Intranet Fuels Internal Mobility

Are your best employees walking out the door and into the arms of your competitors? Use the company intranet to alert them to the opportunities close to home.


Over the past few years, companies across the spectrum of industry have discovered how effective their corporate web sites can be in attracting a diverse pool of potential hires. Resources are pouring into IT departments and outside tech vendors to create sophisticated, full-service sites that feature not just job openings, but skills assessments, HR chats, professional development modules—anything that might lure both passive and active job seekers to the employer’s careers site and entice them to keep coming back for more.

But meanwhile, inside that company’s own halls, dissatisfied employees are doing some looking of their own—on employer time, at the careers pages of its competitors.

The grass will always appear greener at the other company, especially when employees have no sense of the opportunities that await them on their side of the fence. Finding out about open positions in other parts of their own company probably requires trekking down to the employee cafeteria to peer at a dog-eared, out-of-date list of jobs. The implied message seems clear: Stay put or hit the road.

“The big HR issue today is that people walk more readily,” says Kevin Wheeler, president of Global Learning Resources Inc., a human capital consulting firm in Fremont, Calif. “I predict a turnover boom over the next few years; a lot of people will resign as soon as the economy improves.”

The war for talent is going to be won inside the corporation, as employers discover better ways to retain their best people. And that will take a leap of faith, Wheeler says, as management learns to share talent without feeling threatened. “It’s very shortsighted not to allow people to move freely through an organization. But internal hires are like gold; they save time and money in recruiting, demonstrate loyalty and become productive more quickly.”

And what better vehicle for greasing the wheels of internal mobility than the corporate intranet—that modern-day, but exponentially more engaging, company bulletin board.

“The intranet is tremendously important for internal mobility,” says Alice Snell, vice president of iLogos research. “It’s scalable across locations and even [across] international lines. It accesses the widest internal applicant pool possible.”

 

Intra-netiquette

Our experts added a few more tips for turning the corporate intranet into a robust internal recruiting machine:

Snell: “Most of the best practices for external Internet recruiting apply to the intranet as well. You need to have intuitive navigation and prominent links from other sites employees use frequently.”

Wheeler: “Beware of the ‘black hole.’ When employees submit an application, make sure they get a personal response. Internal mobility systems need better feedback tools than external job boards, because you are dealing with morale inside your own company.”

Bailey: “Stress to employees that this intranet is for them. Promote a sense of ownership and responsibility for their own career development.”

Wheeler: “Encourage a sense of competition among managers for talent. You may need to set some limitations on what they can offer and evolve the process slowly, but companies are far better off if they compete, even for internal hires.”

The latest report from the San Francisco provider of staffing economics research and benchmarking analysis is “Internal Mobility,” which examines and presents the results of internal mobility practices and processes for more than 70 large and global corporations representing more than 3.5 million employees. “There is a definite link between employee satisfaction and opportunities for growth,” says Snell. “So HR has to ponder, is it easier for employees to find opportunities at another company than within their own?”

Ambivalent Managers

The recruiting success of the corporate web site can be matched click for click with an intranet approach to internal staffing. (For more on corporate web sites, see “Make a Good First Impression,” in the April 2004 issue of HR Magazine.) “It’s not rocket science, but what’s interesting is how long companies have taken to move to this,” says Wheeler. “The technology is trivial.”

But the ambivalence isn’t. Unenlightened managers are likely to throw up subtle barriers to free movement because, frankly, people shuffling makes them uncomfortable. Sometimes it takes a wake-up call for managers to get the message.

John Dooney, the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) HR manager for employment and strategic planning, recalls an incident during his tenure at a telecommunications company. A valuable engineer quit, he says, only to reapply for a position in a different department at the company. “It really made the point. This individual felt he had no other options. The president of the company read the riot act, and the culture changed very swiftly.” In two years, internal hiring at the company grew from 10 percent of jobs filled to 35 percent filled, Dooney reports.

For international financial services firm Deloitte, the “a-ha” moment came with the realization that the intranet could be harnessed to redeploy internal talent across the globe. Maribeth Bailey, national director of Deloitte’s career management services in Chicago, recalls the period in October 2001 when the company was faced with a workforce adjustment that involved downsizing.

The HR team used the companywide intranet to assess and reposition as many people as possible around the corporation. “When we started moving the talent around instead of losing it, we thought, ‘Wow,’” says Bailey. Insala, the Euless, Texas, technology firm that created Deloitte’s intranet internal relocation tools, immediately got to work creating a proprietary system that would fuel the corporation’s internal mobility program. Insala now is marketing its turnkey version.

Bailey noted that in 2000, an analysis of exit interviews revealed that “Close to 70 percent of these employees had left to do jobs they could have done here. We are talking about all levels, from admin to HR to technology.” A survey of employees also revealed that they wanted to be able to navigate barrier-free throughout the organization—not just changing jobs but changing careers.

Those findings led to the development of Deloitte Career Connections, an intranet-based, one-on-one confidential career coaching and development program for all employees, which launched in October 2002. “The first weekend, 2,000 employees logged on, created personal accounts and viewed internal job openings.”

The Deloitte intranet serves up much more than jobs; here, employees find career-management tools. A resume builder helps employees market their assets; self-assessment tests like Myers-Briggs provide immediate feedback on career preferences and working style; articles cover job-seeker strategies like negotiation and interviewing.

But the hallmark of the site is connecting with a career coach. Deloitte has a team of 15 specially trained and certified professionals who coach employees in person or via telephone, working through the online tools together and helping them through career development decisions. “More than 12,000 employees are using the online services, and more than 1,000 are currently receiving direct, one-on-one coaching,” Bailey adds.

Bailey was concerned that “we would meet a pushback from some who wanted to hang onto their people.” But over time, the grassroots approach of the coaches has relaxed employees, and managers are learning “that it’s good for their people to pursue other opportunities in order to retain top talent in the long run.”

Since the launch of Deloitte Career Connections, Bailey has documented 140 “retention successes,” which translates into a return on investment of about $14 million, she says.

From Simple To Sublime

Most companies have the ability to send out e-mails listing available jobs, or to provide a link to a jobs page behind the company firewall. “In a perfect world, that site would be linked to the HRIS system,” says Wheeler. “But to be realistic, many companies don’t have a good HR database.”

More common are homegrown posting systems companies have created for themselves. And increasingly, intranet capability is being built into applicant tracking systems. “That’s become a popular request to companies that build these systems—the ability to do internal job posting,” he says.

Wheeler estimates that most companies with an applicant tracking system “could have something in place in six months. If you have to go out and buy one or make your own, a year is a generous timeframe for anyone.”

In Dooney’s opinion, any intranet recruiting site, no matter how simple or how sophisticated, should contain three key elements: “What jobs are available, the process applicants must go through to apply and a leadership-driven message that internal mobility is a good thing.”

Still, for many companies, the road to a system that actively markets open positions to employees is strewn with cultural and political traps. The first is not that tough: Who in the company can view these jobs and use these tools? Of course, the answer should be everyone, but that will mean engineering access to employees who don’t have regular access to computers—like those on the road or on the factory floor. “You could set up an intranet kiosk in the cafeteria, break rooms or lobby,” Wheeler suggests. “But no one should be left out.”

A stickier issue is determining who can actually apply for these jobs. “And this is where the all-important policy decisions come in,” says Snell. “Policy issues need clear guidelines as you go forward to design an internal mobility system. But every question needs to be decided in terms of the greater goals of the organization.”

Among the questions likely to be raised:

Should employees be restricted from applying for any reason?

According to Wheeler, “This is often an important battle line for companies. Who can apply and when? Managers want to know if they have to let their top performers—or their newest hires—go.” Many companies require employees to have served at the company for a period of time, often a year. Others require a passing performance appraisal. But as a rule of thumb, says Wheeler, “Anything that limits people’s movement is a very poor practice. Those who can’t move [within the organization] will eventually move right out the door.”

At what point is the employee’s supervisor informed of the application?

“That is the million-dollar question,” says Wheeler. “But I think if someone has a good relationship with the boss, he or she will have been discussing career development together. A manager’s reputation can be enhanced by developing and promoting people. At the best companies, managers are trained in this very practice.”

Some companies require managers to sign off on a subordinate’s application to move internally, and while it may seem to pose a barrier to employees’ willingness to explore other opportunities, in companies where internal mobility is infused into the culture, “this works extremely well,” says Dooney. “Frequently, when a staffer approaches the manager, it starts a conversation. It often turns out that there are growth opportunities within the department the applicant wasn’t aware of.” He points out that waiting too late to inform the supervisor creates a host of problems. “Managers may feel that another department is stealing their talent, and this creates a sense of distrust. In the eleventh hour, the candidate may get a counteroffer from his supervisor, alienating the hiring manager.”

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Will employees have the opportunity to view and apply for internal positions before they are advertised to the general public?

The iLogos research shows that 47 percent of companies delay the posting of company job opportunities to external media sources to allow employees time to react to internal postings. This may help boost the rate of internal redeployment, believes Snell, “and is another demonstration of the company’s commitment to internal mobility.”

It’s absolutely essential that companies have the policy and education components in place before unleashing a flood of job ads onto the workforce. “What sometimes happens when you don’t have a strong process is that people start applying for everything due to pent-up demand. Then they are rejected as unqualified,” Dooney points out. Employees become demoralized and managers begin to distrust a system that isn’t delivering the talent it promises.

“Slow integration is the key,” agrees Wheeler. “There’s a danger if you make it too easy for employees to apply, but there is a fine line in how free you make it. For every company the answer is different. But you can’t put a free-market system into a carefully controlled workplace overnight.”

Passive Candidates On the Inside, Too

After policy-making, the next hurdle toward a successful intranet solution is getting employees to use it and getting management to support it. A first step is to remove the paper system completely, encouraging employees to log in. A second is to bring the intranet site to the attention of all employees—not just those who are itching for a change.

“The idea of the passive internal candidate is a very strong one for a company,” says Wheeler, who believes that optimizing talent within an organization requires all employees to consider their career pathways. “The beauty is that passive candidates can be compelled to log on for all kinds of reasons. You can make the internal recruiting page the intranet home page, include job listings in the company news or even arrange for ‘hot jobs’ to pop up when they click on certain sites.”

The intranet can also serve as a platform for pushing out information on opportunities to the employee base. “There have been a lot of tools created over the years to optimize this process,” Snell explains, “such as skills profiling, and job agents in particular.”

Deloitte Career Connections recently launched a “competency framework” that allows employees to plug in their competencies and compare them with the competencies required of a desired position, “so they can understand where the gaps are,” says Bailey.

Wheeler adds that a comprehensive intranet mobility system can go even further: “For example, if the employee has decided where she wants to go but needs a little more training, the program could suggest online or classroom courses.” When training is completed, the system could update employee records automatically, he says, and even begin alerting the employee when appropriate positions open up, mimicking an applicant tracking system.

But for companies just getting their feet wet in internal mobility, Wheeler recommends that they think through the entire process, put together a strategy and sell it internally at the highest levels before they begin to implement the program. “Start the policy discussions at the beginning—those are steps one, two and three.”

Step four is to look for the right system. “Start slow and evolutionary, work out the bugs, and then begin to communicate and educate more widely. Start marketing to passive candidates, then expand capability with online assessments and education.”

“It’s a shame to me that so many companies have this hugely powerful recruiting tool—the intranet—and don’t utilize it correctly. It’s like using a spoon as a screwdriver,” Wheeler says. “But really, I think as the hiring crunch increases, companies will realize that a few simple upgrades can make a competitive difference in the form of a better-retained, educated, happy and productive workforce.”

 

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