How to Prevent Promoting People Who Then Fail

Proffessional staff research. Business concept of human resources managment. Recruitment, personnel selection, headhunting and executive search. Trendy man with beard and undercut combination.

Almost every leader I’ve interviewed has promoted people who were high performers in their current job, but failed when promoted. Years ago a popular business book was The Peter Principle (by Laurence Peter), a book that painfully documented how common it was to promote people to their level of incompetence.

Here’s the caricature:  “Susan is our top sales rep.  She deserves the promotion to Director of Sales besides, if she doesn’t get it, she’ll probably quit.”  The principle holds true for any individual performer considered for promotion.

The irony in this caricature is that Susan gets the promotion, fails, goes with a competitor and becomes THEIR number one producer.  What went wrong?  The “Susans” in this scenario are typically hunters, so competitive that they continue selling, even stealing prospects from their subordinate sales reps, to minimize their commissions. These new managers like to “close,” and have no interest in recruiting, selecting, coaching, developing, creating teams, inspiring, or even giving praise and recognition when other sales reps perform.  Hmmm…. Maybe they wanted to promotion for ego reasons but they certainly want to do the job of management.

How to Prevent Mis-Promotions.  Use Topgrading methods; the only difference between Topgrading for promoting and Topgrading for hiring is that the “reference list” for promoting is comprised of internal peers and managers, versus external people. In order to pick the A Grade candidate, you should:

  • Create a Job Scorecard. This will show “Susan” that she will be held accountable for things like coaching her reps so that THEY achieve sales goals, build teams, etc.
  • Conduct the Tandem Topgrading Interview. I’ve interviewed many individual performers and looked for the evidence that they truly love managerial-type responsibilities.  They delight in helping others succeed and prefer to give others credit.  A Player candidates for sales management typically are NOT the top sales rep but good … throughout their career they helped recruit, helped train, successfully led projects, etc.  In other words, they demonstrated excellent management potentials.
  • Conduct 360interviews with peers and managers. Ask what are the candidate’s strengths and weaker points in relation to the Job Scorecard.  (For candidates for hire, the candidates arrange reference calls with former managers and others).
  • Consider appointing the candidate “Acting Director.” When the director is on vacation for a month it’s an opportunity for candidates to actually demonstrate managerial skill and to see if management is as fulfilling as they thought.

Summary:  Evaluate candidates for promotion with Topgrading, just as you might for external candidates for hire and your costly mis-promotions will decline to almost zero.

To learn more about Topgrading download the free eGuide, Topgrading 301.

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