1. Lessons In Leadership

When Promoting From Within is Wrong

Bringing in “outside” talent means management is investing in you

As someone who grew up in Indiana, I’m still a die-hard Colts fan. If it’s clear that my team needs a new wide receiver, I want the club to invest in the best player available. When they do, I’m pumped; I feel that the Colt’s management has placed a bet in my favor. Conversely, when they ignore the problem, shuffle players around or try to make due with last year’s sixth-round draft pick, I feel cheated.

I believe most fans feel this way. Whether we are cheering for Manchester United, the Mercedes Formula 1 race team, or the Victorian Roller Derby League Queen Bees, we have equity in “our” team and we expect management to invest in a way that builds toward a championship.

I wonder why we don’t feel the same way about our place of employment; I wonder why we don’t demand that management invest in the top picks. Throughout my career, I’ve listened to people express dismay whenever a position isn’t filled from within the company ranks. Even when the job demanded some pretty esoteric credentials — players not readily available within the team — there were still people who had hurt feelings or who felt indignant at being passed over. But in almost every case, these people had consistently been promoted, given raises, given better titles, and shown plenty of love.

So, what is it about “going outside” that raises people’s ire? I think there are two factors at play here.

First, everyone likes to see loyalty and dedication rewarded. At good companies, it is rewarded. Consistently. Reaching outside for a high-ranking, highly qualified professional isn’t a reflection on the good people already in place, who have been promoted and will continue to be promoted. More likely, it’s an indication that the company is experiencing quick growth in a rapidly changing environment. It means that management wants to diversify the leadership team and bring in someone with a unique skill set. (Even though it is easier and less expensive to fill the job from within.) In this situation, everyone should hope that the company invests in the best player possible, because that will directly impact their retirement plan, 401K, job security, and future career opportunities.

Second, I wonder if it’s simply a case where bringing in a new person is more noticeable than an internal promotion, and that provokes resentment. Even when there are 40 internal promotions for every single person brought from the outside, it’s the outside talent we focus on. Maybe it’s just that when a colleague gets a promotion, we assume they were in line for the job and we don’t begrudge them getting it. But if it goes to anyone “outside” the firm, we all imagine the job could have been ours.

Freeman is a perfect example of a company that is rapidly expanding into new markets, repositioning our services, and growing internationally, all while trying to manage for extreme market volatility. We owe it to the organization to invest in top-pick talent who will complement our leadership team by bringing greater diversity in skills, backgrounds, perspectives, and business experiences. I hope our people see this for what it is, a vote of confidence that the job they are doing merits the best team of leaders available.

Whether it’s in the sports arena or business field, top-ranked teams remain on top by investing in their players – all of their players – to amplify the capability and equity of the entire team. When that happens, it’s something we should all cheer for.