Why Not Every Top Performer Should be Promoted

By ColumnsFOXBusiness

Our society puts too much emphasis on the notion of “up or out” in the workplace, and senior management is focusing too much on promoting star playmakers in the office as opposed to developing good coaches.

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According to Susan Drumm, executive coach and managing partner of Meritage Executive and Team Coaching, management “often makes the mistake of promoting based on performance of the current role instead of thinking through what skill sets are actually necessary for the more senior level position.”

On the face of it, promoting your star performers seems to make sense: If they work hard and outperform their colleagues they should be rewarded with a leg-up on the corporate ladder. But what if we did that in other industries, like the sports world? That would be the equivalent of naming Eli Manning head coach of the New York Giants based on his MVP performance in the Super Bowl. To most this promotion seems silly, but we do it in the corporate world every day. If that analogy isn’t enough to make managers reconsider their promotion techniques, consider the following: 

Some Like to Stay on the Field

Not everybody wants to be a manager, and managing isn’t for everybody. A recent survey by OfficeTeam found that 76% of job seekers were not interested in management. This shows that most workers prefer playing over coaching. If you have star players who enjoy reveling in the glory of making the play, standing on the sidelines with a clipboard isn’t for them. And guess what, that’s OK!

The challenge is finding innovative ways to continue rewarding your stars for their performances. Employers don’t do enough to encourage the development of great practitioners, and should consider developing practitioner tracks that parallel management tracks as opposed to leading to management. Also, keep in mind most star professional sports players make more than their coaches. Don’t be afraid to reward performance with money instead of management.

The Performance Double Whammy

When a coach sidelines the star player the team feels it—the same goes when a star employee moves off the line and into management. Beyond their own contributions, star players often bring an energy and confidence to the team that elevates the level of play for everyone. Replacing this can be tough, especially when it’s premature.

Promoting star players can potentially create a double whammy:  it takes the employee off the field and burdens the team with having to manage upwards. A star player who isn’t ready to leave the field will still be hungry to perform, but are now faced with the task of working through their peers as opposed to alongside them, which can be a trying experience for both parties

Players Play and Coaches Coach

Star players have always been rewarded for doing it their way and can readily identify their own talents and are keenly aware of what makes them successful. However, when it comes to recognizing and drawing out the talents of others, they tend to struggle. Their natural inclination is to compete rather than teach--which can make managing former peers a bit of a challenge.

Great coaches, on the other hand, will identify the strengths of a player, work to draw them out, and then position that player in a way that will exploit those strengths for the benefit of the team. They are chess players, focused on strategy and always looking to control the board. Great coaches thrive on working through people to achieve outcomes. Their gratification comes from choreographing the successful performance of stars, no being the star.

Good management is more than just putting points on the board. When it comes to making promotional decisions, managers and executives need to be thoughtful in their choices. As Drumm puts it “backtracking after you promoted them, in a sink or swim fashion, doesn’t serve you or the employee.”

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook 

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