When a vacancy in management opens up, there is a tendency in many organizations to promote the best performer on the team. Although this is common, automatically promoting top performers is often a mistake. In fact, it’s number two on our list of The Top Twelve Fallacies That Get In The Way of Organizational Performance. When you promote a top performer, not only do you move them out of a job that they are clearly ideally suited for, you rob the team of its star player. Even worse, that individual may make a terrible manager.
On the surface, promoting star players seems to make sense. Why shouldn’t they be rewarded for their hard work? Unfortunately, just because an employee excels at the job they have, doesn’t mean they have the skills required to manage effectively. The world of sports provides great examples of this. Star players rarely make great coaches. Wayne Gretzky, for instance, was a great player but his coaching skills were lacking.
Moreover, not everyone wants to be a manager. There are other ways to reward top employees. A 2011 Forbes article identified the top ten reasons why companies fail to keep top performers. Promotions were nowhere on that list. According to the article, the reasons top performers leave are all related to ineffective management, such as bureaucracy and lack of accountability. What top performers want is to work on projects that they are passionate about and to work with other top talent.
Of course, some top performers may make excellent managers. The important distinction to make is that being a top performer has nothing to do with being an effective manager. The two require entirely different skill sets.
So How Should You Choose Who To Promote?
Instead of basing your choice on who the best performers are, focus instead on the characteristics of the job and the complexity of work it involves. When choosing a manager, it’s best to base your decision on the three fundamental capabilities of managers:
1) Problem Solving Capability
A manager’s problem solving capability must be equal to the complexity of work they will be required to do. It is entirely feasible for a frontline employee to move up through an organization to senior management, but only incrementally over time, as their problem solving capabilities mature enough to do the next level of work.
Potential managers must not only have the appropriate knowledge and technical skills, but also the social processing skills necessary to do the job.
Possessing the necessary abilities and potential to be a great manager isn’t enough; a manager has to apply himself in order to succeed. This is why the application requirement is essential. A managerial candidate has to value the work involved in being a manager.
Managers have the greatest impact on the effectiveness of an organization. Knowing who to promote to management is critical to organizational performance. It’s important to know when not to promote from within, and to understand that automatically promoting top performers is a mistake. Instead, managerial promotions should be based on the three fundamental capabilities of managers.