Internal recruitment: right or wrong?

Internal recruitment: right or wrong?


By Kate Russell –

One of the remarks often bandied around the workplace is “people are critical to the business”. Wrong! You need to re-write that to “the right people are critical to the business”.

Getting the right people into the right position in your organisation is one of the essential actions you must take if you are to achieve optimum performance. In his book “From Good to Great”, Jim Collins studied a number of companies which had moved from being competent companies doing well to market leaders, a position sustained over time. Almost the first point made in the Good to Great process is get the right people in and get them in the right position. I couldn’t agree more.

In the past I have allowed people to whom I gave the benefit of the doubt to work for me. And it was nothing but trouble. Now I make applicants jump through hoops (metaphorically) so I have as much information as I possibly can upon which to base a decision. Now things are going much, much better. My team is driven by its own internal compulsion to be excellent. That makes my life much more straightforward.

Yet my experience that in many organisations, recruiting managers are side-tracked by other considerations, such as being prepared to tolerate mediocre internal applicants because they have an internal progression policy; or refusing to collect applicant data properly because it will take ‘too much time’. You have to live with the consequences of your choice, dammit! If you get it horribly wrong, it will take you time to sort out, then more time to get the right person in. You must invest properly in the process of recruitment. It’s the foundation stone of a successful organisation.

So where do you get your recruits from? Many organisations use internal recruitment where possible, i.e. where the applicants are drawn from a pool of existing, rather than employing someone externally? As ever, there are pros and cons of internal recruitment.

In favour of internal recruitment, the process can create career structure for employees and help to motivate and retain talent. You probably know more about the applicants and adopting this approach means that you can formally recognise the efforts of those who have been groomed for a role or are already doing all or part of a role. And of course, internal recruitment is fairly quick and much more cost-effective than going outside the business.

The main disadvantage of internal recruitment is that the pool in which you are fishing for talent is limited, leading to a toleration of candidates who are good enough but not great – and that’s not good enough!

Unsuitable applicants will often apply for the position (and will probably have to be interviewed). You have to give some thought to how you will manage the feedback and keep employees motivated if they have been unsuccessful. It may be that unsuccessful internal applicants are disgruntled and make life difficult for the successful candidate.

It’s wise to trawl the market for fresh talent. There may be discrimination issues if you don’t. In the ideal world the population of the workplace should proportionately mirror the local population in terms of gender, age; ethnicity etc. and this should apply from shop floor to boardroom. If you have a workforce that is not particularly diverse and tend to recruit from within you will perpetuate the lack of diversity.

On the whole I incline to a mixed strategy. It creates opportunities for employees to express an interest, but allows the employer to get the best person for the role. There is an exception; where you have an existing disabled employee for whom you need to make reasonable adjustments, if he can do the job it should be given to him, even if he is not the best candidate for the role. The authority is the House of Lords decision in Archibald v Fife Council [2004].

By all means use an internal recruitment process, but use it wisely and don’t use it to in such a way as to limit your opportunities to get the right people into your business.

Kate Russell (pictured), MD Russell HR Consulting

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