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Your Five Workforce Mobility Strategies for 2021

There’s not just one right way to implement a job mobility strategy at your organization.

But depending on the needs and culture of your company, one approach may prove more effective than another, according to a new report by RedThread Research and Degreed. 

Whether you call it job mobility, internal mobility, or career mobility, It makes sense to connect your people’s skill development with growth opportunities. A successful job mobility strategy keeps your workforce engaged and competitive. It aligns opportunities with the needs of your business, to ensure your company is growing along with your people. 

What’s right for your organization? To help provide some clarity, RedThread researchers surveyed 70 leaders from 17 companies, noting: “While we found similarities between approaches, no two orgs are handling career mobility in exactly the same way — or for the same reasons.” 

The Five Job Mobility Strategies

The study identifies distinct patterns or standard job mobility frameworks. Understanding how these are defined, and how each supports a certain type of organization and culture can help you figure out which might be best for your company. This is true if you’re just getting started or looking to tweak your existing strategy.

The Five approaches to job mobility

Before we break down each of these further, it’s important to note that a hybrid strategy is common. Usually this means that a majority of the people at an organization uses one approach and a subset uses a secondary approach. Only rarely does an organization exclusively lean on only one strategy; the new study found no examples of that.

Ladder: An Emphasis on Permanent Roles

In this, people move from one full-time role to another. Generally, they move vertically within a silo or function. For example, a graphic designer becomes an associate creative director. Or a sales representative becomes a regional sales manager.

This works best if permanent roles are the main way your company organizes its people, if there are well-defined career paths that aren’t highly flexible, or when people don’t have a high degree of ownership over their career paths or job mobility.

Lattice: An Agile Mindset

People move up, around, and sometimes down.

This too works best if permanent roles are the primary way a company organizes its people. But what makes this different from the Ladder approach is that it’s most successful when people have a high degree of ownership over their career paths. That’s only possible when your company culture embraces an agile mindset in which people try out new roles in new functions or business units. For example, a customer service representative joins Marketing to become a customer references manager.

Agency: Skills and Flexibility 

People move around based on their skills and preferences.

This approach works best when your people have a high degree of ownership over their careers and come together in teams or other flexible arrangements to get work done. For example, a team disbands at the end of a project and another forms for a new initiative, similar to the way a creative agency functions.

Outside In: Specialized Help

People with certain skills are brought in to support specific projects. This requires understanding your people’s skills and how to strategically deploy them to get work done. 

This approach does not provide workers with much ability to define their careers within the context of a single employer organization. More often, they work with several organizations. For example, a database manager on contract spends a month helping two nonprofit organizations clean up their records.

Reset: Moves to Meet Needs

People are strategically reskilled and redeployed into new roles based on strategic needs.

Most of the time, workers are first identified for new roles, which they can accept or reject. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can choose a different one. For example, a communications company reskills its retail store workers in response to COVID-19, moving them to the call center.

The Relationship Between Ownership and Skills

How are the five approaches similar? And what is each best suited for?

These are key questions leaders pursuing a job mobility strategy tend to ask. To help answer them, the researchers plotted each of the five approaches to job mobility on an X-Y axis. In doing so, they considered who owns career mobility and the relationship between career mobility and skills.

The resulting graph looks like this:

The relationship between ownership and skills

The graph illustrates noteworthy occurrences that can guide the creation of a job mobility program.

According to the study:

  • As organizations embrace skills, the goals of mobility change from moving people along well-developed career paths to helping people identify where they can best apply their unique capabilities.
  • Moving toward a skills mindset often means adopting Agency and Outside In approaches — to free skills from defined roles and help people find short-term or project work.
  • Embracing skills also often means engaging independent gig or contract workers.

Critical to Any Job Mobility Strategy is Its Purpose

Each of the five strategies has strengths that lend themselves to achieving certain business goals.

While some organizations might be looking to boost retention, others may be more interested in succession planning or in moving skills where they’re needed most.

Charting where the goals intersect with the approaches illustrates strengths and weaknesses. 

The various goals of job mobility approaches
Click image to view larger.

What Are Your Goals?

Does your organization embrace roles or skills? How much are your people able to own their careers? Do you want to increase mobility? Why?

These are all key questions to ask as you begin to move forward with any strategy that promotes and supports internal opportunities for your people.

Want to learn more? If you’re still unsure about which strategy to choose, take RedThread’s free quiz created by RedThread and Degreed! After a few simple questions based on how your organization functions, it will suggest a strategy for you based on our original research. To read more about career mobility strategies and implementation, download the full report, Career Mobility: Mindset Over Movement, today!  

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