by Richard Sykora
Date Published - Last Updated February 26, 2016


Senior leaders are a key factor in the success of any support operation. Positive outcomes hinge on support leaders’ ability to embrace the executive team’s strategic vision and execute plans to achieve the desired results. Regardless of the resources you have at your disposal, as a support leader, you’re expected to deliver services to your customers while meeting or exceeding your organizational goals. If you don’t have the resources to deliver, you’re responsible for either obtaining those resources or changing the expectations. Therefore, when a company has a senior leadership opening, it’s critical to fill this position with the best possible fit.

However, companies today struggle with defining what “the best possible fit” means for their organizations. This struggle is the result of various factors. If your organization is in the midst of filling a leadership role, some of these factors may resonate with you.

The Internal or External Candidate Factor

This is where organizations struggle the most. Internal candidates bring many desirable attributes to the table, such as product knowledge, process and procedure knowledge, reputation, and a familiar brand. These attributes can enable the hiring manager to make a quick and accurate assessment with a high degree of confidence. In most cases, internal candidates benefit the organization because the position can be filled more quickly.

As leaders in search of internal candidates, we have reached out to peers throughout the organization to ask if one of their team members could possibly fill the role. As you get varying degrees of responses, this is a part of the internal search process that may reveal how mature your organization is in the areas of career development, recruiting best practices, and training opportunities.

Most mature organizations create opportunities for their employees to advance their careers. They have deeply rooted career development frameworks, with programs that cultivate employees and tailor career growth based on an employee’s aspirations. Good programs invest in the individual. Good managers understand an individual’s skills and strengths, and they carve out time in the schedule for mentoring and to identify training and other growth opportunities.

Mature organizations should also have internal recruiting departments whose sole task is to fill positions with internal candidates and keep corporate knowledge within the organization. A win-win situation is where the candidate is sourced from another department. While this will cause attrition in one department, it’s positive attrition since the employee is growing in their career and staying with the company.

When considering all of the positive aspects of an internal candidate, why would you ever look externally? How many times has your organization posted an opportunity that was “internal only” first? However, how many times have you asked yourself, “Does the internal candidate have the experience in all the required areas?”

External candidates provide attributes that can be very beneficial to an organization. The most important aspect an external candidate brings to the table is a blank canvas—no preconceived notions or biases to overcome. The best external candidates should not only have expert knowledge and familiarity with best practices but should also be able to shape the organization by assessing various areas of operation, partnering with other department heads, and making suggestions to mature the organization over time.

New leaders invariably have to overcome the “this is how it’s always been done” syndrome. Internal candidates, who may have seniority but may also have little exposure to different methods, will be more inclined to benchmark themselves against their predecessor and employ the same methods and processes. External candidates will be more likely to assess each process as it is, without influence or bias.

Since you’re considering internal and external candidates, you’ll have the opportunity to select those candidates who have the experience and training that match desired leadership qualities. Think of the cost savings in the form of familiarity with support methodologies, ITIL, KCS, workforce management, HR, financials, and other areas. Any candidate, internal or external, who possesses these attributes at the start will be a tremendous asset.

The Industry Experience Factor

There seems to be a preconceived notion that if a candidate hasn’t been exposed to a specific industry, they won’t be successful. I’ve observed the opposite: leaders who have broad industry experience are successful because they take the best of the best and bring it to their next organizations. We can certainly agree that an outbound sales call center, an incoming consumer call center, an internal help desk, and a technical support center are all different operations.

However, ITIL, KCS, workforce management, career development, and other best practices are foundational frameworks and processes that can be embedded in any structure and can cross any industry. If you’re someone sourcing a candidate for a senior leadership position, you should widen and deepen your candidate pool by considering candidates from varied backgrounds.

The Corporate Influence Factor

There are a variety of “influences” that one may have to abide by when sourcing for a candidate. The one area that has the most influence is the policy and process for new hires. As mentioned above, some companies post a new position internally first, before posting externally. HR rules may dictate who you need to set up for an interview. Although the intent is to be fair to all internal candidates, this can add layers of red tape, process, and time.

Try to find a balance where postings are released internally and externally simultaneously. Partner with HR and recruiting to set appropriate expectations so you don’t waste valuable time on old corporate policies.

The Tenure Factor

It’s safe to say that the longer you work, the more you will grow. Or is it? Based on the factors above, it should be clear that career development for internal candidates is more important than ever. If your corporate culture allows for mentoring programs, career development, and formal tracking of coaching and feedback, etc., hiring managers will have access to more qualified internal candidates. In this case, it will come down to what the candidate has done with the opportunities presented to them during their tenure. Did they jump at opportunities for additional training? Did they ask for more projects and mentoring? Did they take command of their own destiny?

“For everything, there is a first time, Lieutenant.” So said Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (star date 8013.4, for you Trekkies). As a leader, do you remember your first time managing a team? Do you remember the first time you had to interview someone for a position? Do you remember the first multimillion-dollar P&L you were accountable for? These “firsts” come with tremendous responsibilities and outcomes that can propel you to the next level, or have you packing your stuff and walking out the door.

In every career, there are firsts. For each candidate, hiring managers must evaluate their expertise and skillsets for best fit, but they must also assess their hidden potential. Therefore, tenure may influence your search for the best candidate, but you must focus on the overall package.

The Origin of Leaders

Every CEO came from somewhere. Sometimes new CEOs are hired from within; sometimes they’re brought over from other industries. Where did your CEO come from?

Turnover is a fact of life, especially in the support industry. Attrition and turnover have associated costs, and you just have to face them head on. Ask yourself these questions when evaluating potential candidates for leadership roles:

  1. Does your organization provide leadership training?
  2. How many frontline managers came from the team?
  3. Do you actively seek candidates from outside of your organization?
  4. What do you fear the most from an external candidate?
  5. What is your end goal for the new leader?
  6. What are your needs for the organization?
  7. Is your organization in need of change?

If your organization is in the midst of filling a leadership role, reflect on these factors and how they can be used in your search for the best candidate. Are these factors influencing your decisions in a positive or negative way? Are you able to make your decision without influence? Are you confident in your choice? If you’ve already asked yourself the questions posed above, you’ll make the best decision in the end—whether the best candidate is internal or external.


Richard Sykora has been in the customer service management and call center field for more than eighteen years, with experience in a variety of industries. Taking best practices from one organization and applying them to the next organization, Richard has developed successful service delivery models that are relevant to any organization, in any industry. Richard brings his extensive knowledge in a range of functional areas to his role at Blackbaud, where he manages several Internet-based products.

Tag(s): leadership, workforce enablement, supportworld


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