C-Level vacancy meets internal candidate – Match made in heaven or not?

Many more times than one would expect, executive headhunters are mandated to search on roles that are not entirely vacant. Indeed, in many situations where a leader is departing, an organised, intentional and deliberate succession plan is under way, and there is typically an internal candidate waiting in the wings. Ostensibly, it might seem that it’s just a matter of timing for one leader to leave stage left, and the new one to enter stage right.

Well, not all succession plans are quite as smooth as this, and so even when there are solid internal candidates who have been groomed for leadership, there are some good reasons that boards (should) pause to consider their options, and assess the external candidate pool before handing over the baton.

First and foremost, there may remain a niggling desire for reassurance that the internal candidate (let’s assume there’s only one) is in fact the right leader for the role, right now. Companies, just as human beings, are never static. The business landscape, the macro and micro economic conditions, and the company’s fundamentals are constantly changing, and so the kind of leader needed at any given time should always be evaluated at that moment in time, rather than just relying on the leadership pipeline established in years past.

Employees who have been earmarked for executive or board level leadership positions as they rise through the ranks in an organisation may show promise as they grow, learn and flex their capabilities – but whether or not they have the right skills set, temperament, and leadership style to drive growth – or stability, or transformation, or whatever is needed at the time of succession – must be determined as and when the need arises.

And while an evaluation process is taking place regarding the internal candidate, what typically occurs to those tasked with leadership appointments is the insights to be gained by comparing the internal candidate with the market, to be doubly sure that she’s right for the role.

This is, in fact, pretty good due diligence and oversight. Of course, the internal candidate may not be entirely happy with this process, but from the company’s standpoint, ensuring that you’ve covered your bases and done a proper, thorough talent search is plain good governance.

And by search, we mean just that. There’s no point comparing your internal star with job applicants in order to tick the ‘looked at the external market’ box. If companies are going to do a fair comparison, they should actively target the best candidates out there in the market, through a proactive executive search process, which could yield other potential superstars.

Or not.

And therein lies the benefit of conducting an executive search comparison process like this. We find time and time again (in fact around 70% of cases), that when an external search is conducted, boards and leaders will nevertheless make an internal appointment, because the internal candidate is, actually, the best one for the job.

But they then make this decision with confidence and assurance, having fully explored alternatives and fairly compared them.  And this, in turn, provides the newly minted C-suiter with the confidence and backing they need to pull all the rabbits out of all the hats, knowing that everyone is on the same page with regards to their authority and competence in their field.