Why your talent should be allowed to switch jobs

Want to keep your talent? Offer your ambitious employees the challenges they’re looking for? Facilitate internal transfers. It’s a relatively small investment, but offers a huge potential gain.


It happens all the time. One of your employees isn’t happy with his job. After a few years of doing the same job, performing the same tasks with the same colleagues, their challenge is gone. They’re bored and their personal development has come to a grinding halt. They start to look around for a new challenge. Before you know it, they’re sending out applications forms.

Is that a bad thing?

In some cases, it’s good when people leave your organization. They’ve had fun for a few years, learned all they could, but now there’s no more room for growth. You as an organization have nothing more to offer them. Then it’s better to just say goodbye and help your employee land a nice job at another organization.

But what if you’re happy with your employee? What if you know there are tons of organizational challenges that you’re sure would benefit from his contribution? Then of course you don’t let your employee go! You help him find another job. Within your organization.

Why would I care about facilitating internal transfers?

At TOPdesk, we actively promote our talent to switch jobs. This has two main reasons.

First, retaining your talent saves you an enormous amount of time and money. Money you would otherwise have to spend on recruiting and training someone new. Your colleague already knows your organization, so training him for his new job takes significantly less time than training a new employee.

An added bonus is that internal transfers stimulate the cooperation between your departments. Quite regularly, one of our Sales people transfers to Consultancy, and the other way around happens just as often. This very organically improves the integration between the two departments. And they learn from each other, too. Our Sales people get better at listening to our customer and analyzing what they truly need, while our consultants learn how to spot and exploit commercial opportunities.

Switching jobs should be a custom, not a coincidence

Some of our employees have transferred three or four times within our organization. One employee who’s been working here for fourteen years started out as a consultant, became Consultancy team lead, then Product owner at Development and is now initiator of an internal startup. For each transfer, the reason was she craved a new challenge. And I’m sure that when her current job becomes a drag, she’ll go look for a new challenge – and find one.

Sometimes, you have to encourage a transfer because your employee’s performance is poor. You’re enthusiastic about the person, but not about the role he’s in. Then we help him find a role where he can make far better use of his talents. This happens regularly in football, too. Is your striker not scoring enough goals, but great at providing assists? Maybe he’d be better off as a midfielder. Is your account manager not meeting his targets but has excellent product knowledge? Who knows, maybe he’ll flourish when transferred to Consultancy.

Whether your employee performs well or poorly: you help him find a job that makes him happier. Of course, this is easier said than done. How do you facilitate this at an organizational level?

1. Make it OK to transfer – up, down or sideways

Many people feel that a job transfer should be a step up – say, from project employee to project manager. Or that it at least should be a step ‘sideways’, to a job at another department. But a step down in the hierarchy, from team lead to project employee, is seen as a step back. As a loss of status. But it’s actually very healthy!

In our organization, almost every year one or more people decide to quit their job as manager and go back to consulting, developing or whatever it was they did a few years back. The reason is often that they miss their old job, or that the work of team lead was not what they hoped it would be. Or both. Almost every time somebody decided to transfer, they were visibly happier in their new-slash-old job.

Make it clear that in your organization, transferring jobs, be it up, sideways or down or, is OK. Especially down. When a team lead tells you he’s considering going back to his old job, give him all the praise and support you can. Preferably publicly. The more often you do that, the more likely it will be others will follow their example.

2. Keep your salary system simple

Make sure your salary system is not based on the job someone does for your organization. If there are significant differences between the departments’ salaries, your employees will be reluctant to make a move that throws them back in salary. Which is only logical. They too have a family to support, a mortgage to pay. It’s a shame though. Because it means your employees will remain trapped in jobs they may not like anymore.

When someone at TOPdesk changes jobs, his pay stays the same. However, the way his salary develops from then on might change. Maybe he’ll get a lower raise, or no raise at all, since he has fewer responsibilities in his new job. But at least he knows his pay won’t be cut.

3. Give your people the room to look around

When one of your Support team is considering transferring to IT, his thoughts are based on what he thinks it means to work in IT. Does he picture himself laying cables? Managing databases? Resetting passwords? Offer your employee the chance to discover what working in IT really means.

The best way to experience what transferring jobs would mean, is an internship. This happens all the time at TOPdesk. The Support specialist spends a week with his colleagues at IT and do the work they do. There’s not protocol required for this, it’s just something the Support team lead and IT manager arrange amongst each other.

After the internship, is your Support employee still interested in transferring to IT? Then we do a job interview. For this we apply the same criteria as for interviewing an external candidate. Is the IT manager not enthusiastic about the candidate? Or has the candidate changed his mind? No problem. At least the Support employee can cross one internal career option off his list. And he can continue his search for a job that really suits his talents.

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