In April I was privileged to be a presenter at the Virginia State SHRM Conference where I engaged with attendees around my topic of using data to drive internal mobility programs. It will come as no surprise to readers that organizational commitments to internal mobility, i.e., transferring and promoting employees, is an effective way to recognize ambition, reward hard work, and, of course, fill some open positions! However, we fall short in our analysis when we consider ONLY these traditional benefits and fail to factor in the cultural messages we send with each lateral move or advancement. And these messages have both an internal and external audience!
For the internal audience:
Will the transfer/promotion of a current employee provide a morale-building role model for the rest of your staff? Will this be someone they can look up to and emulate? Or, will it provide (more!) evidence that advancement in your company is the product of “kissing-up” to the right people? Across the U.S. workforce, engagement is at an all-time low. Gallup tells us in its 2017 State of the Global Workforce report that in the U.S. and Canada only 31 percent of employees are engaged at work. The number of reasons for such a low level is beyond the scope of this article, but for our purposes as HR practitioners in a variety of types of organizations throughout the state, the message for us to take to heart is this: Every internal mobility decision should include among its assessment factors whether or not the person in question is part of the 31 percent of the engaged workforce and if the person will help bring others “to the light.” When offering or approving a transfer or promotion, every time we fail to consider employee engagement and its impact on our culture we are willingly ceding our culture into the hands of those who care for it the least!
For the external audience:
In the “Generations at Work” survey conducted for the book The 2020 Workplace, the authors found that the top characteristic which both Gen Xers and Millennials would use in selecting their next job would be an organization that develops their skills for the future. The number four criteria for Millennials and number five criteria for Gen Xers would be an organization that offers a clear career path. While implications for current staff are present in these results as well, this means that, in a workforce which will be 75 percent Millennials by 2025, you won’t be able to attract the best and brightest if you can’t show that they will be joining a culture that provides them growth opportunities.
“As with customers, experiences are everything to modern workers…” said Robert Gabsa in his June 1, 2018, blog entry for Gallup titled “How to Use Onboarding to Create Brand Champions.” Though his focus was onboarding, the truth of his statement is undeniable. Our own experiences, and those of our friends, colleagues, and members of our network, send us a message about what’s acceptable, how important organizational values truly are, and if your company is a place where they want to work and stay. If you transfer and promote employees but neglect to consider the cultural messages you send when doing so, you could find yourself undermining engagement, eroding your employer brand, dissuading candidates from joining, and even encouraging good employees to leave.
Remember, every transfer or promotion is an exclamation of what your culture is and an opportunity to enhance employee engagement. Make them shouts, not whispers!
Adam Calli, MSM, SHRM-SCP, SPHR is a 20-year HR veteran and the Principal Consultant and founder of Arc Human Capital, LLC where he focuses on helping organizations reap the rewards of the promise of modern HR while meeting their compliance mandates. Focusing on small- to medium-size businesses, he enjoys seeing how well-run HR can have a positive, strategic impact on a company. When not consulting he is also an HR instructor for George Mason University and one of only 29 active instructors nationwide for SHRM.