Mobility: Leadership, Messaging, Tech, and Processes

November 17th, 2020

In our ongoing search for answer on mobility, we recently gathered leaders together for our third and final roundtable – this one focusing on the systems, processes, and other internal practices that affect how smoothly people move around organizations. Some of the questions we covered included:

  • Leadership: What roles should and senior leadership and managers play in facilitating mobility within their organizations?
  • Messaging: What is your organization’s messaging about internal mobility? To what extent is it effective?
  • Technology: How big of a role do you think technology plays (or should play) in internal mobility? Why?
  • Processes: How does/should internal mobility interface with other groups, such as learning, performance, recruiting, etc.?

Mindmap of Mobility: Leadership, Messaging, Tech, and Processes Roundtable

The mindmap below outlines the conversations we heard as a part of this roundtable.

Key Takeaways

We learned a lot from this conversation. In general, leaders understand the importance of the auxiliary things that affect how well mobility works in an organization, but they also recognized several challenges. Here are 5 key takeaways.

Implications of “owning your own career” message

In conversation around messaging, leaders referred to how the frequent message and theme of “own your own career” by companies can be misleading to employees and even interpreted as lazy.

Leaders emphasized that using this phrase while not aligning internal processes (recruiting messages, manager help, tools, ease of use of internal job boards, etc.) can cause a disconnect, leaving employees bereft of actual power to own their careers.

Additionally, due to the great potential for bias within the companies’ systems, sending this type of message ignores the fact that employees are not always on an even playing field. There may be barriers for some that don’t exist for others (informal communication networks, unconscious bias in performance ratings, etc.).

Changing celebration norms around mobility

Another key component of messaging lies within celebration norms. Celebration norms are most often related to upward movement (promotions) which tells employees to value only these types of movements within the company.

Leaders said that celebrating lateral and downward moves within the organization would encourage different types of mobility, making them not just acceptable, but sanctioned. Leaders mentioned that this should be the case for both full time lateral and downward movements as well as short-term projects or roles before returning to a full-time position.

Fostering psychological safety

Leaders also shared the necessity (and wisdom) of ensuring psychological safety when discussing careers. We are finding that managers have a ridiculous amount of power in determining whether an employee moves to another role, and that stronger organizations are those that ensure that both managers and employees are equipped to have open, honest conversations about career goals and plans.

For the employee, open, honest conversations with their manager or mentor about where they want to go and when helps them to see additional opportunities as well as pitfalls, and to leverage manager networks to move around.

For the manager and the organization, this type of open and honest discussion gives them data about their employees, but also ensures that they can make plans for backfilling, reskilling or otherwise accommodating for that employee when they leave.

Leaders mentioned that for psychological safety to exist, messaging, leadership, and systems and processes must all be aligned and functioning correctly.

Integrating HR processes and other initiatives

Leaders emphasized that while,  in many of their organizations, mobility is often variable by business function or unit, and fairly siloed, they see it as “inherently a shared responsibility.” Instead of belonging to just one area of the company (HR, say) leaders  talked about how mobility requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders across the business.

One leader stressed that HR related processes (e.g. talent acquisition, talent management, learning and development, performance, compensation, DEI, leadership, etc.) should be integrated together to best encourage and support mobility across the organization.

In the course of our interviews, we have seen a few organizations assign a role, or in one case, a team, to steward over mobility. This role has responsibility for working with divers stakeholders to develop interactions and processes that encourage and enable mobility to ensure that it is systemic.

Value of transparency – built into systems and modeled by leaders

Transparency was a fairly consistent theme in our discussion, both as it relates to leadership as well as systems and processes. Lack of transparency into different career options can be a major obstacle to employees making moves that they may otherwise consider. Leaders discussed how systems should be built to provide greater visibility into internal options and continue to make employees aware of these tools.

For example, organizations often have internal marketplaces for employees to find potential opportunities within the company – both short term and long term. However as one leader shared, there is a difference between being able to find these opportunities and being able to move. If employees aren’t empowered to actually move (i.e., they’re hoarded by their managers), movement happens much less.

Which brings us to leaders. Many of the participating leaders emphasized the importance of encouraging employees to move through story-telling and question-asking. Providing employees a view into how leaders got where they are often highlights the fact that many don’t take a direct path – they take zig-zagged ones. It encourages employees to explore and look beyond upward movement as they determine where they’d like their careers to go.

A special thanks

This discussion around mobility, as it related to leadership, messaging, technology, and processes, brought significant insights to the forefront and helped us see into the holistic nature of the processes that affect internal mobility. Thank you again to those of you who attended and made our conversation enriching. And as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at [email protected].




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