Last week I had a great discussion with consultants about the best and worst ways to promote employees into managing positions. We were a group of IT and Business consultants and could not agree more on the difficulty one can have to promote the right person at the right time and place in a company. The fact that we are not directly involved in the company's daily life and decisions gives us the hindsight that may be lacking them.

There are obviously different types of consulting and the one that I provide is based on the science of Organization Development also called OD. It focuses on a humanistic approach of corporation taking into account the psychology of the human beings when working alone and in groups. The idea being that if you understand how people work, think, react and behave you can bring improvements that will benefit the whole organization.

We all know from experience that sometimes the best way to solve an issue is to take some distance and reflect. Unfortunately, you may not have the time to do so when your work is really demanding. You have a business to run and taking the time to reflect on promotion may not make sense to you. This is one of the reasons why consultants are here. They are this "moment of calm", this pause you cannot have. They will analyze your system and raise your awareness on difficulties you are not conscious of.

When it comes to promoting managers, where are the problems you will face without even knowing it?

It is easy to expect organizations to have career development plans that they use to determine if a person should be promoted or not. They could use, for example, peers evaluation or analysis of past performance and so on. In fact, this is not usually the case because organizations keep an old fashion way to promote their employees. It neglects the new technologies and arrival from a diverse workforce. Technology can be used to perform test and analyses that would take days if not weeks when done by a person.

They use an old selection system that is not favorable to the company and its employees in the long run. Most of the time, career planning is not planned and people get promoted to become a manager because they have been working in the company for so many years, they are seen as experts and they provide very high quality work which is ok but not enough to get your company at the tip top of his capabilities.

The main problem with not planning career development or fooling yourself with a not so panned one is that sometimes, to not say most of the time, those newly promoted managers lack managerial qualities. Managerial qualities are not always hard skills that you can measure such as the quality of a work done. It also relates to soft skills that when nonexistent can drive to underperformance, resistance, and failure when managing a team.

This type of selection backfires when the person in question lacks the following soft skills:
  • dealing with complexity 
  • dealing with a variety of people 
  • capacity to set goals 
  • capacity to give constructive feedbacks 
  • team spirit 
  • fit with the company vision, mission and culture 

Another important side of career planning and promoting people that can be overseen is the company goals. The company aims should be reflected in the employees promoted. You cannot expect innovation to arise in your company if you promote managers that are not innovative. You should always promote the person that reflects your expectations regarding the company future. Your first homework is then to materialize your goals into traits, behavior, experiences that a person should have to lead the company and more especially his / her team in the direction you want to set.

Most of the time, to simplify selection only the emerging part of the iceberg is analyzed and used to select the best person to be promoted as manager. The immerged part of the iceberg deals with soft skills, the company’s goals that are also difficult to articulate when you do not know what to look for. This is a work that can be done with the support of a consultant that will help you determine what soft & hard skills are required to promote a person as well as determine your company goals and translate them into personality traits.

It is important for you to keep in mind that there are three important areas to consider when hiring or promoting a manager. They are summed up in the image below:

What would be the hardest part for you to implement the advice I give you here? Start the discussion with a comment or an email
One important and often forgotten factor in companies’ success is the engagement of their employees. I would even say that employee engagement is the smallest problem for too many companies. They just want profit, sales, more clients, and more exposure to the world. You cannot eat money but you can use it to improve your company and the life of the people working for it. Don’t forget those doing the job for you, because they won’t forget you when they take a decision regarding their carreer.

Engaged Employees are the one that make your company sky rocket. I already defined employee engagement in an earlier post. What is employee engagement in three words? I will give a quick reminder here for your convenience. It is when employees feel that the job their doing is meaningful and that their environment is safe. This fosters their availability to work better and to give their best. Most of the time, engaged employees feel a bound with their company and go for the extra mile when it is necessary and work hard during difficult times. An engaged employee thinks out of the box, innovates, and finds ways his / her organization can gain competitive advantage or go beyond what is expected from him / her. Now you ask, why should I care?

The Gallup Institute specialized in measuring & studying engagement found out that there is a correlation between high employee engagement and companies with higher success rate. Employee engagement fosters revenue, customer satisfaction, low employee rotation and in the long run the company’s success.

Now you may say: «My employees are happy to work for my company, so what is the matter?». Well, there is a difference between being happy and engaged. For example, you can be happy to work for a company that has a good pension system while being discourage to go to work in the morning because there is nothing making you feel valued and useful. You are just an ant among others trying to keep your position safe so that you can feed your family. Ok, this is maybe a bit of an exaggeration but you understand what I mean. Please, how do you know that your employees are happy? Is it your own feeling about it or the result of a survey? Second, you are probably referring to job satisfaction when you say they are happy. You are satisfied by the conditions you have related to your contract but you are engaged by the mission, the atmosphere and the company human capital management. 
Employees can totally be satisfied but not engaged in their work which is usually the case. Looking at the different companies I had the chance to work. I could hardly see engaged employees. The one that were engaged believed in the mission of their company and had usually great leaders giving them a sense of safety, mission and encouraged people to be “present” during work.

The other trick is that you will never see an engaged employee being unhappy at work. This is probably why there is a big confusion between engagement and satisfaction.

The worst case scenario is when your employees are unhappy. This happens everywhere in small and big companies. People play the game of “I am alright, everything is alright but please do not talk about work…” They may be unhappy because their management is not being clear during a change, they do not have a clue of the direction the company or team is heading to. They have no idea what is expected from them. They try they best to satisfy their boss never knowing if it is good enough because they have no way to measure it. So if you want to start an engagement project in your company you need to clarify few points:

All those point require a time for reflection and can be quite painful as you realize that what you thought was working well is in fact a mess. You have to become a learner, a person who looks straight at the problem and ask: What can we do better? What works? What opportunities do I have?
Organization development is first a self-development path for leaders. You cannot bring change if you are not yourself ready to change!