When a leadership vacancy in your organization needs filling, recruiting established leaders from outside your company can be enticing. Experienced leaders from other companies can bring an outsider’s perspective and question the status quo. They also likely know how to solve numerous leadership problems on their own. It may feel like they’re ready to run the show on day one. However, externally sourced leaders do not understand your company culture or existing processes. They also won’t yet understand the history behind why things are the way they are. When you promote from within, your new leader may not have the leadership track record you want, but they have experience no outsider can rival.
Familiarity with company culture
Having a solid understanding of your company culture is important in motivating your team. When you promote from within, you are choosing a leader that already understands the culture. Internally promoted leaders will be more likely to share your organization’s values and effortlessly promote the company vision.
They understand company policies and procedures
In addition to understanding the company vision and culture, the job requirements are already clear to someone you promote from within. Internally promoted leaders have already been working in your environment. They have a deep understanding of the jobs of their peers-turned-direct-reports.
You can better assess people before you promote from within
A few conversations with an external candidate is likely all you will get before making a hiring decision. Would you rather vet someone for a few hours based on what they tell you about their talents? Or would you rather see their work in action over a period of weeks or months? By promoting from within, you have the opportunity to take your time to make more informed placement decisions. Additionally, you can assess a team members’ readiness for promotion by delegating appropriate actions. Granting them new responsibilities and explain their importance to you. Additionally, suggest to future peers that they ask promotion candidates to cover their workload during business trips or vacations.
Giving people opportunities to step up—assigning ownership of important responsibilities you need to see in your future leader—is a low-risk method of trying out a promotion before granting it. You don’t have to make the responsibility assignment under the guise of a promotion test. In fact, I recommend not telling them it’s a test: an aspiring leader may take your consideration as an implicit guarantee of future promotion.
Their team is more likely to accept their promotion
If you promote from within, the new leader’s peers-turned-direct-reports are more likely to have a positive perception of the promotion. They will be familiar with the promoted leader’s work and likely have established some level of confidence or rapport in their abilities. Coupled with your explicit trust—proven through delegation of important responsibilities—your reports will believe that the new leader is the best person for the job. Oftentimes, external leadership hires are viewed critically. Any mistake of unfamiliarity with the company’s values or processes will lead to intense scrutiny. No such bar will exist with internally promoted leaders.
Team members' engagement will be higher if they are candidates for promotion
Likewise, other team members will notice when you have a preference for promoting from within. If you raised up one of their peers for promotion, they too have a chance to be promoted in the future. Advancement opportunities are an important indicator of engagement: if employees feel like their professional aspirations are valued, they will be more emotionally invested in doing great work for your organization.
Manager training is faster for internal promotions
As you may have guessed from the aforementioned benefits, training new managers is easier when you promote from within. These new leaders are already familiar with your policies and procedures, and already know the team. Also, they probably have a backlog of ideas for improvements they can make rather quickly. Instead of spending weeks or months getting up to speed on the minutiae of routine work.
Though, internally promoted leaders need your guidance
New leaders will need more guidance over the long term than experienced outsiders. If this is a team member’s first leadership position, they may have preconceived notions of what a leader should or shouldn’t do, despite having no practical experience in a leadership role. You will need to help them unlearn these preconceived ideas and regularly demonstrate to them how a leader should behave. Everyone has a different take on the best way to lead a team, and you will want to ensure that your team’s next layer of leadership share the vision and methodology you have taught the rest of your team to expect.
This doesn’t mean instructing new leaders on what to say or how to interact with people. It means giving them appropriate context for how to make great decisions. Too many new leaders believe it’s a sink-or-swim situation and they must find success on their own. In practice, the opposite is true: a great leader seeks out the best ideas from their team, the experts who will have to live with the leader’s decisions.
Additionally, they may fear that your relationship can turn adversarial. New leaders often feel as though they have a target on their back, and that failure means demotion or termination. Imposter syndrome can occur at any level of an organization, especially for first-time managers. Helping new leaders manage those fearful feelings is important to their success. As you probably know, their team will behave how they behave. Therefore, encourage a culture of learning, iterative improvement, and recognition for good work in your new leaders so they will go forth and do the same for their people.