Internal Mobility: Starting the Conversation

September 28th, 2020

Why are we talking about mobility right now?

For many of us, 2020 has been a year of hard lessons. Many organizations are learning that the way they move and develop talent needs to change. Career paths (like everything else, it seems) are, out of necessity, becoming more flexible and less predictable. Interestingly though, they're not becoming less important. Why, amid a global health crisis, social unrest, natural disasters, and an upcoming election, is employee mobility more important than ever?

The answer is two-fold. First, investing in career development is one way to keep your most talented employees. Economic turmoil creates a unique opportunity to recruit top talent,1 and if this talent resides within your organization the importance of invested employees becomes clear.

Second, great talent is becoming more difficult to find, with organizations facing the largest talent shortage in over a decade.2 Looking internally, rather than externally, to find the skills to compete provides an often underused solution to the challenges plaguing many organizations.

Given the world's current state of affairs, organizations need to react more quickly to external and internal pressures. That often means ramping areas of the organization up or down quickly – something difficult in many of the structured career paths many companies use.

Why other models are becoming more prominent

Our dive into the research and conversation around mobility has revealed one common theme early in this research: the career ladder is not the only way. In fact, there are several models that are becoming more prominent – which we'll explore in more depth in this research. There are also several reasons we are seeing organizations explore other approaches to career development. Any of them sound familiar?

Increased unpredictability. As the world, and the organizations we work for, become less predictable individuals can no longer count on lifetime employment from their company. As such, individuals are taking ownership over their careers rather than relying on organizations to provide a clear path. Restructuring, layoffs, and global pandemics result in individuals moving across organizations, which has made skill development a centrally important topic to employees.

The gig-economy. Contract workers, consultants, gig-workers, and freelancers now make up approximately 30-40% of the workforce in the United States.3 Responsive organizations do not shy away from utilizing this sector of the workforce and may in fact rely heavily on it (look at Google).4 By nature, the independent worker does not stay with the company for an extended period – thus the career path for this growing population does not follow the typical trajectory.

Different kinds of work. The rapidly changing external environment calls for a change in the way we do work. Taking inspiration from the gig-economy, some companies are organizing work around projects and teams. AT&T, often cited as a leader in innovative talent ideas, imagines that the future of work will be project-based.5 This approach allows for a quick response to the demands of the environment, but also requires an understanding of the skills and capabilities available within the organization.

Employee expectations. Organizations aren’t the only ones changing their perceptions of work. Employees no longer expect to stay with one company or even in one career (our team is quite familiar with this idea – with some of us experiencing 4 career changes!). Career paths are looking less like lines and more like Pollock paintings. Employees are looking for a different kind of work experience – to develop more holistically, learn new things, and expand their skills stack.6

What we'll research

In the coming months we will be exploring what successful internal mobility looks like. While there is no “one size fits all” solution to career mobility, we expect that some approaches work better for a set of circumstances.

Our Hypothesis: While we don't think there is a "one size fits all" solution to employee mobility, we expect that some approaches work better for organizations with a set of characteristics or circumstances.

To find out, we're diving deep into the current conversation on mobility – investigating topics like strategic workforce planning, career progress, internal mobility, gig-economy, and reorganization. We hope to learn:

  • Approaches that organizations are using to manage the careers of their employees.
  • Characteristics of organizations that make one approach more appropriate than another.
  • Other areas within the organization that are influenced by or influence career mobility (e.g. people analytics, leadership, learning and skill development, etc.).

How to participate

Join us for a roundtable. We’ll be hosting 3 separate roundtable events and are looking for forward-thinking leaders to participate. We'll cover a broad range of topics, from new talent pools to technology that can help. (Click below to register.)

Let us interview you! Tell us what your organization is doing and how you're approaching the ever-increasing role of mobility in staying agile. Shoot us a note at [email protected].
Join the conversation. Read our research and tell us what you think! Leave a note below or shoot us an email. Your comments make us smarter and the research better.

Dani Johnson Redthread Research
Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst


  1. “Now Is an Unprecedented Opportunity to Hire Great Talent,” Fernández-Aráoz, C., Harvard Business Review, 2020.
  2. Closing the Skills Gap: What Workers Want,” ManpowerGroup, 2020.
  3. Universities Should Be Preparing Students for the Gig Economy,” D. Mulcahy, Harvard Business Review, 2019.
  4. Google’s Shadow Work Force: Temps Who Outnumber Full-Time Employees,” Wakabayashi, D., New York Times, 2019.
  5. “AT&T’s Talent Overhaul,” Donovan, J., & Benko, C., Harvard Business Review, 2016.
  6. Generalists are usually more successful—but only if they do this,” Vossa, S., Fast Company, 2020.