How Uber’s Approach to Internal Mobility Helps Employees Find Roles They Love

April 5, 2021

Photo of Uber employees working at their desks

After employees move into a new role at Uber, they stay twice as long with the company as peers who don’t move. Fortunately, Uber employees have plenty of opportunities to try new roles because the ride-sharing pioneer has developed a robust and ever-evolving internal mobility program that encourages lateral — and often unconventional — moves. 

“Our philosophy is around opportunity,” explains Danielle Monaghan, head of global talent acquisition and mobility at Uber. “Whether it’s an internal or external candidate, people should have the same opportunities.”

In an average year, anywhere from 30% to 40% of Uber’s hires are the result of internal movement. “Over the last couple of years, our internal mobility numbers have scaled up over 120%,” Danielle’s colleague Jonathan Reyes, director of global talent acquisition operations, told the audience at last week’s Forward event.

To drive those kinds of numbers, 20% of the company’s recruiters focus solely on internal recruitment. The program also has a strong self-service element, with employees able to identify and pursue roles they might be interested in, receiving support and resources along the way. 

We checked in with Danielle and Jonathan to get a better idea of what Uber has done — and what you can do — to build an internal mobility program that helps people find new roles they’ll love.

Get buy-in from managers using data and stories

The link between internal mobility and employee retention isn’t a new phenomenon. The Global Talent Trends 2020 report found that, on average, employees stay 41% longer at companies with lots of internal hiring compared to those very little. Despite this, many companies struggle to get their internal mobility efforts off the ground. The No. 1 barrier they cite: managers hoarding talent

“I've seen this with companies I've been in,” Danielle says. “What ended up happening is, because of all these artificial boundaries and managers not wanting to let their people go, it was so hard to move internally that it was easier to find a job outside of the company. And to us, that just didn't make any sense.”

To ensure that managers are on the same page about the importance of internal mobility, Uber’s team takes a two-pronged approach to consistently reinforce that point — combining the hard data around retention with anecdotal evidence of employees sticking around because of opportunities created by the internal mobility program. 

One of our engineers who’s been with us for a decade recently spoke at an all-hands,” Danielle says. “He talked about his career, what he’s done, and why he’s still here — because in his 10 years with us, he’s moved roles four or five times. That storytelling piece is superpowerful.”

Jonathan adds that combining internal mobility with learning and development can address skills gaps and create a memorable story. He notes that in the last three years Uber has graduated 50 new product managers through its PM Academy program. “We know that definitely the marketplace is never going to meet our needs,” he says. “So, we get people with no product management skill set and they go into our product team and learn how to become a product manager. To us, that is a significant advantage in the talent marketplace, but it also gives us a story of how you can grow your skills and become something else with adjacent skills.”

Danielle also stresses the importance of having a leadership team that’s committed to internal mobility. If the message is only coming from the talent team and not coming from the top, some managers may choose to ignore it. 

“From the CEO and CPO down, they all have to deeply believe in it,” Danielle says. “And ours do.”

Make sure that internal mobility isn’t one-size-fits-all

When people talk about internal mobility, they’re often referring to employees moving from one full-time role to another. While this may be what some employees are looking for, others may not want to commit to a major change in one fell swoop. 

To ensure that employees have the opportunity to explore, try things out, and figure out their next move within the company, Uber developed an internal gig platform. Using this, employees can apply for short-term assignments and projects with other teams that will only take up around 5% to 15% of their time. In some cases, they can even collaborate with teams in other countries, with the potential to relocate later if they choose.

“The platform allows people to develop skills, build a network across the company, and drive their own growth,” Danielle explains. “We don't look at internal mobility as just getting a new job — there's a lot of other ways that we can help people really grow their careers.”

The idea of driving your own growth is central to Uber’s approach. “For a long time,” Jonathan says, “a growth mindset meant upward mobility. So, I’m getting promoted. But now we’re really talking about what does it mean for you to develop your skill set and grow as an individual — from a lateral perspective, from an experiential perspective, and from a formal learning perspective.”

While managers work closely with employees to develop a plan to get them where they want to go, it’s the employees themselves who figure out the destination. They can do this by searching for specific roles or projects on the gig platform, which will show them where their skills overlap, where they have gaps, and what they could learn. But if they’re not sure of their direction, they can also use the platform to see the paths that people in similar roles have taken. 

For example, if a recruiter decides they may be ready for their next move but they weren’t sure what move to make, they can pull up a chart showing what other former recruiters within the company are doing now. From there, they can click on a job to find out what they’ll need to do if they want to follow in that person’s footsteps. They can even arrange to talk to the person to learn more about how they made the transition.

“Then you'll go back and talk to your manager,” Danielle says. “You discuss what you’re interested in, then come up with a plan together on how to get there. Is it taking a gig? Is it a short-term assignment? Is it some mentoring or coaching?”

This kind of support and collaboration lets employees know that their managers are invested in their growth and development, which can boost retention even if an employee ultimately decides to remain in their role. Of course, this employee-focused environment is only possible if that crucial first step is taken and managers are brought on board. Overprotective managers, it turns out, aren’t the only barrier to internal mobility. 

Revisit policies to ensure they’re not keeping talent from opportunity

Uber looks at its internal mobility program as an ongoing effort, rather than a finished product. There are plans to tie it closer to the performance management cycle and enable more proactive outreach from internal recruiters, while Danielle also hopes to see the current platform evolve into a more dynamic talent marketplace. But one immediate step the company has taken is to revisit old policies to ensure they’re not impeding access to opportunity.

One recent example of this was a policy that prevented community specialists (who provide frontline support to drivers, couriers, and customers) from applying for other roles unless they had been with the company for a certain amount of time. They were also unable to apply for roles that were more than a level higher than their current position, no matter how skilled they were. 

“These are very talented people who know the company and work really hard,” Danielle says. “So we looked at the policy and said, ‘Maybe this made sense at the time it was set up, but does it still make sense today?’ And it didn’t, so we got rid of it.”

Today, Uber’s community specialists can apply for positions up to three levels higher than where they are today. To support these movements, the development team has also rolled out additional training that gets employees ready to apply to the roles they’ve set their sights on. 

Final thoughts: If you don’t offer employees opportunities, other companies will

Internal mobility opportunities grew during the pandemic when many recruiting teams either slowed or stopped their external hiring. Danielle believes that it may continue to rise in popularity — not only because companies have seen it working, but because remote work has opened employees’ eyes to different possibilities. 

“The company is smaller and the world is smaller because of how we’re connected,” Danielle says. “I think it might encourage more people to apply for roles and not be as concerned about where they’re located, because they've had so many more opportunities to work their network across the company.”

For companies that are unsure whether building an internal mobility program is worth the effort, or managers who are still reluctant to let high-performers go, Danielle has one parting piece of advice to share. 

“Everyone is discoverable now, so it's very easy for outside recruiters to come after your top talent,” she says, “and if you're not offering the opportunities, somebody else will.”

*Photo from Uber

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