In my perfect world it would be easy to move in an organization.
Common sense dictates that every company would prefer to have people move internally rather than leave. It makes perfect sense – instead of losing talent, you give your people (maybe your best, maybe the rest) a chance to try new things, break out of their routine, and grow professionally. Who wouldn’t do that, right?
Wrong. In the vast majority of companies moving internally is harder than quiting and getting rehired into the new team. Let me say that again – too often it is actually easier to quit, interview for a new job at another team and get an offer, than it is to move internally. Sounds a little crazy, but lets think about it for a second. When trying to fill an open position on a team the incentives for everyone involved -recruiters/ interviewers/hiring managers, are well aligned – they all want to find a good candidate to fill their position so that they get paid/share the load/deliver on their goals. But for internal moves within the company the picture isn’t as pretty. The employee’s current manager has a lot to lose in the transaction, and the new manager and other interviewers often know too much about the past performance of the employee, which likely exposed some shortcomings (who doesn’t have any?). The end result is that internal transfers are often stymied by the old and the new teams who both prefer keeping the employee in their place and bringing in an unknown (but untainted) candidate for the open role.
In my perfect world people will behave very differently.
Great leaders have strong and ongoing coaching relationships with their team members. They develop a level of trust that allows members to openly discuss their expectations, hopes, and fears without concern. Leaders therefore know when an individual’s aspirations and growth needs are not met in their current position and are obliged to act on that information and help create the right environment for the individual regardless of whether it happens to be in their organization, somewhere else at the company, or even in the outside world. They do it because its the right thing to do and because they expect nothing less from their managers. Its a simple application of the ethic of reciprocity (aka the golden rule). Great leaders understand that this is a price they pay in order to have a level of trust with their team that breeds cohesion which in turn generates clarity of goal and clarity of purpose. That clarity and its effect on team performance is one of the only sustainable competitive advantages accessible to managers at the age of free information flow (much more on that in Patrick Lencioni’s excellent book – The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive). It is a price worth paying.
Great hiring managers (and great interviewers) understand that people behave differently in different environments and under different expectations. Whatever a candidate did in their past life has very little to do with how they are going to do in their new role. This is especially true when significantly changing the type or the scope of a person’s role (Paulo Coelho put it nicely). So knowing someone’s past in great detail, which inevitably entails knowing more about their shortcomings compared to a total stranger, should not be used as an excuse to turn them away. The only things that really count are talent and team fit. And since team fit is very hard to assess in a 45 minute interview, internal candidates are a often much safer bet.
But that may only happen in my perfect world.