When a managerial position opens up, it is usually an opportunity to move a top performer into the position. No one would argue that promoting from within sends a strong message to the rest of the company about investing in people and cultivating management talent. Unfortunately, when it comes to actual qualifications, current job performance is given greater weight than the competencies required for a managerial position—most notably, management traits and/or experience.
The fact that individual job performance and management are two entirely different sets of competencies too often gets ignored. Before you know it, you have someone in the position that doesn't know the first thing about managing a group of people.
Dr. Laurence Peter, in his popular book, The Peter Principle, states, "in a hierarchically structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence." The principle is based on the observation that in such an organization new employees typically start in the lower ranks, but when they prove to be competent in the task to which they are assigned, they get promoted to a higher rank. And usually the higher rank can only be achieved in a managerial position. This process of climbing up the ladder can go on indefinitely until the employee reaches a position where he or she is no longer competent. At that moment, when it is too late, the failure of the promotion process is finally recognized.
What seemed like such a great idea is now a nightmare. Where do you go from here? Having the wrong person in management could actually destroy a department or even an entire company. But what can you do now? One option is to hope that the new manager becomes so frustrated and fed up being in a position they know they are struggling with that he or she will quit. Another option is that the manager bides his or her time until they accumulate enough "evidence" to withstand a lawsuit and then terminate the person. A third option is the offering of a mutually agreeable severance package to expedite the entire process. In this case it would be wise to have this person sign a waiver that no future lawsuits would be filed.
In any of the above scenarios the end result is that you have lost a person whom you considered a top performer at one time because you promoted them to a role for which they were not suited. Many companies have recognized this dilemma by cretaining two career paths: One path is for managerial growth; the other is for an individual contributor. Both offer similar pay grades and salaries, therefore, it is not necessary for them to become a manager to advance within the company.
But how can you do a better job of preventing the "Peter Principle Syndrome" from happening to you when you have a manager opening and you want to promote from within?
1. First you should analyze the individual's personality. It has been proven that good managers have certain personality traits that help them to be more successful in delegating, communicating, multi-tasking, follow-through, etc. Not all people naturally have these personality traits.
In order to find out a person's strengths and weaknesses for the position, conduct a personality profile analysis of the individual you are considering promoting prior to offering them the job. If they do not appear to have all the qualities you are looking for, at least you will be aware of the weaknesses and know where you will need to do additional training and coaching. For more information on the DISC System that I recommend, click here.
2. Next you should find out if the person you are considering promoting has the mental ability to take on additional responsibility. To find this out, I recommend using the Wonderlic Personnel Test. There are established minimum acceptable scores for a manager's position. You would want to use these benchmarks to compare your current person against.