Internal Applicants – the Honesty Dilemma

In an ideal world, leadership development programmes internally would serve up a range of succession potential for a departing senior executive. Those individuals would work through a robust process either facilitated internally or externally and then be anointed into a new role.

The reality of the scale of many New Zealand businesses (we don't have too many Unilever scale organisations here) and also the relative lack of attention we've given to the development of our leaders means that, all too often, internal candidates struggle to match up against some of the best talent that a search firm can find.

We then have a quandary. Does the internal candidate go through the whole process as a right? This could be an initial meeting with the search firm followed by panel interviews with key decision-makers in the organisation. Or is the best thing to cut the process short if it is clear to everyone that the individual is not going to compare with the talent out in the market?

We have long held the view that the more humane way of working is to be extremely upfront and not put a loyal executive through the anguish of a process that has a preordained outcome. On occasions this certainly means that we are seen as the bringers of bad news. We are all too well aware of the level of energy required to prepare oneself for a big interview. In the case of an internal candidate perhaps all the more so. Artificially constructing an interview where the outcome is clear for all seems wrong to us.

What is there to take from this for organisations making change? One of the observations we commonly make is how little feedback is given to senior executives on their leadership profile and indeed performance. It is unfair that the first time they should receive such feedback is on the occasion of a job interview for a promotion. This is highly unsatisfactory all round. There is then the question of the attention given to the development of leaders within an organisation. That's best left to another blog.

Peter Kerridge