Why Developing and Rotating Your Employees Makes Sense

Nov 8, 2006

In the past few months, I’ve been working with organizations that are talking a lot about the internal mobility of employees. They want to know how employees should be selected for movement and what criteria should be followed.

Many HR professionals and hiring managers look at internal mobility as something they should control and as something that is somewhat independent of the employee’s wishes or timeframe.

Alas, back in the good-old 20th century, employers could call the shots. After all, there were quite likely to be more than one good candidate in the wings. HR wrote policies that restricted movement and placed lots of conditions such as length of service, criticality of the job, and so forth on any employee’s potential move.

Bosses had to be notified and had to give their permission. Bureaucracy was king and what the employee wanted didn’t matter much.

The world has changed and employees are more and more in charge of their own careers and timeframes. They have choices of employers and, while most would rather stay in familiar territory, they are much more willing to move on when they have to than they were a decade ago. There is little in life that is fair and the days of stability and loyalty in corporations are over.

The labor market is tight for skilled people and even for those who are semi-skilled. I’ve started to notice “For Hire” signs in every store, restaurant, and office I’ve been in over the past three months. The signs advertising positions are often larger and more colorful than those that advertise the products.

Let’s face the truth: keeping your good employees and letting them find opportunities that satisfy them is not only a good strategy, it may be an essential one for success.

Employees Are Not Assets

First, we should not characterize employees as assets, as many firms do, and treat them in a way that makes them feel as if they have no choices. Employees cannot be owned, taxed, depreciated, or disposed of as machines or other tangible assets can be.

They have become important 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 the employee feels that 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. Hence, the value in having managers who have a history of good employee loyalty and low turnover.

Usually when an employee wants to apply for another position inside the firm it is because they are looking for a new challenge, aren’t happy 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:

  1. Abolish limiting policies. Remove policies 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.
  2. Encourage employees. 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 adds value and allows 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 for small firms where people wear many hats and move between responsibilities such as the dot-com companies of Silicon Valley.
  3. Empower recruiters. 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 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.
  4. Let employees test positions. 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.

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