyalty in our corporations are over. We could argue about why these traits have gone by the wayside, but the truth is that they have.
The shortage of talent in some areas such as engineering, IT, medicine, and finance are so severe that almost anything has become “fair” in the pursuit of talented people with these skills.
I have started to notice “For Hire” signs hanging in front of lots of stores and restaurants I have been in over the past three months seeking hourly help. This underlines the growing shortage of talent and the growing need for people with key skills. To place obstacles in the way of anyone with a motivation to raise their hand to move into a needed position is plainly just dumb.
Let’s face the truth: whether employees are allowed to transfer freely inside or not affects no one but the employer. They lose a good employee to another company for no good or value-added reason.
Employees As Investors
One of our problems is that we think of employees as assets, or things we control and dispose of as we see fit. Unfortunately, this characterization leads to behaviors that are incompatible with reality. Employees cannot be owned, taxed, depreciated, or disposed of as machines or other tangible assets.
They are investors in our organizations and they freely choose to share their expertise and skills with us or not. Each employee has a built-in return on investment meter that is constantly sampling the atmosphere and deciding if she is gaining or losing from a continuing association with the firm. As long as employees feel they are gaining, they don’t look for different jobs.
But in this job market, whenever the balance shifts even slightly, employees become vulnerable to any offer that may present itself. That is why having managers who have a history of good employee loyalty and low turnover are so valuable.
Usually when an employee wants to apply for another position inside the firm it is because they are looking for a new challenge, are unhappy with their current assignment of boss, or feel that the new position will offer more of a return on their investment. To deny them the opportunity and to place some HR policy in their way is not only a sure way to lose them to someone else, it is also just plain dumb. Happy employees who are being treated as investors will be unlikely to leave.
Here are four things every organization and HR group should be doing or should have in place today:
- All policies should be abolished that limit or control how or when employees apply for positions within an organization. Every employee should have the same employment at-will opportunities inside the company as exist in the open marketplace.
- Companies should make it a policy to encourage employees to share expertise and skills broadly. After all, it is the networking interconnectedness of our employees that add value and allow us to develop new products and generate new ideas. Creativity does not arise in stable, rigid, and change-adverse organizations. The most exciting new concepts and ideas come from small firms where people wear many hats and move between responsibilities such as the dot-com companies of Silicon Valley.
- Let recruiters work just as freely inside as outside the organization and let them work on back-filling positions that may be vacated by an employee who is moving on to something else. If a recruiter knows an employee is leaving for a new position, they can help the manager find someone else for the old position at almost the same time.
- Create policies that allow employees to try out new jobs for a short time to see whether they like it and can do it well. Let employees share their job with someone else so they can sample more than one kind of work or more than one project. Foster a spirit of sharing expertise and skills, not of owning the mind and body of someone.
The policies that restrict or limit transfers and change within an organization are leftovers of the 20th-century organizations that are hierarchical, paternalistic, and slowly fading away. A 21st-century organization removes barriers and builds networks that power creativity and growth.