Management Design: The designs we have now – Promote the one who asks for it
The Manager by Designsm blog advocates for a new field called Management Design. The idea is that the creation of great and effective Managers in organizations should not occur by accident, but by design. Currently, the creation of great managers falls under diverse, mostly organic methods, which create mixed results at best and poor results at worse. This is the latest of a series that explores the existing designs that create managers in organizations.
Today’s design: Promote the one who asks to become the manager.
In this “design”, the person who asks for the promotion to manager is the one who gets it. You know the scenario: A member of the team consistently asks for the promotion to management in their one-on-one discussions; a member of the team states that they expect to be director by the end of the year; a member of the team self-identifies as the one with the most leadership potential.
Using this “design” to generate managers, the hiring manager skews toward the one who has the most moxie, drive, ambition, confidence, and apparent leadership ability. After all, let’s look at the opposite. Those who don’t ask for the promotion apparently have less moxie, less drive, less ambition, less confidence and do not appear to have leadership ability. Case closed—hire the one who wants it the most – the one who asks for it.
But what are the down sides of this design? Plenty.
Given that this is a common way to identify who should be promoted to management, and yet management still has a spotty track record, let’s identify the reasons this might not be such a great way to pick your managers.
1) The promotion isn’t necessarily related to actual job performance
In the way it is described above, the person getting promoted to management gets the promotion not because of job performance, but because of desire to be in management. The argument the individual provides is often that they would be great in management, and this is where they best belong. The person arguing to go further up the management chain commonly argues they should be promoted precisely because they are NOT performing well in their current role. Their current role is not a good fit and a better fit would be found up the management ladder – the further up the better. That’s a lot of moxie, but not a lot of performance.
2) It ignores those who actually do perform and causes confusion
Meanwhile, those who are focused on and succeeding at performing their job duties at the highest level of performance while in their current job, now, today. . . well they’re not considered. Such individuals are focused on having a proven track record of performance. Thus, it would stand to reason that they are focused on performance in whatever position they have, whether it be in management or as an individual contributor. When this design is employed, these individuals have the naïve stance that their performance will be recognized, and that they will be granted opportunities based on their performance. To break out of this naïve stance is tough, since the performer, upon realizing that this is how management opportunities are determined, will have to now have to ratchet back the high-performer thing and start compete in terms of rhetoric, argumentation, confidence and moxie. Sorry, high performer, there are some people way ahead of you here. It’s going to be tough to catch up, especially if you keep doing that high-performer thing in your current job. This could be called the “work-horse-show-horse gap.”
3) It ignores those who see their areas of improvement and gaps, and reward overconfidence
The one who is confident enough to ask for the big promotion necessarily has to gloss over the competency gaps and is, by definition and acclimation, confident and ready. This confidence is very persuasive, because it looks great compared to the earnest person who knows that they are not ready in this area and that area, and can cite their areas of improvement. Instead, by promoting the “confident” one, you get someone who is “unskilled and unaware”, and this can be a deadly combination that makes life miserable in the workplace. It would be better to have someone who is precisely capable of assessing what they are good at and where they need to improve – and have the ability to leverage their strengths and fill necessary gaps. Unfortunately, these “skilled and aware” people are more likely to be talking about their performance gaps and opportunities and not about getting the next promotion.
4) Starts a never-ending cycle – in the wrong direction
One of the “beauties” of this design is that it is a self-perpetuating cycle. The confident one asks for a promotion – and gets it! Then the ones on his team who approach him and say, “I deserve a promotion” will remind the manager of himself. “I like that guy—he reminds me of me!” Similarly, the one who doesn’t behave in the same way will be seen as “weak”, “mousy”, “no drive” and “naïve”. So the management class is now somewhat contemptuous of the people they are managing. This can’t be a good thing.
5) Continual upward pressure
OK, so it worked to get the first promotion to management. What do you think that manager is going to do next? Focus on becoming the best possible manager? Create high performing teams? Fill in competency gaps? Not as likely as . . . ask for another promotion. It worked before, and, with this design, it is likely to work again, since (see above point, number 4) this is what is understood to be a good management quality. The dynamic is still away from actual job performance, but is amplified the further you go up the ladder.
6) The design still allows for manager to make up what it is to be a good manager
When someone makes an argument that they should be the next manager, they have it in their head what the next manager should be doing. It is in their head what a manager or director “looks and acts like”, and they will likely do that exactly. It does not have to correspond to actual good management practices and likely corresponds to many management mistakes. Any structure that has been created to instill good management practices are more likely be ignored.
So the case for hiring the one who wants it most isn’t as strong as we would like. It is incomplete design that, left unchecked, can create a management class that can wreak havoc on your organization. Confidence is a good thing, generally, but it does not replace ability. Confidence should compliment ability.
Have you seen people promoted more on the basis for their being more vocal about asking for it? What have been the benefits and drawbacks?