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Dear Workforce Should Our New HR Leader Come From Inside or Outside

Our fire department is establishing a human resources unit. Should its leadership come from within our organization or from a civilian with the prerequisite knowledge, skills and abilities? What best practices have been developed?
March 29, 2010
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Related Topics: The HR Profession, HR Services and Administration, Candidate Sourcing, Dear Workforce
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Dear Putting Out Fires:
Your question strikes at the heart of the age-old debate: whether it is more effective to have a leader with institutional and technical knowledge or simply one with leadership skills and the ability to empower those who do have the institutional and technical knowledge. The answer may be influenced by what you expect the leader to do as much as by the organization's culture and leadership structure.
For example, a leader in a lean organization may be expected to pitch in and work with the team in addition to providing guidance and strategic direction. On the other hand, a leader in an organization with a flat structure may of necessity have to rely on the expertise of others, using empowering leadership practices to get things accomplished. A leader functioning in a steep hierarchy may delegate all hands-on tasks. But in such an organization, employees are likely to be less empowered and more dependent on the leader for all but the most rudimentary direction—thereby demanding that the leader have significant technical know-how.
Before deciding the source from which you hire your unit leader, you might first ask yourself the following questions:
• What is the current culture of the organization?
• How do I want my leader to lead?
• What is the expertise I need in a leader for this unit, particularly in light of my answers to the first two questions?
Human resources knowledge is fairly generic, although there is certainly expertise that is specific to labor law and human resource practices for the unit your HR group supports. Consider the essential knowledge and experience that is most difficult to obtain and determine whether internal or external candidates for the position possess them.
If you are looking for a good fit for the current environment, you may want to look for someone who has both the ability to lead as well as difficult-to-obtain technical expertise specific to your organization.
Keep in mind that hiring an internal staff member to be a unit leader lets employees know that you are committed to rewarding those who develop and prepare for leadership responsibilities. Hiring from the outside communicates a lack of confidence in the bench strength of the unit. A good rule of thumb is this: Promote from within when internal candidates have the qualifications you need, but don't rush an internal candidate into a position before the person is prepared.
SOURCE: Kevin Herring, Ascent Management Consulting, Oro Valley, Arizona, March 15, 2010
LEARN MORE: More tips and advice on when to promote from within and when to look outside.
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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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