A Players are NOT Necessarily Promotable

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 J. Peter and Raymond Hull), a book that painfully documented how common it was to promote people to their level of incompetence. “She earned the promotion” made sense decades ago, and for years after The Peter Principle was released, companies were more cautious — people were NOT necessarily given promotions because they “deserved the chance.”

But in my recent experience, too many companies have fallen back into the Peter Principle trap and need a reminder:

High performers have earned the right to be considered for promotion … but not necessarily the right to BE promoted.

The caricature is the top sales rep who is promoted to Sales Manager and fails because crucial competencies were lacking. Maybe the new Sales Manager continued to close sales, undercutting and frustrating the sales team. Or maybe the mis-promoted sales manager was:

  • poor at hiring (too emotional, undisciplined – too undisciplined to use Topgrading hiring methods),
  • a poor team builder (too self-oriented and liked taking over key customer relationships; poor coach),
  • hypercritical (“how could you have been so stupid? I would never have …”), or was,
  • a poor team player with peers (favoring sales over manufacturing, operations, etc.), or … you get the point.

Fortunately, Topgrading has a proven solution. In fact, my original engagements with General Electric dramatically improved their success in promoting people. So:

Evaluate All Candidates with Topgrading Methods.

When there is an opening for, say, Sales Manager, of course:

  1. Create a Job Scorecard. This exercise will scream the truth. Many of the competencies are significantly different, such as team player, giving credit to others, and coaching.
  2. Ask external candidates to complete the Topgrading Career History Form, which produces the Topgrading Snapshot. Although high performance as an individual performer is not sufficient for success in management it’s important, since almost certainly you don’t want to promote someone who was consistently mediocre as an individual performer because that person probably lacks competencies necessary for both jobs – competencies such as intelligence, resourcefulness, persistence, energy, and ambition.
  3. Two trained interviewers use the Topgrading Interview Guide (auto-populated with the career history form responses). As you review the candidate’s career as an individual performer, keep your antennae attuned to the managerial competencies. Probe examples when the person was (or was not) a good team player and look for evidence that the person likes to (or not) train people and give credit to others.
  4. Candidates arrange reference calls with former bosses and others (and of course conduct those reference calls).

If you’re new to Topgrading, you might be surprised that internal candidates are put through all the same steps as if hiring someone externally … except most “reference calls” are with people in the company (bosses, peers) and maybe there are a few external references (customers, a former sales manager).

To summarize, Topgrading can prevent costly mis-promotions when it becomes clear that a candidate is deemed to fall short on new competencies for the higher-level job.

Recommended Resource:

Topgrading: 3rd Edition (in the first week of release it became #1 Barnes & Noble best-seller). ((The 3rd Edition of Topgrading was 100% written from scratch, with all sorts of practical innovations, and more than 350 bits of wisdom and advice from – Topgrading executives. An unprecedented 40 case studies of large and small companies provide insights into how they averaged more than tripling their success hiring high performers. Along with the book you receive a recorded webinar summarizing the most innovative and practical Topgrading methods and you can download a Manual showing how to implement them.

Published 11/20/2012


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