5 Ways to Foster Internal Employee Transfers

If we believe that talented, skilled people are a scarce recourse, then we have no choice but to focus as much on internal recruiting as we do on external recruiting. Perhaps the largest sourcing mistake recruiters make is to not look at existing employees as candidates. There are many reasons for this. Very few organizations have either access to information about employees or supportive HR polices. In fact, I was at a company a few days ago where employees are not allowed to apply for jobs that are posted on the Internet unless they have an okay from their manager and have been in their current position for at least six months. Most of the HR staff felt that this was a good practice, even though there are no similar constraints on an employee looking outside the organization for a position. What we do, in effect, is create a disadvantage for ourselves. Whether employees are allowed to transfer freely inside or not impacts the employer the most. They lose a good employee to another company for no good or value-added reason. Employees are investors in our organizations, and they freely choose to share their expertise and skills with us ó or not. Each employee has a built-in return on investment (ROI) meter that is constantly sampling the atmosphere and deciding whether she is gaining or losing from a continuing association with the firm. As long as the employee feels that they are gaining, they don’t look for a different job and they contribute to the best of their ability within the system. But whenever the balance shifts even slightly, employees become vulnerable to any offer than may present itself. That is why having mangers 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 1) are looking for a new challenge, 2) aren’t happy with their current assignment or boss, or 3) 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 loose them to someone else, it is also just plain dumb. Happy employees who are being treated as investors will be unlikely to leave. Recruiters should be working closely with HR and hiring managers to identify good employees and help them find ways to continue contributing to the organization. Sometimes this means backfilling positions or moving less experienced employees into jobs that an outside person might be able to do. Here are five things every organization and HR group be doing or should have in place today:

  1. All policies should be abolished that limit or control how or when employees apply for positions within an organization. Policies should encourage managers to let employees leave for new opportunities and should encourage them to provide development opportunities. Organizations such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and General Electric have faithfully followed this strategy for decades and believe that it has directly contributed to their financial success. The basic philosophy should be that every employee has the same or better employment opportunities inside the company as exist in the open marketplace.
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  3. 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, change-adverse organizations. The most exciting new concepts and ideas come from small firms where people wear many hats and move between responsibilities. There is always the need to balance deep functional expertise with broader skills.
  4. Let recruiters work just as freely inside as outside the organization. Let them work on backfilling positions that may be vacated by an employee who is moving on to something else. If a recruiter knows that 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. Recruiters should have goals to recruit a certain number of employees internally. This also means that development programs must be available and accessible by hiring managers for these transferred employees.
  5. Create policies that allow employees to try out a new job 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.
  6. Develop training program aimed at providing people for specific, and perhaps hard-to-fill, positions. Cisco did this a few years ago by training people to be HTML programmers in an intensive several-week long program. IBM has had numerous programs which take in a cross-section of employees and train them to be programmers, salespeople, and so forth. It is often more cost effective to develop the talent you need than to recruit it. A recruiter’s job should be partly one of providing advice on the availability of talent and on whether it would be better to develop it or recruit it.

Practices and policies that ignore, restrict, or limit employee transfers and change within an organization are leftovers of organizations that are hierarchical, paternalistic, and slowly fading away. A 21st-century organization removes barriers and builds networks that power creativity and growth.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.