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Promote Internally or Hire Externally?

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Business leaders, school districts, and HR professionals have long debated whether it is better to promote internally or hire externally. Some districts I have worked with will only promote current teachers to fill a vacant principal position, while others regularly look to hire candidates from outside the organization. This can also be a challenge for boards of education in hiring a new superintendent. Do they promote from within or conduct a national search?

When people ask my opinion, I usually say, "It depends." School districts and other organizations should weigh several factors in deciding how to approach the hiring process, including:

• The health of their culture. (Is it a positive, supportive environment to work, learn, and grow?)
• The level of expertise needed. (Is the organization in need of a talent set it does not currently have?)
• Organizational vision. (What are the future plans and goals of the organization? Are big changes coming?)
• Life cycle stage. (Is the organization growing, shrinking, struggling, successful, or stagnant?)

Other issues to consider include: Is the organization looking for fresh ideas? Is it OK to question norms and processes and re-engineer the way things are done? Are up and coming leaders diverse and respected by coworkers? These are all difficult questions.

In considering which direction to go with your hiring process, it is important to recognize the positive attributes of both internal and external candidates.

Positive aspects of promoting internal candidates:
Strategic Understanding: Individuals understand the organization's goals and culture.
Tacit Knowledge: Practical knowledge that an internal candidate possesses about the organization and his or her work.
Relationships: Others in the organization know and respect the individual. In particular, this can be an advantage for emerging leaders in getting things accomplished.
PR Tool: Other employees could be inspired by a fellow employee's promotion.
Valued Asset: Promoting an internal candidate can be used as a form of saying 'thank you.'
Cost: Hiring and selection, in general, take time and resources. Promoting internal candidates can be more efficient and cost-effective.

Positive aspects of hiring external candidates:
New Blood: Sometimes organizations become stagnant. They need new ideas or new processes to get everyone up and moving again. External hires can bring a new energy and perspective that may be exciting and motivating to current staff.
Fill a Void: Markets change. Demands change. Organizations change. Some organizations need to bring in new individuals with different talents, expertise, or ideas. Hiring a recognized, proven external expert may be cheaper and less work than growing one internally.
Initiate Change: New hires may be more open to questioning why things are the way they are. This can be the first step for a struggling or stagnant organization in restructuring old processes, strengthening their culture, and rethinking goals and expectations.

So, what is the best option?

From a talent management prospective, hiring externally and promoting from within are both important. Bringing in new talent can be transformational for an organization. At the same time, promoting current employees can be cost-effective, preserve valuable institutional knowledge, and inspirational to current staff. This balance is critical to ensuring that an organization continually recognizes excellence, questions norms, and promotes a culture that is open to new ideas.


For more information on human capital, performance management, or continuous improvement in education, you can follow Emily Douglas (@EmilyDouglasHC) on Twitter.

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