Know When to Hold ‘Em: Some Thoughts on Internal Employee Transfer

I was at a company a few days ago where employees are not allowed to apply for internal jobs that are posted on the Internet unless they let their boss know and have been doing their current job for at least 6 months. Most of the HR staff felt this was not a problem. After all, shouldn?t a boss be aware that an employee is looking and perhaps not happy? And, if a person has only been in a job for a few months isn?t it only fair that they give their boss their services for a few months? My answer is that yes, it would be fair, if we were not in the midst of a talent war where “fair” has little meaning? Is it fair that any employee can simply tell her boss she won?t be back tomorrow because she has another job? Is it fair that employees can often get a salary increase of 10% or more simply by moving to another company? Is it fair that we have a labor shortage? There is little in life that is fair and the days of stability and loyalty in our corporations are over. We could argue about why these traits have gone by the wayside, but the truth is that they have. The labor market is so constrained that in only a few rare places is it very hard to find a new job. The job boards and endless advertisements for people have reduced anxiety and fear about finding work to all-time lows. I have started to informally notice the ?For Hire? signs that adorn every store, restaurant, and office I have been in over the past 3 months. The signs advertising positions are often larger and more colorful than those that advertise the products. Let?s face the truth: whether employees are allowed to transfer freely inside or not impacts no one but the employer. They lose a good employee to another company for no good or value-added reason. Employees are not Assets We should not characterize employees as assets, as many firms do, and treat them in a way that makes them feel as if they have no choices. Employees cannot be owned, taxed, depreciated or disposed of as machines or other tangible assets can be. They have become important investors in our organizations and they freely choose to share their expertise and skills with us or not. Each employee has a built-in return on investment (ROI) meter that is constantly sampling the atmosphere and deciding if she is gaining or losing from a continuing association with the firm. As long as the employee feels that they are gaining, they don?t look for different jobs. But in this job market, whenever the balance shifts even slightly, employees become vulnerable to any offer than may present itself. That is why having mangers who have a history of good employee loyalty and low turnover are so valuable. Usually when an employee wants to apply for another position inside the firm it is because they are looking for a new challenge, aren?t not happy with their current assignment of boss, or feel that the new position will offer more of a return on their investment. To deny them the opportunity and to place some HR policy in their way is not only a sure way to loose them to someone else, it is also just plain dumb. Happy employees who are being treated as investors will be unlikely to leave. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Here are four things every organization and HR group be doing or should have in place today:

  1. All policies should be abolished that limit or control how or when employees apply for positions within an organization. Every employee should have the same employment at will opportunities inside the company as exist in the open marketplace.
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  3. Companies should make it a policy to encourage employees to share expertise and skills broadly. After all, it is the networking interconnectedness of our employees that add value and allow us to develop new products and generate new ideas. Creativity does not arise in stable, rigid and change-adverse organizations. The most exciting new concepts and ideas come for small firms were people wear many hats and move between responsibilities such as the companies of Silicon Valley.
  4. Let recruiters work just as freely inside as outside the organization and let them work on back filling positions that may be vacated by an employee who is moving on to something else. If a recruiter knows that an employee is leaving for a new position, they can help the manager find someone else for the old position at almost the same time.
  5. Create policies that allow employees to try out new jobs for a short time to see if they like it and can do it well. Let employees share their job with some one else so they can sample more than one kind of work or more than one project. Foster a spirit of sharing expertise and skills, not of owning the mind and body of someone.

The policies that restrict or limit transfers and change within an organization are leftovers of the 20th century organizations that are hierarchical, paternalistic and slowly fading away. A 21st century organization removes barriers and builds networks that power creativity and growth.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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