Golden Tickets Might Work for Willy Wonka But Not For Your Organization

Unknown-1Lately, my four year old has been infatuated with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We recently re-read the novel at bedtime and watched the 1971 film version twice in the span of about ten days. For anyone who does not know the premise of the novel, I’ll summarize (with minimal spoilers): Willy Wonka is a candy maker and chocolate mogul who is getting old and eyeing retirement. When he retires, however, there won’t be anyone to run his candy and chocolate empire. In order to find a replacement, he places five golden tickets under the wrapper of five ordinary candy bars and whoever, within the entire world, who finds a golden ticket wins a trip to tour the chocolate factory and, unbeknownst to the ticket finders, automatically becomes the five select people from which Wonka will choose one to be his replacement.

Unknown-2The concept makes for an enjoyable novel and film, however, what I term the “golden ticket approach” to filling vacancies within organizations often has the exact opposite effect. What is the golden ticket approach? It is when organizations (churches, non-profits or for-profit companies) fill employee vacancies in a similar fashion- spreading a job opening far and wide and hoping that the right resumes come in and choosing the best from whatever happens to enter the email inbox.

While Willy Wonka was lucky enough to find one gem and four ghastly children that made his decision easy, most organizations have to choose from the best of dozens of mediocre applications. Complicating things further, most organizations can’t count on their potential candidates to turn into giant blueberries or shrink themselves by going through a television set and so narrowing down a dozen mediocre candidates to the best candidate is anything but an exact science.


Do you know who is the best fit for your organization? Someone who is already in your organization.


How can organizations, then, fill personnel vacancies without using the golden ticket approach? As someone who has spent the better part of two years as a job seeker within the church and non-profit sectors, I see three better approaches than Willy Wonka’s golden ticket approach.

Hire from within. Do you know who is the best fit for your organization? Someone who is already in your organization- whether employee or volunteer. When a position opens within an organization, the first place leadership should look for a replacement is within the organization. Is there someone in your organization whose skills and passions are better suited for the open position than the position they are currently in? Who was being taught or mentored by the employee leaving the position? Who was the “go to” volunteer or staff member of the person leaving? The answers to those questions will probably give leadership a better starting point in filling the opening than a posting on Monster.

Build a list of potential candidates before an opening exists. The fact is people leave jobs and people leave jobs a whole host of reasons- pay, location, new challenges, better professional fit, promotion or job change of a spouse, further opportunities down the road, ect. Just because an employee leaves doesn’t mean that they hate the organization and that there can never be any further contact between the ex-employee and the organization. Knowing that reality, it is vital (more than vital, really) for organizations to think about filling openings before those openings exists. The HR Director, CEO, Executive Pastor- whoever is the main personnel leader- should have a written plan for every position (updated every 6 months) for how a transition will work should the employee leave the organization. This plan should include any major projects that are in the works or coming in the near future, the key associates or volunteers within the department, an updated job description, a calendar of what the employee or department has done and accomplished in the last year and a list of six to ten people that the leadership would want to interview should an opening occur. This absolutely should not be a secret plan and the employee should be highly involved in writing, developing and updating the plan. I do not see anything wrong in asking an employee: “If you were to leave this organization, which two or three people should we look at to fill your shoes?” In the current economy, no organization should be shocked when an employee decides to leave. Having a plan in place (along with everyone’s knowledge within the organization that there is a plan in place) will provide a smooth transition, a quicker transition and keep the hiring person/ committee from wasting valuable time trying to ascertain what the existing employee thought, had done in the past or had coming up.


Why wouldn’t an organization actively recruit the best people into their organization?


Create positions that bring talented people into your organization. This point is probably the most controversial and least applied of the three, however, it just makes sense. Why wouldn’t an organization, be it a church, a non-profit or for-profit organization, want to actively recruit the best people into their organization? Why wouldn’t an organization actively search for talented people, people with potential and people who could grow into the future leaders of the organization? Why wouldn’t an organization take those people and bring them into the organization in whatever means possible and by creating positions if need be in order to accomplish that? I can think of only two reasons: 1) budget constraints and 2) shortsighted leadership. Budget constraints are hard, but not impossible, to overcome but shortsighted leadership won’t make your organization grow and innovate in whatever market you are in.

In my experience, churches are the most prevalent organizations to fall into the golden ticket approach to hiring but any company or organization (even volunteer organizations) can fall victim to the golden ticket approach. The golden ticket approach might have worked for Willy Wonka but it probably won’t work for your organization.

© Ryan Vanderland 2014

One response to “Golden Tickets Might Work for Willy Wonka But Not For Your Organization

  1. Pingback: The Story Behind the Story: Change | ___(untitled)___:

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