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Are You Promoting Your People Wisely?

by M. Dana Baldwin, Senior Consultant

Strategic Planning Expert

Strategic Planning Expert

How many tales are told about people who are very good at a particular job within a company, who are promoted beyond that position and then fail?  There must be many examples of this phenomenon that are told time and time again.  There is even a descriptor: The Peter Principle, for people who are good at one job and fail miserably at the next higher level.

As a part of Strategic Planning, the job of each senior manager should be to determine one or more potential successors for his/her position.  My older son worked in a company in which no one could be promoted until he/she had groomed an acceptable successor to the point where the successor could take over the job of the superior and do it effectively.  How many companies require this?  Is this a philosophy your company should consider adopting?  Inevitably, there are pros and cons to each different approach.

Why do people fail after being promoted?  After all, common sense tells us that if someone is capable in one position, they could have the attributes necessary to succeed at the next step in the progression.  Unfortunately, there appears to be the possibility of little correlation between the actual skills and knowledge required in the new position and those realistically present in the successful person in the lower slot.  How often does your company inventory the capabilities required for each position and then try to match the best possible candidates based on that assessment?  A formalized approach to succession planning/promotions should be an important part of the management of your staff.

What can one do about this?  The process must start at the highest levels of the company – in the executive suite, and should cascade down through the company to whatever level is deemed appropriate by the company.  Sometimes this will encompass only senior management and one or two levels below.  In other circumstances, depending on the nature of the business, this approach could delve deep into the company, extending even to people with highly technical skills and knowledge.  Your company should decide how deep to go during the process of building your strategic plan, and should review progress on a regular and repetitive basis.

How does a company go about setting up an effective program to help improve the likelihood that when a person is promoted, the individual will be successful?  After the determination is made that your company is going to change the way succession planning is conducted, the company needs to start at the basics. 

First action item is to conduct an assessment of the skills and knowledge actually required by each of the key positions.  These assessments should be in depth, so that there is good understanding of the attributes the company is seeking when a candidate is to be considered for promotion.  General agreement on the list of attributes should be reached by the appropriate people in the organization.

Second action item is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate for promotion.  Your goal here is to understand what each person knows and where that person may need some mentoring, added experience or education, in order to be considered qualified for the new position.  This often is included in the career path development for each individual. 

Once the standards are set, and the individual has met them, he/she is ready for promotion, with the expectation that there will be a better fit for the new job’s requirements, and that the individual will have a much better chance of succeeding, instead of being promoted beyond their capabilities.  This is one instance where everyone wins, because the process tries to assure that people are ready to be moved up, with some assurance that they will succeed.

As a footnote to this article, please visit our website, www.cssp.com, and select our Archives section.  See Tom Ambler’s article, “Building and Sustaining Intellectual Assets,” which provides a process for stewardship of Skills, Processes and Knowledge.  These are often the fundamental building blocks for determining what the requirements for each specific job are, and provide the basis for assessing the qualifications of each candidate for higher positions.

M. Dana Baldwin is a Senior Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. and can be reached at baldwin@cssp.com.

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