Human Capital Management

Internal Affairs

Have you mastered the fine art of losing your employees to yourself?

by Cara Capretta

February 2017

There’s a common perception these days that employees aren’t as loyal as they used to be and just don’t stick with the same companies for years anymore. You hear that millennials in particular are quick to leave jobs if they don’t see opportunities for growth. This trend is only compounded by how easy technology has made it to apply for a job outside your company. New career opportunities are in your employees’ faces nonstop, and for the last decade, LinkedIn has been a game-changer—enabling employees to become their own headhunters.


To compete with this deluge of new opportunities, HR needs a strategy that’s as focused on providing employees access to internal opportunities. Unfortunately, this is commonly an area where companies need work. Most have internal job postings, but they haven’t made them as sophisticated as what their employees are engaging with on the outside. If you want to increase engagement and improve retention (and avoid the onboarding costs of replacing skilled workers), the antidote is promoting internal mobility.

To make that happen, HR leaders need to promote the idea of losing employees to themselves—and that begins with a change in perspective at both the organizational level and the individual manager level. At a high level, HR managers need an internal mobility strategy. To make a strong first effort (and get the biggest bang for the buck), HR should focus efforts on organizations with the highest turnover. That’s often in lines of business that are heavily populated, such as customer service and engineering.

Next, you need clearly stated career development plans and career path structures for staff in these organizations. As a first step, you must clearly document the skills your employees need to earn an enhanced role, diverse lateral move, or promotion and invest in training that helps your most valuable employees achieve their professional goals.

Managers must be attentive to their talented employees—they must know their strengths and weaknesses and the risks for attrition, and they have to be smart, compassionate, and nimble enough to chart an alternative path.”

In parallel, you must create a robust internal system that allows you to advertise jobs, advertise talent, and connect the two. This has to far surpass the current state of internal job postings and deliver a LinkedIn-like presence on the company’s internal human capital management platform, where employees can create and manage their own profiles and managers can validate their employees’ value by showing data on how good they are at specific skills.

Then technology can help a restless employee find the best cross-organizational matches, pairing proficiency with open positions. Think of the recommendation engines we encounter in ecommerce. Employees should get similar recommendations, suggesting jobs that can utilize their skills, tracking clickstreams (to identify patterns that might signal increased risk of attrition), and suggesting mentors who might help keep the employee in the fold.

Making internal mobility work also requires an investment in management culture. Managers must be attentive to their talented employees—they must know their strengths and weaknesses and the risks for attrition, and they have to be smart, compassionate, and nimble enough to chart an alternative path. It’s a selfish manager who refuses to help restless employees understand the opportunities that are available to them in peer organizations. But it’s also a foolish manager. Those employees are going to get frustrated—and if they can’t grow into other positions, it’s likely that they will leave the company altogether.

It’s far better to create a culture of facilitating movement of talent, for the overall good of the company. For most companies, that’s a significant cultural change. But it’s the change we need to make to promote an openness to internal mobility. You need to point to the retention risk and say, “This is really great talent, and we’re going to lose this person to a competitor if I don’t find a way to facilitate an internal opportunity.” Wouldn’t it be preferable to lose those employees to yourself?

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