Google and Facebook let employees try different jobs and teams. Here’s how any company can use this strategy to keep high performers from getting bored and quitting.

Thursday, January 23rd 2020. | Care

work meeting

  • Many top tech companies allow employees to easily move between roles and teams through internal-mobility programs.
  • According to LinkedIn data, internal mobility increased 10% between 2015 and 2019.
  • Experts say this strategy helps with talent retention because people are less likely to leave out of boredom.
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So you're bored at work. The obvious move here is to start browsing job sites and look for more exciting opportunities in other places.

But at some companies, you might approach this situation differently. Specifically, you might think about trying a new job on a new team — within the same organization.

In human-resources speak, this process is known as "internal mobility." Tech companies like Google and Facebook pioneered the trend, but it's quickly spreading across industries: LinkedIn data shows that job changes within companies (including a promotions, transfers, and lateral moves) increased 10% between 2015 and 2019. One key factor behind the bump is that organizations are realizing that retraining their existing workforces can be more cost-effective than hiring new talent.

Top tech companies support employees' career development

Internal mobility is something that Facebook supports — and something that often surprises new hires, Kate Berardo, Facebook's head of leadership development, told Business Insider.

Berardo mentioned the "honest conversations" between managers and employees about career progression.

"If I really am showing care for your development," Berardo said, "even though it might possibly be painful for our team, the right answer might be that you go work on a cross-functional team where you get to play more to your strengths."

It might wind up being a better situation for the employee and for the company.

Google, meanwhile, has a multipronged approach to internal mobility. The company has a "bungee" program. Under the initiative, when an employee takes parental leave, another employee temporarily steps in to cover that worker's responsibilities. The employee on leave gets some peace of mind, and the employee who covers for them gets to try out a new role.

Google has also boasted a "20% time" policy (it's unclear if the policy is still in place), which allows employees to spend a certain amount of time working on a project completely unrelated to their jobs. Gmail and Google News famously began as 20% time projects.

Hootsuite developed its own version of Google's bungee program. Cofounder and former CEO Ryan Holmes said on LinkedIn that "stretch" employees spend one day per week on a different team for 90 days.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told Fast Company that employees changed jobs about every two years. Ek invoked LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman's concept of "tours of duty," as opposed to lifetime employment. Ek told Fast Company, "You have a number of years when you perform a job, and then your tour is over, and it's time for you to think about what the next step is."

Internal mobility can benefit the employee and the organization

coworkers laptops

Internal mobility can benefit employees by giving them new and thrilling challenges, revitalizing an otherwise dull work life. Career experts say that internal mobility is also a way for companies to retain top talent.

Of the 7,089 talent professionals and hiring managers LinkedIn surveyed, 73% said internal recruiting was increasingly important to their company. The most commonly cited benefit of internal recruiting was improved talent retention. LinkedIn said employees stayed 41% longer at companies that have a lot of internal hiring compared with companies that don't.

Indeed, Holmes wrote on LinkedIn that Hootsuite launched the "stretch" program after realizing that "many people were leaving because they wanted to try something new."

The idea that employees leave because they're bored isn't new, nor is the fact that some companies allow employees to transfer teams. But several career experts told Business Insider they've seen increased talk about internal mobility since millennials entered the workforce in droves.

Millennials are "attracted to companies that have a true career path for them," Jaime Klein, the CEO of Inspire Human Resources, said. "They want to feel that the great work that they're doing is recognized, that they're not going to stay in a role too long without having expanded responsibilities or perhaps a title change." That is to say, millennials may see themselves as job hoppers, not company hoppers.

Erica Keswin, a workplace strategist, a former executive coach at New York University's Stern School of Business, and the author of "Bring Your Human to Work," also cited the "flattening" of the workplace: The traditional corporate hierarchy is crumbling.

"It's almost a necessity to move people sideways or diagonally," Keswin said. "Across is the new up."

Many large corporations — including Amazon, Accenture, and PwC — are responding to labor-market trends like automation and disruptive technology by retraining their employees on in-demand skills. Think software engineering and machine learning. These companies are spending billions on their retraining programs, but that's presumably less than they would spend to recruit new talent.

Internal mobility may be more common in tech than in other industries, not only because employees skew younger but also because tech companies tend to be "progressive" and "leading edge," Alexandra Dickinson, the founder and CEO at the negotiation-training company Ask For It, said. What's more, said Jenny Blake, a career coach, former Googler, and the author of "Pivot," tech companies may be more accustomed to an environment of change than some older, more established institutions.

Prove to management that you're ready for an internal move

For individual employees, trying out new roles on new teams can pay off in the long run. A LinkedIn study published in 2016 showed that workers with experience in different areas of a business were more likely to become top executives than those who have specialized in one area.

Dickinson said that when you're ultimately applying to another company, they may look favorably on your cross-functional experience. "You learn more about how different parts of the business impact other parts," Dickinson said. (That said, it still helps to develop specialized skills.)

For HR execs looking to ramp up their internal hiring efforts, it helps to formalize the company's processes for retraining and transitioning people. Right now, internal mobility is largely driven by employees, according to LinkedIn, often when they find openings on internal job boards.

One risk of internal mobility is that the company doesn't bring in any new perspectives or backgrounds because the same people keep filling new roles. But a structured process can help create a diverse workforce, the LinkedIn report said, if hiring managers make it a priority to broaden the scope of their candidate search.

If you're considering moving to another department at your company, there are a few factors to keep in mind. First among them is your company culture. Dickinson said some companies see an employee with a lot of cross-functional experience and think they're an asset. Others think "they're bouncing around because they can't decide."

It's also important to have a solid case for why you deserve to make this move, especially since most managers don't want to see a high-performing employee leave their team.

Blake started out as an AdWords product trainer at Google before she moved to career development. She started participating in coach training on nights and weekends, and when she approached her manager about changing roles at Google, she was at first turned down.

Eventually, a spot opened up and Blake made her case: She'd been training to be a coach, she had a popular blog, and she'd been working on a 20% time project at Google, which has since morphed into the global Career Guru program. The spot was hers.

SEE ALSO: A LinkedIn executive's 3-step plan to making a meaningful career change can help anyone who feels stuck in their job

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