All of us, regardless of the industry, as leaders must help build the people around us. The right experiences make people better; the wrong experiences can create collateral damage. When I ask the question, “What was the biggest mistake you ever made as a leader?” most often I am told “I promoted someone before they were ready”.
The optimism that is typically present when running an organization can be an asset that keeps the team working hard when there is a big challenge. However, that asset can become a liability when it is applied to promoting the wrong people. There is the tendency for the optimism to cause us to see and focus on a person’s potential. We can fall into the trap of hiring or promoting the potential rather than the actual.
I recently met a head of a division that had promoted someone to a supervisory position five years ago. The employee presented well, at the time said all the right things, and showed lots of potential. However, once in the position, they performed at an average level. Now, the head of the division reflects that it was the wrong decision and now is going through the agony of deciding what to do.
In another situation, a leader made that same decision and as the results of the poor promotion decision became clear, he faced having to demote the same employee after a long hard struggle. It was a very painful experience for all involved.
The “learn by doing” approach: Some leaders believe you learn best by doing. While I was a big believer in that method, I have also come to realize that some people just won’t “do it”. So while they have the intelligence to know what to do, they won’t necessarily do what has to be done. Promoting the brain without the heart will end up being a poor promotion decision.
The “it is my job to decide” approach: Many times, we as leaders feel like only we know what is needed for the position. We do not need help matching people to positions. Others around us may have a different perspective and know strengths and weaknesses about the candidate that may change our decision or the way in which we promote them. The candidate for promotion will also have a different perspective about the position and how they feel they will best suite. Many times we simply do not know enough to predict performance without others input.
The “focus on the task now and not the style” approach: Most jobs today will be very different in one year, three years, etc. Because of that, we may promote someone that does very well in today’s situation, though may be unable or unwilling to adjust to what they have to do to meet the long-term goal so that in five years they and their team are still superstars. Two of the main factors that often do not get considered when promoting someone is their style of learning and how they interact with others.
Teach, Practice, Do: Think through the theory of how the person should approach the new potential position or a key task of the position. Have them list the top 10 most important elements and have them talk through it with you and then practice it with others. The practice can be actually doing it with some oversight from you or it can be through role-play. It is important that they critique themselves on what they did well and what they need to work on. This is one of the best ways to see if an experienced person has allowed experience to “harden their ways” and they are unable to learn anymore.
Get Others Involved: Use the perspectives of those that work with that position to get a clear picture in detail of what is needed for the position. Ask questions about how the candidate can be a great team member or what that candidate will need to continue learning to be a great “A” player in 10 year. Ask the candidate up for promotion to write out a development plan of what and how they would learn what is needed before they were in the position. This is a great technique to use with anyone whether dealing with promotions or simply working on their performance.
Put in writing some measurable results that will take at least three years for them to achieve. Define unacceptable performance as a “1” and define superstar status as a “10”. Share this with the candidate before they are promoted and ask them what their action plan is to achieve that superstar status. This helps them get a clear picture of what you need from the position and helps them map the course. If they have the heart, this may be one of the best ways to motivate them for a faster and more sustainable result.
Practice, Practice, Practice: The candidate does not have to know that you are considering them for a promotion. You can give them projects and work to do that would be similar to those tasks in the new position to see how they do. Have them work with people and jobs out of their comfort zone. How do they handle it? Try different ways of teaching them (i.e. reading, audio, classes, stories etc.) and see what works best. Having the candidate do different tasks outside of his/her job description gives you a chance to observe how they would handle the new position. It also gives the candidate an opportunity to grow and develop new skill sets.
Every business I know, regardless of the product or service produced, is one that builds people. We can ruin them by giving them a bad experience or give them skills to build them into higher-level managers and leaders. One of the most common mistakes we make is promoting people into failure.
On the other hand, promoting people where the set up, context and focus is on their business and personal development growth plan, is a great way to build a wonderful company.
The Performance Through People™ program shows you how to develop a true team by increasing individual performance, fostering continually improving interaction among team members, and bringing you clarity of who you need to accomplish your company’s long-term vision.
To schedule The Performance Through People™ Exploration Session or for more information on how to select the right candidate for the job, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-786-4332.