Running Track

What better way to reward and recognize a superstar employee than putting them on a career track to management?

Hold that thought!

That myth still holds power in many organizations. The reality of a modern workforce contradicts that assumption. The lure of a management position no longer holds the appeal it had decades ago. Many employees have no desire to go into management, particularly those in technical and scientific fields. They like the work they’re doing, they care more about work-life balance than status and they really don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing people.

The more important truth is that most employees seek validation for their contributions in the form of career growth. Countless articles and reams of research identify the lack of internal career opportunities as one of the top reasons employees leave an organization, and that data applies to those who want to go into management and those who are management-averse. For the management-averse, it’s a matter of providing career paths based on the continuing expansion and application of the technical skills the field demands.

For those who want to give management a shot, the path up the hierarchy seems relatively simple. However, research shows it is a much more complex situation than simply entering the person’s name in a different box on the org chart. As Kouzes and Posner demonstrated in their research on the subject, eighty percent of the people promoted into management are promoted for their technical skills, but seventy percent fail because of a lack of people skills.

Early in my career, I had to learn this lesson through personal experience, as I tried to correct a situation involving an internal promotion that was going bad—fast. I worked for a organization that had multiple locations, each location had a their own Customer Service Team led by a Customer Service Supervisor. Jim was a Customer Service Representative (CSR) at one of our largest branches and he was fabulous—an über-CSR.  Jim could handle any customer and every technical problem that came his way and was the person who trained all of the new CSRs, sometimes even for other locations. When the supervisor of Jim’s team retired, he was selected as her replacement.

At first, the team was proud and supportive of Jim. They were a close-knit team who often socialized together. But it didn’t take long for the friction with team members to develop and not much longer for the complaints to start flooding into Human Resources. Comments that he made to people to improve their work were heard as excessive criticism. Changes he wanted to implement were resisted. The productivity and morale of the team plummeted. One female team member actually complained of harassment when Jim invited her to lunch, even though he had extended similar invitations when they were peers.

What Jim missed was that the dynamics between Jim and the team had changed. Jim’s words and actions were no longer viewed through the lens of peers, but through the power of boss-to-subordinate. Jim hadn’t changed, but his role and the meaning his old friends attached to him had shifted. He was now Management, and people have different expectations of someone in Management. Jim failed to perceive that the boundaries of his relationships with his former peers had fundamentally changed.

Within a couple of months this high-performing team began to experience significant turnover and the quality of work plummeted. Jim soon resigned. While this situation occurred over fifteen years ago, I have never forgotten how sad and defeated Jim felt when he gave up. I felt badly that we hadn’t done a better job to help prepare him for a successful transition into management.

Unfortunately, the story of Jim is not uncommon. Glassdoor recently published an article titled Why Employee Quit Their Jobs. The most common cause is bad management, particularly bad management involving an internal promotion: “A lot of companies pride themselves on promoting from within, but sometimes that strategy can backfire if the person they are giving a management role to isn’t up to the task. “ Fortunately, an organization can take some very simple steps that will improve their internal promotional practices and help the new manager be successful.

First, help them understand the new dynamics between the would-be manager and the team they will lead. Talk to them about the change in the nature of the relationships and be candid about how boundaries move when a person takes on a leadership role. Include case-study interview questions that focus on how to handle management tasks and people situations that are common in your workplace so you can both educate them and identify learning needs.

Second, develop and adopt a process of “inboarding.” Inboarding is simply onboarding designed for internal promotions. Most organizations wouldn’t think of bringing in a new manager from the outside without a plan to get them up to speed. Yet internally-promoted managers are often moved into new roles and left to figure it out by themselves.  A good inboarding process will help the newly promoted manager be successful, so that their teams can be successful. An inboarding process cannot be one-size-fits-all because each person and situation will have different needs, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be costly or complex. The best inboarding is a thoughtful, tailored plan that includes these five ingredients:

1)   Pair up the new leader with an internal coach and mentor from within the organization and follow-up with them to make sure they are connecting.

2)   Make connections for the internally-promoted manager. Identify the key relationships the manager is going to need to foster and establish the connections. Make sure that they are on the mailing lists for key meetings and announcements.

3)   In addition to learning the new role, identify other technical areas in which they may need training, such as systems or processes that may be used differently by managers than by employees (for example, the performance management and attendance systems).

4)   Identify areas where they need leadership skill training and train them. Help the employee identify the areas that will enhance their leadership skills and connect them to training resources. Create a development plan with a timeline.

5)   Schedule time for the new leader to meet with an HR representative to review critical policies and legal obligations. The goal is to ensure that the new manager has a manager’s perspective of things like FMLA, ADA, employment discrimination and harassment.  This will help the new manager identify risky situations, so he or she can get the “experts” involved early.

Following these five simple steps will go a long way to set up the newly promoted manager for success and make your internal management promotions the win-win you meant them to be.


Our previous post dealt with various ways you can lessen the impersonal nature of an engagement survey and gather critical information about what’s really going on in your organization that engagement surveys often miss.

Even with our recommended enhancements to the engagement survey process, there will still be something missing. In the first post of this series, we made the argument that unless you are serious about engaging each individual employees, you are not serious about engagement. Unless every individual matters, no one matters. If you diminish one, you diminish all. To have a truly engaged organization, every individual needs to matter and everyone needs to feel that the work they do, the talents and energy they bring and the things that make them a unique human being also matter. Even when you have to fire someone, that person deserves respect and preservation of dignity.

Given the sheer size and complexity of organizations today, this seems like a daunting task. This is why selecting and training leaders who are oriented more towards lifting people up instead of dragging them down is critical to engagement.

If you hire and develop leaders who truly believe that each individual matters and that they have responsibility to every person on their team—and, most importantly, back up their beliefs in words and deeds—you will astronomically improve your odds of achieving an engaged workforce. They will engage with employees because they want to, not because they have to. They will do it because for them, it’s the natural thing to do—it falls into the “of course” category. These leaders will make time for each person on the team, because they know in their hearts that every individual makes a meaningful contribution to the team’s performance. They will help people survive the rough patches in organizational life because they care what people think and how people feel. They’ll listen, give honest feedback and provide helpful suggestions because they know that doing those simple things keeps the team strong and healthy.

So, what can you do to ensure you have great leaders in your organization? Even though we sell leadership training services, we have to be honest and tell you that training alone will not get you there. Here are the key things you must do to create a great team of leaders in your organization:

  1. Make your hiring and succession processes for leaders challenging and educational. You have to hold leadership candidates to a higher standard because their decisions have greater potential for good or harm. Identify the real competencies you need, develop specific behavioral questions and don’t let the candidate get away with a non-answer. Use multiple sources to assess candidates: assessments, simulators, tiered and cross-functional interviews. Focus heavily on decision-making, communication and collaboration skills while probing hard for compatible values. Avoid the tendency to use soft interview techniques (all too common at the executive level, of all places!) and feel free to challenge the candidate’s thinking and engage the candidate in debate. Your stance has to be, “If you want us to give you the responsibility to lead in this organization, you’re going to have to show us that you’re the best—because we want to be the best.” Don’t settle for less. When the process is over, give all the final candidates honest feedback about what they did well and what they could have done better, and don’t let any employment attorney frighten you out of that obligation. Remember, every individual matters—and that includes people who want to work for you.
  2. Provide forums for discussion, debate and education. Organize monthly sessions for leaders to talk about leadership and its challenges. Select participants for each session at random so that you mix leaders across functions and levels to expand their perspectives and forge bonds between leaders across the organization. With advances in video conferencing technology, even global organizations can hold these forums regularly. On the education side, use a competency-based blended learning approach and combine assignmentology, online courses, professional memberships, knowledge sharing portals and classroom training to keep leaders engaged. On the classroom side, leaders should have at least one classroom course per year, because face-to-face communication is still the most powerful and effective form of communication . . . and leaders need to be especially competent in interpersonal skills.
  3. Never compromise, but make sure you have a back-up plan. There are always strong forces in an organization that will drive you towards making sub-optimal decisions based on convenience or compromise. Don’t let this happen in your leadership selection process and don’t let this happen in your leadership correction process. Bad leaders have a toxic effect on an organization and the higher they are, the more poisonous they can be. If a leader is in trouble, act quickly to get them help or move them on. This problem can be almost entirely avoided through an effective succession planning process because knowing you have a good back-up candidate will allow you to take the time to work with the non-performing leader.

We do not have to live in organizations filled with people who don’t want to be there. With competent, honest and responsible leadership, with multiple opportunities for engagement and with a culture that lives by the belief that every single individual matters, you can avoid having an organization of the unwilling and get closer to the ultimate state: a place where people gladly choose to come to work each and every day.

Photo Credit: © Bellemedia | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Our political leaders seem to have have one thing in common: they all lack centers. By that, I mean they all lack a clear sense of identity and purpose.

Some of them seem clear because they talk tough and stick to dogma. At first blush, it makes them appear as if they are strong leaders with confidence. Once you start asking “Why?” they stumble, mumble, attack, defend and spout out more clichés. They don’t know why. You can’t know why unless you have a center.

I’ve worked for and coached several centerless business leaders and the experience is consistently stressful. Priorities change daily, often for no reason at all. They filter everything they hear through personal biases and agendas. They tend to classify people as either good people and bad people. The good people are those who agree, who do what they’re told, who don’t ask questions and above all, who avoid giving the leader any feedback that might expose the truth that they have no center. The bad people are the people dumb enough to give the leader honest feedback or dare to disagree. It follows that these leaders create teams of fearful people who speculate about which members are in or out, an activity that consumes most of their energy and damages team trust.

The worst was a CEO who was terrified of the Board of Directors primarily because the little voiceinside his head told him he was over his head. To quiet that voice, he devoted all of his energies to giving the Board exactly what they wanted. He bent over backwards to please them. If the Board wanted to cut costs, he cut costs. If the Board didn’t like one of his direct reports he got rid of the person. He was probably hired because the Board sensed that he would serve them obediently, do what he was told and tell them what they wanted to hear: a perfect conspiracy.

All of us who had the misfortune to report to this leader experienced stress, confusion and profound job dissatisfaction. He would call at unexpected intervals and ask out-of-the-blue questions without background or context in a very demanding tone. “Why are we spending so much on X?” for example. Because most of the team members were afraid to ask why he was asking the question, they responded with garbled answers contaminated with fear and anxiety. When they tried to expand on the answer with a more thoughtful response, he would cut them off and run with the assumption he had already made before he placed the call. He never wanted to hear about the past, about history or about the numerous variables that led to a certain outcome. He was a highly selective listener who filtered out anything that did not have to do with achieving his personal agenda.

He also had the annoying habit of asking for feedback at the end of every one-on-one, probably a tactic he picked up in management training to make him appear as if he were really interested in open, honest communication. I was dumb enough to give him honest feedback once. The next week, he reorganized my group and took an entire department away from me. I made two decisions: one, to never give the guy feedback or tell him anything unpleasant; and two, to develop a crash program designed to get me the hell out of that company.

Eventually, a trickle of turnover turned into a flood. The Board pretended to be shocked that he was such a horrible, alienating leader and got rid of him. Then they hired a replacement who also had no center, but was better at disguising the emptiness inside.

Many centerless leaders look good, dress right and have a can-do attitude that Americans fall in love with. When you pierce the facade, you find that the makers of this chocolate truffle forgot the filling.

When I look at leaders today, I’m amazed at how many of them are empty chocolate truffles. They talk a good game and may even appear to be successful for a while. Eventually, the truth catches up with their self-promotion techniques and they become fallen idols.

How do we avoid surrendering our organizations to these empty suits? Focus on hiring for competencies over impressive credentials or powerful connections. Design a tough interview process that requires candidates to interview with people at all levels of the organization so you can truly see if this leader can connect with people and communicate an engaging vision. Implement honest skip-level meetings where people can feel free to communicate frustration with a leader without putting their own jobs at risk and where leaders translate that feedback into actions designed to improve the leader’s effectiveness, if possible. Require every leader in the organization to attend leadership training every year and choose a course that focuses more on developing self-and-other awareness than stroking egos. Make the art of leadership a constant point of discussion and debate in the organization, so that leaders realize that the practice of leading people to achieve their potential is as important as the financial statement. Effective leaders understand that goals are achieved through cooperative effort, and that a company is more likely to make money when everyone is working in unison towards common goals.

After all, what good is it to make money if no one’s having a good time doing it? It’s more than possible to do both with leaders who have confidence in themselves and in the people they lead.