Having a lot of bench strength is critical to any company’s success. But identifying the best internal candidates for promotion can be difficult. There may be multiple people qualified for the same promotion – and even more who want it – but even the most experienced hiring manager can sometimes fail to identify the best one.
Successful companies embrace internal mobility because it creates a culture in which employees feel valued and rewarded for hard work. It also pushes the most qualified people up the ladder towards specialization. In other instances, your organization can be strengthened by moving strong employees to entirely new roles where they have the opportunity to apply their skill sets to fresh, new challenges.
But it’s a mistake to nurture an environment where your employees view being promoted as an entitlement. Positions with more responsibility, more visibility and bigger salaries are something that should be earned, not assumed. Simply pushing people up the ladder without considering the long term implications to your organization can backfire because promoting unqualified candidates can cause bitterness among people who were passed over for the job – not to mention setting the person up for failure.
Promoting from within can be a challenging prospect and needs to be approached cautiously. Here are five of the biggest pitfalls to consider when filling a position with an internal candidate.
The Peter Principle
The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory that has been kicking around since the late 1960s when it was first proposed by Lawrence J. Peter. It goes like this, “Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.”
In other words, companies tend to promote people based on their performance in their current job rather than whether or not they will be successful in their new one. When you promote somebody from within your organization and they aren’t equipped to succeed in their new position, you are harming both your operations and that employee.
Yet this is extremely common. And its damage is multiplied when managers who are incompetent themselves promote other people they believe are even more incompetent only to make themselves look more qualified and irreplaceable. When this happens, sooner or later the whole house of cards will come falling down.
To avoid this scenario, an individual’s potential to succeed needs to be given at least as much value as their past job performance. And when they are promoted, they should receive the training and support they need to succeed.
Another common pitfall when hiring internally is considering only those candidates who “fit the profile” of what the hiring manager thinks the person in that position should look like. For example, if your executive team is composed entirely of white males, candidates who are female or not white may be overlooked. In other cases, people are promoted internally because they went to the same college as the hiring manager or they worked with them at past company.
A better approach is to use a “clean slate” when considering internal candidates. Judge everybody based on the same criteria: How well they will perform in the new position and how much they will add to the success of your organization.
‘The Stagecoach and the Fly’
There’s an old French fable by Jean de la Fontaine called “The Stagecoach and the Fly” in which a pesky insect annoys the inhabitants of a stagecoach during a long journey, only to take credit for the journey’s success when they arrive at their destination. The fable’s moral is that people who make themselves look busy and stick their nose where it doesn’t belong only to make them seem more essential deserve to be shooed away.
You probably know employees who are good at building a façade that they are good at their jobs, even when they aren’t always competent. It’s sometimes difficult for hiring managers to see past this, leading to unqualified candidates being promoted, failing, and bringing the person who promoted them down with them.
When you run a small business, multi-tasking is essential for practically every employee. A salesperson may have to do double-duty as a marketing person, and a manager may have to pitch hit as a customer service representative occasionally.
But in larger operations, specialization is more efficient. Expecting an employee to take on several roles at once isn’t just unrealistic, it’s also setting your organization up for failure.
The Napoleon Complex
When some people are put into positions of greater responsibility, having more power can sometimes go to their heads. This is nearly always harmful to both employee morale and the effectiveness of your business.
Be cautious when promoting from within so that you select only candidates who will perform well in their new role while maintaining their humility. Having an inflated opinion of one’s own importance to the operation can be a fatal flaw to both individuals and organizations.