You see a job advert. You apply for the position. You are called for an interview. It goes well. You get the role. You start work. You are great at it. You get promoted to manager. Sound familiar? This is the usual growth trajectory. After all, we are conditioned to believe the world of work is all about great effort, achieving and succeeding. Words like advancing and development come to mind too. It's how we design our companies, on the foundation that everyone is going to move forward. It's all about progress.
What happens over time, however, is that we can get stuck with the associations we have with these words as well as the structures we have created. Instead, we should be stopping more regularly to review, refresh and pivot when necessary - even if it means turning everything on its head. If we take the above example one step further, what happens when the person who is brilliant at their job, and expert in their field is suddenly promoted to a managerial position? This trend happens a lot, with the best of intentions but not always with the desired results.
Is this the best way to progress your business?
The short answer is not always. Having someone exceptional in their area doesn't mean they will make an exceptional manager. Sure, it's seen as a step up and a way to recognise their hard work and ability, but we need to move away from this being the only next step.
There is much to consider with this practice. For example, the long term effects of this person being moved from what they do best to something remarkably different from their niche. What support measures are in place for them? What do the response actions to their shortcomings look like? If there is a negative fallout of the move, how will that be met?
This encourages taking stock to identify the best way to move your business in the right direction. Following the promotional status quo isn't always the answer. The problem often is, moving forward is seen as moving upwards, rather than outwards.
How does this managerial mismatch impact your company's culture?
When you have the right people in the wrong positions, it can make for detrimental results. It immediately disrupts the flow and thriving of the great company culture. It's like someone blocking a piece of piping in the internal operations of your business. And when things get blocked, they become stagnant, toxic and erode and there are many variations of how this can look for your business.
It might appear in the form of an expert who has the smarts but maybe not the people skills to become an excellent manager. It could be something as simple as their approach isn't people-centred, perhaps they never offer guidance and support. Maybe they aren't a good listener, or they aren't consistent in how they communicate or operate. Any of these bumps in the road mean your people will feel the impact.
What can it look like for them? It can be anything from not feeling included in decisions and different rules applying to different people to communication breakdown and less contribution. This leads to people not feeling valued. It results in a lack of consistency, reduced motivation and a rise in frustration, which ultimately sees your people disconnect from the company community.
Your people need to know where they stand, what's expected of them and be able to approach their manager. Without these elements in their work, it's difficult to build trust, create transparency and accountability. It risks conflict and lowering morale, as well as posing challenges to strengthening relationships. It also makes it much more challenging to know what's happening for your people and in your company. In short, it does little to create the ideal company culture and plenty more to damage it.
What can you do to avoid this?
It starts with your people. It always starts with your people. In this instance, it's about learning who they are as well as their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Co-founder and author Kim Scott discusses in her blog Radical Reading, how a leader at Apple gave great advice on identifying different types of ambition. They referred to there being rock stars and superstars. A rockstar is the person who is solid in their work and brings stability while a superstar is the ambitious change-maker in your business. Both are ambitious but in different ways.
She also talks about the importance of carrying out Career Conversations to help you figure out what your people are about and what they are aiming for and suggests having three conversations with each person. The first one focuses on their life story and what propels them. The second is about their dreams, and the third is centred on a career action plan. These discussions are all about understanding what motivates your people, their goals and how their job aligns with them. They also put you in a better position to support these ambitions alongside building better teams. This has a hugely positive impact on company culture.
This advice reiterates the importance of checking in with your people. Sometimes people want to stay where they are, sometimes they want to move, and sometimes they change their minds, and there is nothing wrong with any of this. Keep that in mind. We believe in never making assumptions on what anyone is aspiring to be, always ask them, and as time passes, this might change, so check in with them again. You might be surprised, but it also helps you make better decisions in terms of where you place or promote people.
"If we force a trajectory of advancement, we can damage leadership and culture."
If there is someone in your company who shows managerial promise, you must support them. This can come in many forms. It could be through mentorship, workshops or any guidance that can take them from a good manager to a great one. The main takeaway here is awareness followed by support. Not in the hand holding sense, but helping them start right and maintain their progression. If they are fantastic at what they do and how they do it, there are alternative ways to acknowledge and support their flourishing without going straight to promotion to manager. Help them expand in their position. It comes back to their goals. The better you know your people, the better idea you'll have on how to do this and what's in everyone's best interest, including for the company.
The flip side of the original example is when you are in the people leader position. You have a great person apply for the job, hire them, and they do phenomenally well, so you make them a manager. Although they have a whole host of amazing qualities, it might just bring you a whole host of unexpected headaches too. If we force a trajectory of advancement, we can damage leadership and culture. Yet, if we get the leadership right, the culture is on it's way too.
Overall, we'd recommend forgetting the obsession with the promotional trajectory and seeing what your people really want, what you need and working together to get there. That's the essence of great company culture and never forget that professionally, your people can grow out as well as up.