Internal Talent Integration

How well does your organization select and integrate talent for internal promotion? If you are like many organizations we’ve seen — not very well.

When promoting from within, do you select the person who is doing the best job in their current role? Do you promote the person you like the most, the person who has the most seniority, or the person who gives you attention and deference? It is not unusual to promote a good technical person or a good clinical person into a management position. Technology companies and healthcare organizations do this frequently.

If this is your current practice, then you are missing out on the opportunity to improve business performance. You may also be dramatically and unnecessarily increasing your cost of operations. This is hardly a good strategy in the current economy.

Look at the cost of a bad (mismatched) promotion:

  • Time to become productive in the job
  • Time to separate from being a peer to being a boss
  • Time to learn the new political aspects of the job
  • Turnover cost resulting from a bad promotion
  • Lost productivity resulting from the turnover
  • Recruiting cost to replace employees lost to turnover
  • Time to become productive for the new hire

While cost is obvious, time is a valuable and non-renewable resource. A poor promotional decision is expensive.

Internal promotions should be approached the same way you approach external hires: formally. There are distinct advantages when promoting from within. The candidate knows the business, knows some of the politics (politics at the managerial and executive level, however, are different), and is familiar with the culture. But this knowledge alone does not qualify them for promotion. What qualifies them for promotion is a positive performance track record and a demonstrated ability or high potential (versus just interest) to take on additional responsibilities and succeed.

Here are five actions that organizations can take to prepare internal candidates for promotion:

  1. Have a formal (or at least an informal) succession plan. Identify individuals in your organization who can fill current senior positions should the incumbent retire or leave, or new positions that are created due to growth, new product or service introductions, or new projects critical to the success of the company.
  2. Implement a management development program to provide future promotable candidates the opportunity to take on additional and more challenging responsibilities. A management development program will serve to identify employee strengths, preferences, values, and potential derailers (risk tendencies) that will enable a best fit for positions available.
  3. Introduce a valid and meaningful 360-degree evaluation. This will ensure that the candidates identified for promotion are truly qualified and not just good at managing up and managing their image.
  4. Provide the future promotable candidates with a mentor to help guide them through both the tangible and intangible aspects of achieving success within the company.
  5. Provide the newly promoted employee with coaching support to support the transition from a functional and technical focus to a manager with broader responsibilities.

Once the candidate is selected and promoted, their transition must be supported. It is reckless to assume that a candidate promoted from within the organization will automatically succeed and needs no further attention. Yes, they know the organization. But do they know how to manage and perform at a new level within the organization? Promotion doesn’t result in instant competence. A mentor or a coach are excellent ways to support the transition and prove to be a good investment.

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Some candidates, however, will not have had the advantage of participating in a management development (i.e. “grooming and growing”) process. Some may never have held a management position. Some may have agreed to a promotion reluctantly.

Creating a formal talent integration process for newly promoted managers is a wise business practice.

Talent integration involves:

  1. A formal transition plan to help the manager/executive integrate into the new position. Formal and purposeful discussion between the new manager/executive and their immediate supervisor on how best to work with each other and to define clear expectations regarding job performance and expected results.
  2. Internal mentorship to help the manager/executive better understand how to deal with peers, how organizational politics work at the managerial level, and “how work gets done here” from a manager’s perspective.
  3. Coaching (best done with an external/neutral executive/performance coach) — to help with the transition, especially for developing the management skills required in the new position (i.e. technical/clinical person being promoted to manager)

Recently highlighted in the Wall Street Journal, 26% of managers aren’t trained to manage, according to the Rasmussen Report. Now consider the even greater likelihood of this when technical people are promoted to management. For internal promotions to be highly successful, a rigorous internal promotion process must be established and a formal transition integration process must be put in place. The cost of not doing so is simply too great. Unless your funding and talent are abundant and not a concern, you can’t afford not to.

Tony Kubica and Sara LaForest are co-Founders of Kubica LaForest Consulting. They are management consultants, business performance improvement specialists, and executive coaches helping businesses and individuals accelerate their growth and adapt to the changing needs of the marketplace.


3 Comments on “Internal Talent Integration

  1. In addition to the good ideas in this article, three things to keep in mind for people promoted from within:

    1. They can’t control the context – so they need to prepare in advance and be ready to adjust as required in planned, unplanned or interim changes, securing resources and support along the way.

    2. It’s hard to make a clean break – so they need to take control of their own transition by managing the announcement cascade, securing their base, and managing first impressions in the new role.

    3. There’s no honeymoon – so they need to accelerate team progress after the start by evolving the stated and defacto strategies, improving operations and strengthening the organization.

    (Adapted from my book “The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan” – Wiley, 2009)

    George Bradt
    PrimeGenesis Executive Onboarding and Transition Acceleration

  2. While I agree with much of the article I can’t get around to buying into the idea of implementing 360 feedback as a way to improve process. Although the theory of getting feedback from management, peers, customers, suppliers, etc. sounds great, this is about where the positives end – with the theory of the system.

    There are a great number of problems with 360 evaluations and I would rather work with an open and honest feedback session from manager to employee and vice versa to discuss performance strengths and weaknesses as well as career preferences and potential. Because the 360 system is often anonymous, focuses on negatives, and includes feedback from people who may have little to no management experience it doesn’t seem to add much value in my opinion. Meaningful feedback is absolutey essential to an organization and an employee with an eye for career growth, but this can (and should be) achieved without bringing peers who may have their own agenda into the mix.

  3. Response to George Bradt’s comment:

    Mr. Bradt, thank you for your comment. We agree that there are no clean edges in an internal promotion. We have seen that having an internal mentor (someone who takes the role seriously) to be helpful with the transition. The more the person knows what to be aware of, the better prepared they will be to handle the promotion.

    Response to Gino Conti’s comment:

    Mr. Conti, you raise an important point in your comment. An anonymous 360 feed back process has many flaws, and we do not recommend it either. The intent behind a valid and meaningful 360 is to obtain additional information on the candidate that can be used in the decision to promote. In our work we’ve found people who manage up extremely well and manage subordinates poorly. Our intent was to gain insight on how the candidate manages a wide range of relationships – and not just the boss. We recommend a 360 conducted by neutral third party and we further recommend that it be done in an (confidential) interview format. The decision to promote is too important to leave to an anonymous paper (or electronic) process. We appreciate your comment.

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