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By Sharon Hicks, MBA, MSW

It is not uncommon for staff in health and human services to get promoted to management positions based on their service delivery excellence. Within five years of my own master’s degree work, I was promoted twice, and promoted into an administrative position where my therapist skill-set was useful in running productive meetings, but not for talking with my peers in finance, technology, revenue cycle, and other administrative areas. And we have covered that challenge before (see Weeding Out the “Clinicians in Managers’ Clothing” and Clinicians As Managers, In An Integrated Setting).

While promoting from the direct service line assures that leadership fully understands the culture and mission of the organization, it does not assure that these new managers have the skills they need to be effective supervisors or to most efficiently direct their departments toward the goals set by senior management.

In fact, when searching for candidates to fill senior management positions in behavioral health and human services organizations, it is quite common for the search committee to look at exemplary clinical supervision staff for promotion. Unfortunately, in these turbulent times, excellent cultural and mission fit might not be enough – to find senior leaders who also have very strong financial, information technology, process improvement, and visioning skills, more organizations are looking at outside talent.

When trying to fill a C-level vacancy, one of the most important steps for the search committee is to define the goals of the job that is being filled. An organization that is facing threats to their main funding source is going to have different goals than one that is looking to expand services because they are doing very well financially.

The Society for Human Resources Management has some interesting ideas about how to determine if it is better to look for a new C-level executive internally versus externally. This can be useful when determining which type of candidate the agency needs to meet their current goals. Their chart is below:

Look Externally if: Look Internally if:
Tough organizational turnarounds or strategy shifts are underway. An organization is thriving.
Succession planning and performance information is inconsistent, absent or hard to access. Succession planning and performance reviews are consistent and transparent.
Specific skills are needed that are not readily available within the organization. An abundance of firm- or industry-specific skills are required for the job.
The organizational culture welcomes multiple perspectives. A unique and strong organizational culture may be hard to understand or fit in with.
Processes are in place that support job training and full integration into a position. No or few processes are in place to support job training and integration into a position.

While there are pros and cons to hiring C-level staff from both the internal (see You’re Looking For A New CEO – Now What?) or external talent pool, I see the most important take-aways as:

  1. New executive hires need to learn new skills and embrace continuing education they would find helpful as they move into the role.
  2. New executive hires should understand enough about finance to determine if the direction that the organization is taking is viable.
  3. New executive hires should know enough about technology to have an independent opinion on how technology helps meet the goals of the organization.
  4. New executive hires should “live and breathe” the organization’s mission.

The risks of external hires? In a word – performance. Matthew Bidwell, an assistant professor at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who focuses on patterns of work and employment found that external hires get paid more, but for their first two years on the job, they receive significantly lower marks in performance reviews than internal promotions (see Why Promoting From Within Usually Beats Hiring From Outside). They have the education and experience, but don’t “know the ropes” of their new organization.

For more on executive hiring, be sure to join us next week for The 2015 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat Plenary address, Changing Executive Leadership Competencies In An Era Of Outcomes & Value-Based Reimbursement, featuring Kevin Ann Huckshorn Ph.D., MSN, RN, CADC, ICRC, Author, Principled Leadership in Mental Health Systems and Programs; & Former Director of the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

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