Today, more than ever, companies are working feverishly to hire and retain talented employees. There is not an industry immune to this challenge. Ultimately, retaining your top employees and growing your business can benefit significantly from focusing your efforts internally rather than externally. Just like many of life’s issues, we often treat the symptoms and don’t look to develop a strategy for the longer-term growth of our organizations.

Being proactive is always better than being reactive. In the past, succession planning was a term meant primarily for the C-suite or executive leaders. In today’s volatile environment, it is prudent to create succession plans for front-line leaders, supervisors, managers, and one-off skilled team members.

Promoting Internally

The benefits of growing your talent are many:

  1. Internal hires are sourced more quickly.
  2. It costs less; external hires are, on average, 1.7 times more expensive.
  3. The learning/effectiveness/trust curve is flatter.
  4. When done correctly, promoting from within reduces turnover.

Employee engagement is essential for understanding the talent we have in our organizations to develop. Supervisors, managers, and leaders must see their team members through an objective lens that looks for potential based on skills, talents, gifts, and motivations, then create individualized development plans.

It is also essential to develop your employees to create redundancy in knowledge. Some smaller companies may struggle to create this depth, as there are many cases where employees fill multiple roles. In the military and team sports, there are always back-ups who know and understand the roles and functions of others. One way to avoid these single points of failure is to assign alternates and conduct routine cross-training.

Relying on one person for specific tasks or skills can be dangerous. Creating redundancy serves several purposes:

  • There is always a backup available.
  • There is someone trained if there is a surge of work in that department.
  • It identifies individuals who have unique talents and are ready for more responsibility.

Transparency is another crucial component of stabilizing an organization during periods of uncertainty. When key team members are replaced, there are certainly opportunities for uncertainty and angst. A 2018 Harvard Business Review study of over 400,000 respondents found that employees are twice as likely to give extra effort at work and five times more inclined to believe their leaders act with integrity when their organization manages promotions effectively. 70% of respondents prefer to be managed by an internal hire, a seasoned company veteran who has climbed the ranks over an external hire. Employees often view external hires as an insult; as many as 35% have quit or considered quitting when external hires were selected over internal candidates.

When You Need to Hire Externally

There are times when hiring from within isn’t practical. The most obvious and explainable is when team members lack the skills necessary to fill the role. Sometimes, selecting from within might create a more significant gap somewhere else in the organization.

To avoid tension when hiring externally:

  • Don’t make companywide announcements if you already have someone in mind.
  • Avoid the perception of nepotism and favoritism.
  • Solicit input on hiring decisions from a variety of individuals.
  • Create screening and structured interview processes that match qualifications, experience, skills, talents, and fit required for the role.

Interviewing for fit

Whether sourcing internally or externally, interviewing for fit is just as important—sometimes more important—than competence. I have seen people who were more qualified than other candidates passed over because of fit. Sometimes, the best person doesn’t always get selected, but usually, the right one does.

To find the right fit, separate the interview for fit and talent from the interview portion that assesses skill, knowledge, and experience. Ask open-ended questions and allow the interviewee time to form a thoughtful answer.

Some examples of fit questions include:

  • What did you enjoy most about your previous work experience? What brought you here?
  • What is the best praise you have ever received? What made it good?
  • What are your unique gifts/superpowers? How has this helped you in the past?
  • What is your preferred method of communication? Will you let someone know that you are stuck, or do you usually try to work things out on your own?
  • Tell me about how you prefer to engage with your team.
  • Are there any other goals you have, professional or personal, that you’d like to share?

The rules for hiring and retaining talent have changed. Succession planning is a must, and it must reach the entire organization. Cross-training is a great way to create depth and can uncover the hidden talents of those on our teams. Having a plan for internal development will allow you to be more proactive and strengthen your bench during a nationally-recognized time of uncertainty.