the problem with promoting performers

If you had a great salesperson, the best in your team, would you award them through promotion to a position such as Sales Manager?

Almost all of us would surely say yes. After all, you must reward good performance.

Just because they’re good at sales doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be good at leading a team. In fact, they could be terrible leaders and/or have absolutely no interest in leading, only having accepted the offer for lack of other career progression options.

Should we be seriously considering an alternative to the hierarchical promotion process?

This first dawned on me a decade ago while serving in the Australian Defence Force. Before too long I noticed some of my colleagues, superiors and subordinates would grow frustrated with not being promoted quickly enough - despite having surpassed the minimum amount of time required and obtaining the necessary technical qualifications - they would have an in-built expectation of proceeding to a leadership role.

A typical solution I have seen to bridge the gap of competency and ‘lead-ability’ has been leadership training. Leadership training (as with all training) can only be effective if the trainees are GENUINELY passionate about the content of the training and its application in the real world.

Therefore, those who are just undergoing leadership training to fulfil the requirement for promotion are likely to return to the workplace as ineffective leaders, or worse.

Understanding the authentic motivation and capabilities of competent and ambitious employees is paramount. This means that businesses will need to find ways of promoting their star performers other than by just appointing them as direct supervisors of a team who were likely their colleagues.

The solution?

The star performers who do not have a high aptitude for leadership could be rewarded with greater autonomy. Alternatively, they could be assigned authority over activities, projects or processes that do not involve direct staff supervision. Perhaps as time passes their interests or capabilities in leadership will develop, allowing a natural transition into that role rather than a forced one.

Cultivating the capabilities and aspirations of all employees is paramount in a knowledge-economy business where the positioning of star performers is a greater asset than plant and machinery. Don’t fall short by appointing the wrong leaders at the wrong time.