Virtually every company with which we consult identifies talent development and succession planning as key initiatives. But these companies are typically guilty of making the same mistake: putting a function such as human resources in charge of succession planning.
This may seem like heresy—especially to HR (human resources) professionals!—but I believe that managers at all levels should be held responsible for the talent in their organizations, and not insource the task to human resources.
When a function is in charge of the talent in an organization, several potential problems emerge:
- Hiring decisions are made at a distance from where the actual work is taking place.
- Hiring managers abdicate responsibility for both the quality of the hire and the subsequent development of their people.
- The chain of accountability for the success of the new hire becomes blurred.
- Most importantly, there is a tendency to fill new positions based on skills rather than “fit.”
Most companies begin by trying to fill vacant positions from within. Human resources leaders, often in collaboration with line leaders, construct elaborate schemes to fill future positions.
Complex organizational charts filled with rectangles and zigzagging arrows plot out potential successors two or three levels down. While such initiatives may have some merit, they lack two critical elements: ownership and follow-up.
In company after company, human resources leads the effort, but no one owns the outcome! As a result, leaders become perplexed and frustrated when they are forced to go outside of their organization to fill vacant positions.
As well, high potential employees may leave, exasperated that they have been identified as future leaders yet virtually nothing has changed in their jobs, and no further attention from management is forthcoming.
A second, and equally confounding, problem arises when hiring is outsourced to an executive search firm. Unless such a firm has a long-term relationship with an employer and knows the company’s people, culture, and strategy, they are not likely to produce candidates who are a good “fit.” They will merely produce candidates with the “right” qualifications or technical abilities.
Much like realtors, search firms want to find an acceptable candidate, close the deal, and move on to their next search. They have little stake in the success of the candidate once the position is filled.
After all, their payday comes when the position is filled, not five years later. Increasingly, some search firms are taking more responsibility for the success of their candidates by assisting with the onboarding process and offering to conduct a subsequent search, free of charge, if the candidate fails within a specified time period.
In the end, however, the selection of the best candidate needs to rest on the shoulders of the hiring manager, not the search firm or human resources department.
Indeed, it is the hiring manager who knows their function best, and is responsible for onboarding and, ultimately, the success or failure of their people.
THE TAKEAWAY: Contrary to conventional wisdom, hiring decisions should be owned by the hiring manager rather than human resources or external search firms.
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