In business, a real but often misunderstood concept, called the Peter Principle, explains the pitfalls of promoting a person who is not ready for the position. The principle, which states “people are promoted to their level of incompetence,” shows that a person can excel in their position, then gets promoted to a higher position. Once in this higher position, this employee who was good at the last role, is now in a position where they know very little. When these occurrences happen occasionally, the employee stumbles until shown the way, best case scenario, or never learns, worst case. When these occurrences happens often, with many people in roles they do not understand, the company can suffer great loss of quality and service, and often is the turning point in the failure of the company.
The key point is to make sure that the people get proper training and guidance when they elevate to a new position. A famous quote by Harvey S. Firestone goes “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” While many people do respect the need for training, they don’t know how, and this is the biggest snag.
Not only do we train employees to a task, we need to train the future leaders to do certain responsibilities (and to not do certain actions). But what does this training look like? These six steps are broken into small chunks to make them manageable, but are intended to foster a long-term plan.
The first thing to do after recognizing a HiPo is to develop an individual development plan (IDP). Ask them the questions - Where are they now? Where do they want to be? What steps will get them there? Remind them of patience and to take small steps. It's unrealistic to think they can jump straight to their final goal. Make sure that the steps are detailed and specific, are attainable, directly pertain to the new goal, has a reasonable timeframe, and that the completion of each step is able to be tracked. Often times, missteps in this process can leave the new leader frustrated. If the plan is not properly mapped out, doable, reasonable, and have a set timeframe, the steps may not get completed or will be completed incorrectly. An IDP is like driving a car on vacation, not like flying to the destination. Going from NY to LA can take hours in a plane, but days in a car. Along the route in a car, the driver can map out the journey, saying "I will see Pennsylvania first, then Ohio, then Indiana..." Drivers always know where they are on the trip, but a plane flyer usually never knows until the tires hit the runway.
Giving new leaders control over more activities will motivate them and get them practice. Once they are performing more activities, you will have more free time to observe them. Frequently, with time spent on more tasks, the new leader is able to take on more responsibilities as they get accustomed to the new role. We need to be cautious, however, of giving the new leader too much or too difficult of a task too early. They need to build up their confidence on smaller tasks before tackling the bigger ones.
Challenge your new leaders, but don't make the challenges too hard and don’t throw lobs. Give trying situations to them, but be there to pick them up if needed. We learn more by failure than by success. If we never give them opportunities, they will not grow to their full potential. They may look good, but when a situation comes up that is difficult, they may not know what to do.
We, as leaders ourselves, should be praising the strengths of our people all the time. When we do, we create a scenario where, when we do have to give criticism, they will be received easier. A simple concept can be given that has more weight than any other, compliment often. Remind them frequently that they are in the new position for a reason. They have value. We should prompt them numerous times that struggle equals progress, not judgement.
We should not expect perfection from our new leaders, and they should know that. It shouldn't be a secret. Instead, we should expect them to be better every day. Just as we instruct them, we should not nit-pick every little error they make. If we do, they will stop excelling, becoming gun-shy of making decisions. We want them to continue to take chances, make decisions, and learn the entire time.
One of the biggest lessons to learn, is to be there for the new leaders. Being present, without judgement, to answer questions and advise can do more for the new leaders' confidence than most other aspects. Coaching is not training. Coaching is not retraining. Coaching is guiding, making small adjustments, encouraging, redirecting, etc. The coach is not an authoritarian role, but a collaborative role.
Making decisions in business can be tough, but deciding to develop correctly the person that you recently promoted will be the best and easiest decision you make. Taking a great employee and promoting them is smart, but risky. Leaving them to their own devices is risky because they may not have the skills yet for the new role, especially when it comes to leading and managing others. Being open and available to assist them is essential and following these six steps will ensure they get the direction and support they need..