The Benefits and Pitfalls of Promoting Internally
September 20, 2018
Law firms that have a policy of promoting associates before opening a job to the public experience many tangible benefits. Increased loyalty is one benefit, but there are many more (and a few pitfalls) to promoting internally. Let’s take a closer look.
Benefit: Insider Knowledge
When a law firm promotes one of their own associates, the firm benefits because that associate is bringing to the table an understanding of the firm’s culture, norms, and politics. They’re also familiar with work process, case management software and current cases so there’s less of a learning curve. This insider knowledge can save the law firm time and money by avoiding the cost of advertising, recruiting, and training external candidates.
Pitfall: Stale Ideas and Solutions
While it’s true that promoting from within means that you’re guaranteed to hire someone who understands the inner workings of your law firm, it can also mean that you don’t get access to fresh ideas and perspectives. Many law firms can experience a kind of stagnation of innovation when the same people have been working together over a prolonged period of time. If you regularly recruit from outside the law firm then you can ensure that you’re integrating new perspectives into your law firm’s pool of workers.
Benefit: Motivated and Productive Associates
If associates know that it’s very likely they will have a fair shot at getting promoted if their performance is high quality, they may be more motivated to work hard and produce quality results. But on the other side of the coin, associates who know that getting promoted isn’t likely may be less motivated to work hard and may eventually leave the firm. Motivated and productive associates are a positive outcome of promoting from within for a law firm. Low turnover and high work quality is always a plus.
Pitfall: Office Politics
Every law firm has to deal with office politics but when there is a culture of promoting from within the problems of office politics can intensify. Knowing that they can get promoted to a higher position, some associates may spend too much time positioning themselves for a promotion instead of working as a team for a shared result. To avoid this type of harmful jockeying, law firms that promote from within should make the process as equitable as possible and they should spend time developing team camaraderie within their law firm ranks.
Benefit: Lower Hiring Costs
If your law firm has a policy of promoting from within first, the costs of hiring external candidates can decrease because external candidates are usually hired for entry-level positions only. This means less money spent on compensation packages and less money spent on training.
Pitfall: Loss of Talent Access
If your law firm has a reputation for only promoting internal candidates, skilled senior associates (and some junior level ones too) may avoid applying for jobs. This is especially true if you have a habit of posting jobs that aren’t really available because you already picked which internal candidate you want to hire. You can avoid this by giving everyone a fair shot who applies for the job—external and internal candidates.
Benefit: Trained Candidates
If you’re promoting your associates into leadership positions, this is an opportunity to train them in a way that fits your firm culture. Sometimes when you’re hiring external candidates for leadership positions, they come to the table with outlooks and habits that may not fit with your law firm goals and norms. But if you’re hiring internally, much of that conflict can be avoided because the talent was developed in-house.
Pitfall: Untrained Candidates
If you don’t have a leadership development program officially established at your law firm, you may end up promoting internal candidates who are skilled attorneys but terrible leaders. This can create increased conflict and impact the productivity of other associates. To avoid this issue, you must develop a leadership program that can identify and develop potential leaders in your law firm. A good leadership development program will help you get the most out of candidates that are promoted from within your law firm.
Benefit: Fewer Bad Hires
No resume or cover letter can truly let you know exactly what you’re getting from a new hire. That’s one of the reasons promoting someone internally is so beneficial—you get to see who they are and how they work firsthand. This can often mean that once you promote the person to another position, they are more likely to work out than someone you hired based on their resume, interview, and references.
Pitfall: Good Hires Go Bad
Sometimes an associate may thrive in a certain position only to fail miserably once they’re promoted. This is when a good hire can go bad. It’s not that they aren’t a good worker, it’s just that they are not ready for the position they’ve taken on. To avoid this scenario, you may want to put your internal hire through a rigorous training and identify any flaws they have so that they can make efforts to improve. Good training and an honest assessment of an associate’s capabilities can help you avoid taking a good employee and putting them in a position that is bad for them and your law firm.
Benefit: Improved Morale
Nothing boosts an employee’s morale like knowing that their hard work and loyalty will be appreciated and rewarded. Law firms that have a policy of promoting from within also have a workforce that feels good about being a part of their team. Boosted morale means improved productivity and an improvement in profits. The result is an all-around benefit for everyone involved.
Pitfall: Hidden Resentment
As with any competition for a position, resentment is bound to happen. Even if your policy of promoting from within your firm is fair, there will inevitably be someone who will become resentful if they don’t get the job. And unlike the resentment of an external candidate, the resentment of an internal candidate can cause problems if left unchecked. If you want to avoid resentment backlash, you must have in place a process that is transparent and avoids the appearance that some internal candidates are unfairly advantaged over others
Law firms with a policy of promoting from within can benefit from increased loyalty and productivity. However, there are some drawbacks to promoting from within first that you must be prepared to confront.
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