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Promoted to Your Level of Incompetence?

By Darryl Stewart, Head of the Herd

How does it happen?

We all strive to be recognized, it is part of human nature.  To be recognized for what is unique and special about us is a positive thing.  In the authoritarian top-down workplaces of the past, it was very hard to be recognized if you were just a cog in the wheel, doing what you were told.  Everyone tried to climb the ladder to achieve some degree of freedom and be recognized as an individual. The remnants of this culture still endure, an overriding assumption that everyone wants to be promoted and nobody will be happy long term in the same role they are currently in, or at the same level in the organization.  If someone is great in a front line role we tend to “reward” them with a promotion. This thinking leads to the  best customer service agent or diesel mechanic being promoted into management.

How do we fight it off?

Exclamation MarkThe best front line person may or may not be suited to management.  If they are not and they are promoted, then guess what? That old phrase now applies. They have just been “promoted to their level of incompetence”.  The skills and drive that made them so good in one role don’t apply anymore, a new phrase comes into play, “what got you here won’t get you there”.  In other words, as they try to succeed as a manager using the skills that worked so well for them in a front line role, they fail.  How we fight this off is by providing ways for people to grow and be recognized in the roles they are in, not just by be being promoted.

  • Widen the salary bands in front line roles so that stars can be paid more than others still growing in the role.
  • Create recognition from management and from the culture that “senior” or “master” front line staff are every bit as coveted as any manager or director.

…and most importantly provide personal recognition from their manager, on a regular basis, that the person is a star, an example of how to do this role.  Let them know that the organization covets and appreciates them IN THE ROLE THEY CURRENTLY HAVE.

The front line superstar might be destined for management and coaching, and observation of their strengths and gifts will help you determine that. Just don’t assume that everyone wants to be a manager- many don’t want it and/or won’t be good at it.  Creating alternate paths to success will improve retention, increase engagement and make your organization stand out from the pack.

  1. I heard a quote once “Don’t be irreplaceable. If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.” Sometimes I think “irreplaceable” is a good thing…

    I think the most engaged employees know the value and impact they have on their organization. I want to know that what I do is making a difference to the company’s bottom line, and more importantly the people I work with.

    It in a way reminds me of curling – not everyone can be a good skip, but every position is important to the team’s strategy and the ultimate goal of winning the game. Any player who thinks their rocks are less important than the skip’s rocks really doesn’t understand the game, or the value they could be contributing to the team.