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From Recruitment to Promotion: 10 Tips for Developing Internal Talent

The commitment to develop and promote leaders internally should be a strategic priority for any company that wants to grow, expand and achieve long-term excellence.

The commitment to develop and promote leaders internally should be a strategic priority for any company that wants to grow, expand and achieve long-term excellence.

The commitment to develop and promote leaders internally should be a strategic priority for any company that wants to grow, expand and achieve long-term excellence. Retaining and growing internal talent can not only help lower recruitment costs and minimize knowledge or operational gaps, but it can also sustain important business relationships with suppliers and customers and promote an engaged and dynamic culture.

And while many companies have formal programs in place that aim to develop leaders, train midlevel managers and nurture high-achieving employees, they're not always successful at the critical first step: identifying the candidates to focus their efforts on. This is usually a result of:

  1. Promoting employees based upon performance in their current roles instead of their ability, potential, commitment and/or ambition for the role under consideration
  2. Focusing too much on departmental needs and not taking a company-first approach to employee development, which can lead to blocked career paths for the most talented people

There is no magic dust to developing and retaining talent—it's an iterative process that takes focus, energy and discipline. That said, here are some proven practices to consider implementing:

  1. Review your recruitment practices. Hire people who have not only the skills you need today, but also the desire and agility to learn the skills needed to progress their careers at your company. Identify candidates who have career aspirations to learn and grow as your company evolves with the changing dynamics of your industry.
  2. Go beyond the basics in job interviews and performance reviews. Ask both candidates and current employees about their career plans, dream jobs and the skills they feel have been underutilized. Look for people who set and meet high standards, treat coworkers with respect, work well with others, foster innovation and think strategically about your business and industry. Candidates for leadership roles should be able to articulate a vision to inspire people to follow them, and they should be compassionate while still willing to provide honest and direct feedback and make tough decisions.
  3. Align your educational opportunities and reimbursement benefits with skills you want your employees to develop. Do what you can to encourage your employees to continue to learn and advance their skills. Observe workers who take advantage of training and education to enhance their own knowledge and abilities and look to move them into new roles to leverage their new skills.
  4. Update your recruitment practices and employment policies to encourage diversity. Talent isn't determined by age, gender, ethnicity or other personal characteristics. Review job descriptions for open positions to remove barriers that might block good internal candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences.
  5. Review your pay practices and employee benefits with an eye toward retention. It can be difficult to retain talent if your basic pay and benefits truly lag your competitors. You can't promote from within if your competitors lure away your best people. Use exit interviews to find out why people quit, then act on what you discover to change practices that may encourage others to stay.
  6. Remember that people quit on managers. Assess which managers are able to retain people and which always have attrition issues>—and understand the differences in how both groups manage people. Develop a list of expectations and good practices that you can communicate to all managers.
  7. Look beyond performance reviews. Annual evaluations by managers aren't always enough to identify and prepare internal candidates for future promotions. Walk around and get to know your employees directly, rather than relying solely on their managers' assessments of them.
  8. Understand who your people really are. Use 360 feedback, personality and skills assessments to help you understand and inventory employees' strengths, weaknesses and natural inclinations. Provide opportunities that play to their strengths, which will also help them address their weaknesses.
  9. Don't just talk about promoting from within—do it. Make mobility and advancement highly visible to demonstrate your commitment to giving people new opportunities. Internal mobility can motivate other employees to aim higher and plan to stay rather than jumping to another company. Reward and promote managers who successfully identify and develop talent in their own departments and beyond.
  10. Manage your company well, and model the behaviors you expect from those you intend to promote. There's no substitute for setting an example at the top for what you want your workforce to look and act like. Talk is cheap; actions are impactful.

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