Internal Vs. External Talent – You’re Asking the Wrong Question….

Kris Dunn Culture, Interviewing, Kris Dunn, Recruiting, Retention, Succession Planning

Admit it, you’ve debated the issue at some point in your company.  Do you go outside for talent or do you grow it from within?  Related questions include the following:

How do we provide a career path for the employees within our company?Look_outside

-How can we hire externally when we require so much knowledge of our business to be successful?

-Why can’t we find external candidates with industry specific experience?

-If we decide to hire externally, how can we sell that to the current members of the team and the internal candidates that applied?

I’m a HR pro, so most people will expect me to say it’s always best to hire internally any time you can.  That’s the safe answer, and it’s true that it’s good to promote internally.

Here’s the real issue.  If you are framing the question as follows “Should we promote Internally or hire Externally?”, YOU’RE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION.

Absolutes don’t work.  For every position in your company, you want employees who are engaged, and as a result are self-motivated to innovate and pursue value within the framework of their role, without you asking.

Can you find that internally?  Sure you can.  Here’s the problem – studies show that only 29% of employees are actively engaged in what they do, 55% are not engaged, and 16% are actively disengaged.  Translation: typically less than 1/3 of an organization’s employees are contributing fully to your organization’s success.  Confused about what engagement actually means?  So was I, so I investigated it and got my head around it with the help of some cool resources.

The more you read about engagement, the more you understand that some employees are naturally engaged, and your company has a role in assisting employees with low engagement levels to become energized.  Here’s the tricky part – some employees will never be engaged in your environment, regardless of your efforts.

So what do you do when you are pondering whether to hire internally or externally?  You want a candidate (internal or external) who is engaged and self motivated.  If you are ready to dole out a promotion internally, ask yourself if the candidate in question displays the following behavioral traits:

  • Consistent levels of high performance.
  • Natural innovation and drive for efficiency.
  • Emotionally committed to what they do.
  • High energy and enthusiasm.
  • Never runs out of things to do, create positive things to act on.
  • Broaden what they do and build on it.
  • Self-involvement in special projects
  • Demonstration of personal/professional improvement
  • Innovation regarding processes and procedures

Here’s the deal – these traits transcend product knowledge and many of the values we ordinarily place on an internal promotion.  You don’t need a Gallup group to come in and measure the engagement of your internal candidates, you just need to put some behavioral questions in place to measure these traits, then dig like crazy.  Does the internal candidate show these traits without daily prodding?

If you can find these traits in your internal candidate pool, promote them immediately.  If you can’t, work to figure out what you can do as a company to create an environment that maximizes engagement.  In the meantime, you’ll need to look externally for the engaged candidate who can come in and display these traits.

Because that’s how you’re going to get an impact player in the spot you’re looking to fill.  It’s not Internal Player vs. External Player, it’s Engaged Candidate vs. Non-Engaged Candidate.  If you don’t have it internally, your job is to go find the external candidate who is highly engaged and will come into your company and make the internal candidates see the difference.

And that’s possible regardless of how tight your local labor market is.

See also – “The Key to Employee Engagement – Don’t Hire Clock Watchers

Editor’s Note This post is part of a Point/Counterpoint series related to an upcoming article in Workforce Recruiting exploring the merits of filling key spots internally vs. externally.  Let’s call it “FOT Responds”, or maybe more appropriately, “FOT Argues”.  We’ll link to that article when it goes online…