A Dilemma: Promote from Within or Import Talent
Most of the talent management literature I’m familiar with focuses on building internal talent pipelines so that organizations have a ready pool of high-potential people to promote when the time comes. In theory, there are many advantages to filling positions with people who have proven themselves locally, understand the culture, and are “known quantities.”
I suggest that there’s a dilemma here, because no matter how attractive that talent strategy appears to be, sometimes the last person you need in an important position is one who is fully embedded in “who we are” and “what got us here.” As Marshall Goldsmith and many others have pointed out, on an individual level all our experience and learning to date may not be sufficient to make us successful in a rapidly changing environment.
I suggest that only companies as large and diverse as P&G can afford their workforce the variety of experiences required to bring new thinking to new challenges using people who’ve been there awhile. Most organizations just can’t develop–even with a strong talent development program–what it takes to come up with new thinking as demands change. There are times and places when you need to import that talent you need.
What makes this a true dilemma is that importing talent is not easy either–especially in strong cultures that naturally tend to reject unfamiliar DNA. Like most dilemmas, this one persists because there’s not always one best answer. Sometimes, your own people, well developed, are your best bet. Other times you need to go to the market–and even then it’s a challenge for leadership to accommodate the new perspectives they sorely need.
I think one factor to evaluate in determining whether to promote from within or hire externally is to objectively assess how well the organization (or unit within an organization) is doing in meeting/exceeding it goals. If the organization is on a good trajectory and doing well in all facets, including engagement, morale, etc, then I suggest promoting internally to keep this culture and momentum going. However if things are getting stagnant and falling short of goals then new ideas, energy, and experience may be what is needed for redirection. If employees are energized, optimistic and productive then it sends a good message to keep promotions internal. When the workplace is critical of leadership and the work environment an “outsider” may be a breath of fresh air.