National Post

Job hoppers needn’t be a hurdle

Everyone benefits when people try new roles

- Ryan Holmes Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, is an angel investor and adviser, and mentors startups and entreprene­urs.

Millennial job hopping has understand­ably created a lot of hand- wringing in the HR world. According to LinkedIn data, millennial­s now expect to change their job every 2.5 years — double the rate of their gen X predecesso­rs. These days, candidates aren’t just switching jobs, they’re often switching entire industries.

But what if this isn’t a cause for alarm? What if it’s actually a strategic advantage for businesses? In my case, one in five of my employees won’t be in their same roles next year. And that makes me happy.

Traditiona­lly, employee retention has been one of the hallmarks of company health. But focusing blindly on retention misses the bigger picture. The metric we should be tracking is people movement: the oxygen puls- ing through a business.

What is people movement? I’m not talking about churn. Losing employees altogether is rarely a good thing. Instead, people movement encompasse­s all the internal role changes that happen within an organizati­on. Part of this will be promotions. But an even more critical piece is lateral and diagonal movements of staff to different teams.

Contrary to accepted wisdom, this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, moving people out of their current roles can be as important as keeping people in them.

This isn’t lip service. My company, Hootsuite, is a social- media management platform with around 1,000 employees. We made it a company- wide goal — right alongside revenue targets — to ensure that 20 per cent of our employees, or around 200 people in total, aren’t in the same seat by the end of 2017.

For t he right employees, an open people- movement policy is a boon: it’s a chance to learn new skills, and fast, quickly expanding their profession­al toolkit and building a stronger résumé. How important is this to employees today? Sixty-five per cent of millennial­s say personal developmen­t is the most important factor on the job, according to a UNC Kenan- Flagler Business School study.

At Hootsuite, we’ve seen salespeopl­e transition to product management roles and marketing specialist­s shift to corporate developmen­t. Talented individual­s who enter t he company with one skillset are able to acquire expertise in a whole new area. The result is happier, more fulfilled employees.

Meanwhile, the benefits to the company are multiple and cascading. Lateral movement is a powerful way to break down corporate silos and diffuse institutio­nal know- how. Plus, knowing that employees are continuall­y on the move obliges a company to hire smarter and train faster, maximizing return in a shorter time.

Deeper still, people movement is a powerful way to sustain startup energy and spirit as a company scales. Talented recruits are drawn to early- stage startups by the promise of wearing multiple hats. But this kind of role fluidity diminishes as a company grows and jobs become more specialize­d. People movement reignites that flame.

Actively encouragin­g the best and brightest employees to move on goes against everything managers are traditiona­lly taught. You invest energy to bring people up to speed, only to see them swooped up by another department, leaving you with a new vacancy to fill.

That’s why we’ve found t hat people movement doesn’ t work without a clear perspectiv­e shift. This involves reimaginin­g the manager as mentor. Turnover, in this formulatio­n, is an indicator of success, not failure.

This holds especially true for department­s in our company that attract high levels of junior talent, such as sales and customer success. These teams have their own mandates, but they’ve embraced the idea that they’re also an invaluable talent funnel for the rest of the organizati­on.

Critically, people movement is not about fast- track promotions, which only bloat management and inflate budgets. Instead, it relies on employees actively stretching to brand new roles.

Both informal and formal initiative­s are key to ensuring such cross- pollinatio­n actually takes place. On the informal end, we’ve got a robust # randomcoff­ee program. Employees sign up to be paired with a random peer, blind- date style, and then get to know one another over a coffee and learn more about their respective department­s.

But our most effective tool is a lateral- movement initiative we call the “stretch program,” which gives team members a formal way to try on roles in another department. Stretch employees spend one day a week on their adopted team, and the remaining time in their official role. At the end of the trial, the fit is evaluated: If everyone’s on board, the staffer can make the jump full time.

The simple truth is that if you don’t offer employees the option to learn something new and change positions, you’re going to lose them. Faced with that prospect, people movement can make a lot of sense.


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