What Is Internal Mobility, and Why Is It Important?

With employee expectations constantly evolving, internal mobility is a crucial part of a successful talent retention strategy. Learn how to enable talent mobility at your organization.

Traditionally, employers have looked to external candidates during the talent acquisition process. In doing so, they ignore their greatest asset: existing talent. According to this 2022 Workday study, 82% of high-growth companies have lost talent due to lack of career development opportunities. If companies want to ensure they retain top talent, an effective internal mobility program is critical.

What Is Internal Mobility?

Internal mobility is the movement of employees within an organization to new career and development opportunities. Also known as talent mobility or career mobility, it involves moving an employee to another internal role, either vertically or laterally. The move might be permanent, as with a promotion, or temporary, as with a gig or sprint project.

Internal mobility enables recruitment teams to find the best person for the role right within the business. But it also improves employee growth, enabling employees to advance their career, develop new skills, and try new experiences. By encouraging employees to move internally, businesses support increased employee engagement and decreased employee turnover. While external hiring will always be necessary to some extent, a focus on internal recruitment creates a happier, healthier organization.

In the modern workplace, career mobility is best enabled by a talent marketplace. A talent marketplace is a HR platform that matches people to internal opportunities, such as a new role or temporary assignment. Using a central database of employees’ skills, interests, and preferences, employers can identify opportunities for employees to develop and grow.

Internal mobility is the movement of employees within an organization. Also known as talent mobility or career mobility, it involves moving an employee to another internal role, either vertically or laterally.

What Are the Types of Internal Mobility?

It’s likely everyone reading this article will have undergone a promotion, but that’s not the only type of internal mobility. Where career paths were once linear, now they’re often far more dynamic, taking in different roles and levels of responsibility. Here are four of the most common types of mobility.

Role-to-Role Mobility

Discussions with employees about long-term career growth have traditionally focused on an upward trajectory—namely, more responsibility and more pay. Yet many employees want the opportunity to break out of their existing career path. With role-to-role mobility, employees make a lateral movement, typically retaining a similar salary and job level. In doing so, they get to apply skills previous roles didn’t utilize, work with different colleagues, and explore new career options.

Upward Mobility

Upward mobility is what most organizations would refer to as a promotion. This is when an employee advances to a more senior position, usually within their department. A promotion acknowledges an employee’s high performance in their current role and typically brings in new responsibilities and expectations. By promoting internally, businesses can demonstrate that good work is rewarded and upward mobility is possible, boosting employee satisfaction.


Transfers, or geographical mobility, are when an employee changes location but stays in the same position (or similar). This may be a permanent move between offices or a short-term move to provide project support. Transfers benefit both your employees and your team leaders. For workers, it promotes job security if they need to relocate, and for supervisors, it prevents teams from becoming unbalanced between locations.

Project-Based Mobility

Project-based mobility is when an employee changes roles temporarily to support a cross-functional project. These temporary assignments have a specific one-off goal, bringing together a diverse range of employees with different expertise. Like with role-to-role mobility, this allows employees to use skill sets they otherwise wouldn’t, and do it alongside a new peer group. By working outside of their usual workflow, employees gain a richer, more varied employee experience.

In 2023, Aptitude Research and Workday found that over 70% of companies were increasing their investment in talent mobility.

Examples of Internal Mobility

While the types of internal mobility are fairly consistent, there are many different ways companies can enable employee growth. Here are some of the most common examples to consider when planning your internal mobility strategy.

  • Promotions: The ability for an employee to progress up the company ladder internally, which is at the foundation of internal mobility. While it’s important to consider other available opportunities for mobility, businesses will continue to use this traditional metric for progression.

  • Intradepartmental transfers: The movement of an employee to a different role within the same department. This typically occurs to give employees exposure to the rest of their department or to provide career development opportunities.

  • Interdepartmental transfers: The movement of an employee to a different department, likely to a similar role. This usually occurs to fill a skills gap on a particular team, or if there is a wider corporate restructure.

  • Gigs and sprint projects: Short-term projects and part-time assignments that enable employees to work cross-functionally. By enabling employees to accept sprints or gigs with a degree of flexibility, companies can respond to emerging business needs quickly. 

  • Job swaps: When two employees temporarily trade roles. This can either be part of a broader talent strategy or a one-off exchange. The intention is usually to give each employee a better understanding of their colleagues’ contributions and wider business practices.

  • New roles: The chance for new opportunities for career mobility. While recruiting teams may consider outside talent, it’s important to also look internally. This is where having a talent marketplace adds major value.

  • Mentorships: The opportunity for one employee to learn from another, or several others. Mentors are typically more senior employees who can provide mentees with a better understanding of the business. Mentorships can prepare employees for upcoming promotions or to assist in upskilling.

95% of the companies surveyed by Aptitude Research stated that skills are more important than job titles when promoting employees.

Why Internal Mobility Is Important

In 2023, Aptitude Research and Workday found that over 70% of companies were increasing their investment in talent mobility. More than ever, it’s essential that organizations look to their existing employees as growth-driven individuals rather than static entities.

When making the business case for a talent marketplace, it’s important to be able to connect talent mobility to business outcomes. As part of its analysis, Aptitude Research compared high-performing companies that prioritized a skills-based approach with their peers. Here are some of the key benefits of internal mobility that Aptitude identified:

  • 77% of high-performing companies have improved employee retention, compared to 45% of all others.

  • 60% of high-performing companies have improved diversity and inclusion initiatives, compared to 44% of all others.

  • 65% of high-performing companies have improved employee experience, compared to 30% of all others.

The key benefits of internal mobility from Aptitude Research.

By enabling employees to have more opportunities for growth and development, you encourage positive change at every level of the business. Since employee skills are an input, the more they develop, the more powerful those skills become. By retaining and nurturing talent, you ensure the long-term success of your company.

How to Enable Internal Mobility at Your Company

In 2023, Aptitude Research found that 58% of internal candidates went through the same process as external candidates. Employers should recognize internal candidates for what they are: Existing team members who understand the company, have established internal networks, and are already contributing to the business.

Ninety-five percent of companies surveyed by Aptitude Research stated that skills are more important than job titles when promoting employees. That’s why the most important action businesses can take to prepare for increased internal mobility is acquiring and storing skills information. A talent marketplace provides benefits to both employees and leaders. Employers have a full picture of their workforce’s capabilities, and employees can better see the multiple paths forward for their career.

A talent marketplace helps organizations put skills in the context of solving challenges: 

  • What employees do you currently have in the workforce?
  • How do you make talent planning decisions?
  • What skills gaps currently exist? 

By establishing a strong skills foundation, you better position your business to tackle these questions head on. And by putting employees front and center when it comes to new opportunities, you ensure they’re best positioned to drive your company to greater successes.

At the core of Workday’s talent marketplace is Workday Skills Cloud, the world’s most open skills intelligence foundation. We designed Workday Skills Cloud with artificial intelligence and machine learning at its core, enabling organizations to categorize skills, identify skills gaps, and make data-driven decisions. 

Read here for more information on how Workday Skills Cloud is already enabling internal mobility at enterprise corporations.

More Reading