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Should Companies Promote from Within

July 21, 1999
Related Topics: Career Development, Employee Career Development, Policies and Procedures, Featured Article
Editor's Note: On a whim, Workforce Department Editor Scott Hays signed up for a class titled "Human Resources Management," as part of the HR/Management Certificate Program at the University of California, Irvine. Each week, he'll visit one nugget of knowledge from the course, helping you move slowly in the direction of becoming a more strategic partner.

Yes, promoting an employee can be good for your company, as long as it doesn’t cause inbreeding.

Employees love to be rewarded for exceptional performance with a long-overdue promotion and raise. After all, employees tend to want to work for companies that offer them job security and the ability to advance career goals.

But does it always make sense for your company to promote from within?

In his book, Human Resource Management (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1997), Gary Dessler says that there are certain advantages to filling an open position with an inside candidate.

  1. Inside candidates may be more committed to the company;
  2. Promotions from within may boost morale among other employees;
  3. It may also be safer to promote employees from within, "since you’re likely to have a more accurate assessment" of a person’s skills; and
  4. Inside candidates may require less orientation and training than outsiders.

Yet promotions from within can also backfire, writes Dessler. To engage in such breeding may cause your company to become too refined, the result of narrow social and cultural associations. "When an entire management team has been brought up through the ranks, there may be a tendency to make decisions by the book and to maintain the status quo."

Also, other employees may become jealous.

The challenge thus becomes the ability to promote from within without promulgating inbreeding.

Charlie Dawson is the author of Internal Recruiter’s Guide to Successful Recruiting (The Management Advantage, 1999), and director of alliance teams with Wayne, Pennsylvania-based Raymond Karsan & Associates, a human resources consulting firm. Here are his suggestions for HR managers who are thinking about recruiting from within:

  1. Determine whether promoting the right person is going to cause damage to the rest of the organization. For example, if your top-producing salesperson gets promoted to sales manager, you may find you’ve just lost your top salesperson and gained a lousy manager. Ask yourself three questions before promoting from within: Is the skill replaceable, is the skill transferable, and is there an overall advantage to the organization by promoting this person?
  2. Check and double-check the "chemistry" between the internal candidate and the hiring manager. Even if the candidate possesses the skill level to become a great manager, efficiency and productivity may not follow if there’s a "personality conflict." The interview time between the internal candidate and the hiring manger needs to focus on whether the two can work together.
  3. Determine that the new position and the compensation and benefits plan meet the internal candidate’s long-term career goals. For example, a junior-level accountant might someday want to become controller, but the promotion you’re considering would put her on the path to becoming an actuary. Maybe you need to rethink your decision—for her sake and the company’s.
  4. Never be afraid to stop and start again. The most critical mistake any company makes when it promotes from within is to get its heart set on a specific individual, instead of looking through the entire organization for the person who might actually be the best fit.
SOURCE: Human Resource Management (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1997) by Gary Dessler.

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