Leave a trail of breadcrumbs

My one-time boss and long-time friend Dan was sharing his work experiences at Westinghouse and IBM. Over a dinner of succulent lobster and locally grown corn, he contrasted the two company’s staffing strategies.

When Dan was at Westinghouse, they promoted a talented salesman to a major management position. It quickly became obvious that he was in over his head. Westinghouse left him in the position until they couldn’t ignore his failures and then they fired him. An exceptional employee was lost because the company promoted him too soon and had no process in place to correct the mistake except termination.

After Dan joined IBM, a similar thing happened but with a completely different outcome. “IBM was fanatical about never having to fire talent,” Dan recalled. “When the promoted employee was failing as a district manager, he was quickly reassigned to run a smaller, more manageable branch office. A few years later, after regaining his footing, he had the experience and confidence to be a very successful district manager.” IBM’s ability to match employees with the right jobs at the right time was one of their secrets to success.

When I was managing computer programmers, I was always careful about promoting people to management positions. The top salesperson or engineer promoted to a failing management position is a business cliché. I would always structure things so that the employee could “try the job on for size” with a face-saving way to return to their previous, non-managerial position.

Ideally, you can have a candidate experience management responsibilities by leading a temporary task force and/or an ad-hoc problem-solving team. You can structure a position where the candidate is acting manager while the current manager is on vacation or a field assignment. Make it clear up front that if it turns out that if the new job doesn’t feel right within 90 days, he can return to his old responsibilities. Be sure to defer changing titles or compensation until you both agree that this promotion made sense.

Leaving a trail of breadcrumbs back to an employee’s current job will allow you to skip the all-too-common (and often destructive) cycle of promote and fire. Identifying staffing strategies that support your overall business strategy is part of the strategic planning process. It’s common for a company to identify developing a middle management as a strategic goal for the coming year.

If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us, by email or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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