Position Failure and Promotions
by Dr. Wendell Williams

You might have read the book by Laurence Peter, entitled "The Peter Principle". In this book, the author pointed out a disturbing trend in business. It seems that business promotes people until they reach their level of personal incompetence. I would like to say that business has learned since Mr. Peter wrote his book .... but I cannot. Managers are still being promoted based on successful past performance and allowed to sink or swim in the new job. Researchers now estimate the rate of manager incompetence between 60 and 90%. What can we learn from this?

Past Performance

Past performance is a good measure of future performance -- but only when future job requirements = past job requirements. That is, if the new job is essentially the same as the last one, past performance will be a good predictor, otherwise, it won't. In fact, the only past performance data we can use to accurately predict future performance is the negative kind. Positive performance is no indicator.

To understand why managers fail we have to examine the three general levels of management skills. These include:

1) first line - manager of jobholders
2) second line - manager of managers
3) executive - manager who sets strategic direction

First Line Failures

One of the biggest jobholder motivations is to earn more money and prestige. Often, the only way to achieve this is getting promoted to management. First-line managers usually have to be good at coaching and developing subordinates; they have bigger problems to solve; and, they have more planning to do. Good first-line managers usually have higher intelligence levels than jobholders because good management takes much more brainpower and people savvy than being a jobholder. First-line managers fail most often because they are unable or unwilling to coach, unable or unwilling to develop subordinates or unable to handle the increased complexity of the job. They mainly fail because they are unable to get things done through subordinates.

Second Line Failures

Second line managers have the same coaching and developmental responsibilities as first-line managers, but must take a longer term view. Good mid-managers tend to have higher intelligence than first-line managers. Mid-managers have the responsibility of developing future leaders. Mid-management requires even greater intelligence, cognitive and planning ability. They also need to develop cross-company alliances and partnerships to get company resources. They also engage in more public presentations. Their main weakness is analysis, planning and developing internal networks.

Senior Line Failures

Senior managers often have little or no information on which to base their decisions. They live and die based on a level of gut feelings and expert knowledge that would elude most people. Their position of authority tempts them to abuse their authority and power. The people skills that enabled their rise to power are often replaced by position power. Senior managers fail most often because they cannot identify emerging patterns and because "dark-side" personality factors can undermine their effectiveness.

Avoiding the Problem

There is no perfect way to choose managers for any position, but there are ways to reduce promotion mistakes. Use tools that measure learning and problem solving ability, simulations that measure coaching and development ability and tests that measure dark-side factors. If you don't assess these factors before promotion, you will surely see them afterward. Later.

Dr. Wendell Williams
Managing Director
ScientificSelection.com, LLC

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Many more articles in The HR Refresher in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Dr. Wendell Williams. All rights reserved.

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