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When a promotion can backfire


What leaders could get away with in the old pre-pandemic, face-to-face world won’t wash in the new hybrid world. The pandemic provided a trigger for an upgrade in management skills with the need to enhance capabilities to manage teams that are working remotely and asynchronously. 

This new benchmark requires all leaders to be as good as their best, and “best” needs to be defined so that existing leaders can understand what is required. If there is a gap between the individual manager’s skills and the benchmark that reflects the new leadership needs of an organization, training can take place, performance can be managed, and fair assessments can be made.    

One source of perennially poor management is the practice of rewarding technical excellence with management role promotions. For too long, technical excellence has been rewarded by a career transition into a management role, often without even an assessment of the individual’s leadership skills or any training or coaching. 

Going forward, organizations need to create career structures that allow talented technical experts to enhance their remuneration by bringing value to their organizations through developing their technical expertise. Engineers, for example, have specific skills and should be rewarded that way rather than simply pushing them up the corporate ladder.   

There may be leaders who simply struggle to meet the new benchmark and will need to be consciously guided by either professional coaches or senior qualified leaders. If that fails, they may need to take on roles where their technical expertise can be respected, valued, and leveraged without the responsibility of managing people. 

For instance, a very capable software engineer who has largely been successful by innovating alone should be able to flourish as a technical expert. They can deliver enhanced value to the organization without having to take on a people management role if their skills are not best suited to that, without loss of status. Let’s face it: You shouldn’t have to move into a people management role to enhance your status and salary in an organization. 

If organizations want to maximize the performance of their teams and minimize the risk of losing their best people, poor managers need to be upskilled. Alternately, they can be managed out of the organization with confidentiality, care, sympathy, and support to join a company with a culture more suited to their work style and skills. Quite often, someone unsuitable for team leadership may be feeling out of their depth, unfulfilled, and frustrated, and may be happy to receive help to move either inside or outside the organization into a more fulfilling role and environment.

Another avenue to retaining and recruiting the best people in your market is to use the trigger of the pandemic to evolve to a more trust-based model of hybrid working. If we learned anything from the pandemic, it is that given clear objectives and support, the vast majority of people can be trusted to deliver their contribution without micromanagement tactics.      

A one-size-fits-all model will face challenges. Finding a balance requires committed leaders to have informed, sensitive conversations and negotiations with team members (individually and collectively) to establish needs and broker new arrangements that make the most of mobility and pandemic lessons. These conversations will draw on the newfound facilitation, listening, and negotiation skills of leaders within an agreed framework of principles and agreements so as to enable consistency and fairness.

Leaders have a responsibility to uncover the varying needs of employees. They must work with each individual and team to create new arrangements that, wherever possible, meet the individual employee’s work-life needs and aspirations while meeting team and operational requirements. New key performance measurements may need to be determined to link to team goals and outcomes, which in turn link to the strategic goals of the organization or business unit.  

To accomplish this, leaders should provide a set of principles and operating guidelines that enable fairness and consistency for all employees. For example, the guidelines could include: 

  • Employees have the right to work from home given it does not impact performance and high-quality internet services are available. 
  • Whether employees choose to work from home or from the office, there will be no tolerance for bias when evaluating performance, promotion, or bonus opportunities.
  • Employees will be expected to work from the office with their team at least TK time to socialize and work on team initiatives, unless individual arrangements have been made with their manager. 

These guiding principles need to be agreed on by the C-suite level and will be the basis for all subsequent programs.

When communicated clearly and fairly to employees, managers and organizations can set the right expectations moving forward and ensure that their employees feel heard in the process.   

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