Graham Birkenhead, April 11 2023

To Promote or Hire - that is the question!

There are good reasons why you should do both, and actually, for a fast-growing company, you should try to do both. There are advantages to each option, but there are also reasons why you should take care.   

Let’s go back to first principles and consider what we are really trying to achieve. In an earlier blog, I said that people are not your most important asset, and that their knowledge is the most important asset. By knowledge, I mean the capacity and ability to make stuff happen – physically.  Seeing your company as a place where knowledge flows and grows is key to deciding whether to promote from within or to hire (as well giving insight into many other organisational design questions). 

We place a lot of emphasis on people because they are the guardians of our knowledge. How effectively they use it and expand it is what contributes to your company's success.  And how well they achieve that is dependent on the working environment and culture that you create.

 As a company scales, its objectives include improving its capacity to produce. To do this we typically need more people to provide a broader and deeper bank of knowledge and the capacity to apply it.

But the knowledge that got you to where you are today, is unlikely to be what you need to survive and thrive in the future.  A successful company must be constantly relearning as it adapts quickly to the changing market; sometimes that involves unlearning yesterday’s best practices.

So, back to our original question:

Hiring from within retains corporate knowledge, tradition, and culture.  It builds upon the company knowledge that got you where you are today.  It gives junior staff the opportunity to advance - which is good for retention and morale.  However, it also means that new problems and opportunities are addressed using existing company experience, mindset, and processes; sometimes companies as well as people need to 'think beyond the box'.

Hiring from outside, brings in new knowledge, together with different approaches, ways of thinking, and perspectives.  This new knowledge will both add to and challenge your existing corporate knowledge; this provides greater opportunity for creative combination which keeps a company healthy and agile.   The concern here, especially for rapidly growing companies, is that without strong onboarding processes, too many external hires may dilute the culture.

And so, a crucial part of a people strategy should be to recognise that the addition, flow, and growth of knowledge is the ultimate goal and so both hiring and promoting have an important place.  It is essential to create a working environment where existing staff, internal promotees, and external hires can learn from each other, embrace different ideas and ways of thinking.  

As you guide your company through its growth trajectory, remember to consider using researchers and advisors for short bursts of focussed activity to deal with a particular issues or question. This can include facilitating the onboarding of new staff, upskilling existing staff, investigating promising (but uncertain) new markets, and quickly addressing new and emerging opportunities.    And, of course, the knowledge a consultant brings will be absorbed into the company’s collective knowledge bank for ongoing use.


Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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