Internal mobility: Why it can be a ‘big retention game-changer’

In more than two decades with global consulting firm RGP, Katy Conway has seen the HR function from all sides—recruiting, employee relations, talent management. And, she says, that diversity of experiences, made possible by the organization’s investment in internal mobility, is one of the factors that has fueled her long tenure with the firm.

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Conway’s own experience with internal mobility has helped shape her HR team’s continued focus on giving employees opportunities to learn and grow internally, she says. While RGP advocates for promoting from within, the current labor landscape is also driving the rise of increasingly “dynamic workforces,” comprised of both internal talent and external contributors, Conway says.

She recently shared with HRE how organizations can leverage reimagined hiring strategies to address ongoing skills gaps, the incorporation of artificial intelligence and the pressure to “do more with less.”

HRE: You’ve been with RGP for over 20 years. What has the organization done right to retain you?

Katy Conway, RGPConway: The reason I’ve stayed so long is that I’ve been given a lot of internal mobility opportunities. Sometimes, that came with a title change; sometimes, the moves were vertical and sometimes lateral.

I like to build things and find interesting business needs I could contribute to or create something that didn’t exist. And I have been given those opportunities many times over my span here. So, I’m trying to do that same thing for our people—to say, “How can we create opportunities people want to lean into here despite having lots of other opportunities in the marketplace?” If we deliver that, it can be a big retention game-changer.

HRE: HR teams are being asked to do more with less this year. How are you seeing the most successful teams accomplish that?

Conway: We are really trying to deliver more of a digital transformation at RGP, but we haven’t lost the people aspect as we do that. The digital piece allows more people to have more self-service, to stretch your capabilities more—but you have to still be doing that in a way where you’re having interactions with your teams. You have to be making sure technology is still serving that personal experience. That’s been an important learning for us.

HRE: As more employers leverage technology to power their people transformation, where are you seeing them make the most mistakes?

Conway: I would say it’s when the people focus, or the employee experience is not as heavily considered enough as the technology. They may err too heavily on efficiency, self-service—but without considering how that impacts the person and their experience. We’ve all had the experience, for example, of trying to call a company’s customer service, and you’re just exhausted and exasperated after four minutes of talking to a robot. There’s got to be a balance with the user experience and the tech.

HRE: What’s the biggest HR challenge you’re envisioning for 2024 at RGP?

Conway: The hardest part is prioritizing the challenges, but the biggest one for me and probably many of my colleagues is the skills gap. The way we’re tackling that is realizing that we don’t need to own our talent to get the skills we need. We recently did some research with 1,000 business executives responsible for shaping their workforce, and of that group, on average, they had 20 or more $1 million or larger transformations going on. But 40% said they didn’t have the skills to deliver.

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Everyone is feeling this gap. Having more of a dynamic workforce comprised of teams of your own employees and outside expertise has been a great way for us to solve that. It gives you more flexibility and agility, and it’s been an impactful learning for us and many other companies.

HRE: What are the cultural considerations of moving to a more dynamic workforce?

Conway: They’re pretty deep. When you have a team constructed of both internal and outside help, you can’t treat the two groups exactly the same. You need to make distinctions yet still create and foster collaboration to create real cohesiveness across teams.

That requires a very deliberate mapping out of experiences early on for both populations and then bringing everyone together and saying, “What are the ways we can foster a total team dynamic and culture?” Doing that illuminates opportunities for bringing everyone together without crossing the lines you need to be careful with.

Learn from leading HR experts how to leverage internal mobility to build people-centric cultures at HRE’s upcoming EPIC Conference, April 24-26, in Las Vegas. Click here to register.

HRE: You became RGP’s first chief people officer just a month before the COVID-19 pandemic began. What was that like?

Conway: I had to laugh at the timing. What can you do? It was quite interesting because, for us, it meant taking a group of consultants who work globally but who, largely at the time, were on site and figuring out how to connect that talent to our clients virtually. It was not a small feat.

[Post-pandemic,] we made the decision to continue hybrid. Like many companies, we were forced by the pandemic [to go hybrid], but we understood that flexibility is a persistent, lasting and meaningful factor for our people. We believe that collaboration can really be fostered in those hallway conversations, but we also wanted to give people the flexibility to work where they want to work part of the time. 

HRE: How do you keep growing as an HR leader?

Conway: I’m a non-Gen Z person who acts like a Gen Zer! I dig all this digital content. I try to find ways I can bring together all of this digital content with things I’m already doing. I walk a lot, so I’m always listening to podcasts; my kids always give me a hard time in the car: “Can’t we listen to music and not just people talking?”

But you can always learn something. But I also have to take my own advice about balancing digital and in-person; lately, I’ve been looking for more ways to connect with colleagues and have more of a mix of in-person networking and digital learning.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].