The Internal Mobility Imperative

(And What to Do About It)


If your employees can’t find opportunities for career development within your organization, they’ll find them without it

The importance of internal mobility, the ability for employees to advance their careers within an organization, has become more apparent in recent years with the emergence of data that compares internal mobility to external hiring. According to a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, external hires are initially paid about 18% more than internally promoted candidates, yet they perform worse in the first two years in their new roles.

There’s also reason to believe that robust internal mobility programs can help address employee attrition rates. A 2015 LinkedIn report based on a survey of over 10,000 network members revealed that the number one cited reason for leaving a position was a concern about the “lack of opportunities for advancement,” with 45% of respondents feeling this way. It’s not surprising that 59% of respondents said that the number one reason for joining a new position was a “stronger career path / more opportunity.”


For internal mobility to work, it has to work for the employer and all its employees. A purely top-down approach won’t cut it.

Oftentimes, internal mobility is limited by an employees awareness of opportunities in the organization. In other instances, an employee may know about opportunities but doesn’t feel comfortable voicing interest in new career options out of fear that it will signal dissatisfaction with their current role. We propose the following to overcome structural and cultural barriers to internal mobility:

  • Enhance access to job opportunities internally. This may seem like an obvious point, but you may be surprised by the number of employees who are unaware of available positions for which they qualify. While everyone may technically have access to job posts, often employees won’t hear about them because they’re not accustomed to looking at external job boards. Companies must provide an easy way for employees to learn about relevant projects and roles.
  • Encourage learning and development. Employees should take an active role in setting objectives and key results—not only for their work but also for their careers. They will ideally have an active role in developing their own talent profiles so that they accurately reflect their current skills and competencies, as well as the skills and domains where they’d like more training. In doing so, employees make it far easier for their companies to provide learning opportunities that align with both their current work and the roles they aspire to in the future.
  • Faciliate collaboration and coaching among employees. A recent Gartner study of 9,000 managers and employees revealed that the “Connector” managers, those who provide feedback in their area of expertise while connecting employees to others in the organization better suited to address specific needs, have the greatest positive impact on employee performance. This study highlights the importance of employee collaboration. Since no manager will be up to date on the best practices in each competency area relevant to his or her team, managers would do well to connect team members to one another, or to someone else in the organization who has the proper focus, experience, or training to help out. Better yet, an organization should make it easy for each employee to find the right people to collaborate with on their own, and make the process less manager-dependent.


Here’s what a robust internal mobility program should help enable

A hiring manager finds qualified candidates for an open position instead of relying solely on external hires

An HR manager sees a comprehensive skills inventory across the organization to gauge the organization’s true staffing needs for a new project

An employee finds an opportunity for advancement within the organization instead of looking for opportunities elsewhere

A project manager sees a full depth chart of resources for an important project to quickly adapt to unforeseen changes in personnel

An employee needs help with a project or a specific task and is able to find the right person in the organization who can help

An employee enrolls in training to address an immediate need in her current role, or a long-term strategic need for the organization


Improved internal mobility starts by putting together the right data in the right way

Resumes are great but tell only part of the story. Companies must build more complete talent profiles to properly engage and develop their workforce effectively. Consider the following categories of data on your employees:

  • Self-reported employee data
  • Peer review data
  • Productivity data

These data may come from several different people and systems in a company:

  • Resume database
  • Applicant tracking system (ATS)
  • HR systems
  • Productivity tools (e.g., Slack)
  • Project management systems (e.g., Trello, Asana,
  • Software development tools (e.g., JIRA, VersionOne, CA Agile Central, Rally, GitHub)

It’s extremely difficult for a company to build meaningful talent profiles through a single category of data, or through integration with any single data source.

What an all-of-the-above approach will provide:

  • Data validated across multiple data sources and—in some cases—multiple people. Resumes and DIY talent profiles offer self-reported skills and experiences, but they lack validation from peers, supervisors, and evidence from productivity tools.
  • Project-verified skills. In other words, by pulling in project management and productivity data, you can establish a more evidence-based profile of someone’s work at a company. Since most companies have particular ways of doing certain types of work, it’s important to know where that institutional knowledge resides. It can be incredibly valuable for HR and senior management to know about their human assets, and useful to employees looking to collaborate with the people who possess valuable, complementary knowledge and skills.
  • An incentive to take ownership of one’s career. Employees will see that their work will be reflected in their talent profiles and will put forth effort to continue to build their profile, which will be seen by HR and hiring managers within the company, as well as by their colleagues. Static resumes and canned talent profiles are much easier to ignore, whereas a dynamic, constantly-updating, talent profile driven by natural language processing and fed by various data sources will give people more reason to use them. It’s this stickiness factor that has eluded most attempts at internal mobility so far.
  • A system that actually helps employees in their daily work. By mining task-level data with a natural language processing (NLP) engine, you can provide employees a much more detailed view of various types of expertise within the organization. When you have a specific problem you need a specific solution, and knowing someone’s title often won’t cut it. Instead, employees need to find specific expertise to get, for example, the exact template they’re looking for or some reusable code for today’s task.
  • A clearer grouping of employees by skill- or domain knowledge-based criteria. For example, stratifying the engineering team by skills is no easy task, and you need the proper data sources and an intelligent system to do it. You’ll need to capture the various skills and technology areas and group them in a logical manner. Are you looking for a Java resource for a Linux deployment or for a Windows deployment. These are different things, and you should have systems that can help sort out things like this for you. You don’t have a chance without first collecting the right data.

Smart Notifications


Any good solution has to meet people where they’re at

For internal mobility to work well, it must integrate into daily employee workflow. Employees use email and messaging tools throughout the day. Also, HR managers and senior management will use applicant tracking systems, ERP systems, and BI tools regularly to make workforce planning decisions. Any useful internal mobility tools must work within these contexts.

Ultimately, a successful program will make people more efficient at getting work done and more focused on advancing their careers. This means making it easy for employees to accomplish both. Pushing relevant information to the right people in the right place at the right time is a must.

Putting it all together

In summary, at Encube we feel to make good on the promise of internal mobility and overcome the challenges it has faced thus far in the new era of job-hopping, companies must:

  • Ensure that opportunities are made available to people throughout the organization, rather than making internal mobility merely about workforce intelligence tools used by HR and senior management. For this to be sustainable and scalable, companies must rely on automated processes to push opportunities for career development directly to employees.
  • Build dynamic talent profiles through the integration of all useful sources of employee data. This means going well beyond manual input of skills and experiences to also include project-verified data from productivity and project management tools, which can—through thoughtful application of artificial intelligence—provide far more accurate and useful intelligence than resumes and other self-reported data sources alone.
  • Think strategically about the integration of internal mobility functions into the daily workflow of your employees. Which data sources will provide useful insights into your internal talent? In what systems and on what devices will employees prefer to consider new projects and roles, collaborate with colleagues on daily work, seek mentorship outside of their current teams, or seek learning and development options? Also, where do HR managers and senior managers currently do their workforce planning and talent acquisition work?

We built the Encube application and underlying AI engine with these challenges in mind. If you’re interested in seeing what Encube can do for you and your employees, please reach out to schedule a demo.

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Encube is a project management solution that uses artificial intelligence, data science, and a proprietary skills ontology to rapidly deploy skills for projects and continually develop skills of growing strategic importance to the company.


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