Why Promoting from Within is So Difficult
Throughout the last 35 years, I’ve focused much of my research on what I call the double tragedy taking place in organizations. On one hand, there are so many talented managers getting stuck in their career without any promotion in sight. This essentially subverts the career goals of a manager. On the other hand, organizations are investing a plethora of resources to develop their managers. Yet, when it’s time to fill a senior position, these organizations unhappily find themselves recruiting from the outside, rather than promoting one of their own.
Like all double tragedies, these two are interlinked, feeding on each other, and resulting in significant damage for the organization. As for the managers, their being stuck causes them to lose their motivation - so essential for the career goals of a manager. This inevitably affects those around them as well. They lose faith in their organization, in which they had entrusted their career path. For the organization, there’s a major let down as well, after having invested so many resources in developing the manager - but apparently to no avail. I’ve seen this scenario play out repeatedly over the last few decades, each side expressing their disappointment with this tragic outcome.
Here’s what I usually hear from the manager:
Manager: “I’ve been making a huge effort for so long - even evenings and weekends - volunteering to take on extra responsibilities - and I’m not even counting all of the courses and reading I’ve done. I just don’t understand how they haven’t promoted me. It’s really frustrating.”
And here’s a typical conversation with the organization:
Organization: “There wasn’t a course that we didn’t send him to - and the hours upon hours of feedback...he never took any initiative to improve.”
Me: “What was done when the organization didn’t see any changes?”
Organization: “Well, from time to time, we would see the beginning of some kind of change, which pleased us...but this was generally short lived. What’s really frustrating is that after investing so much in him, we still have to recruit from outside the organization.”
In both cases, it always ends with the same question: “Etika, have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous?”
Yes, I surely have seen my fair share of these situations and here’s what I’ve learned:
1. In general, our tendency is to try to turn ourselves into something we’re not - instead of improving on who we are. This is what I call the Imitation Approach of so-called ideal people or characteristics. But unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work. Imitation will always remain imitation. What’s more, imitation will never last very long - and soon enough, our real selves will inevitably resurface. Of course, this leads to deep frustration, as we’ve spent so much time and energy perfecting our Imitation Approach. Even worse, our company has generally footed the bill, thinking that the Imitation Approach would transform you into a “new and improved” you, which it didn’t - and won’t.
2. Many young managers segway through their entry level positions, straight to middle management, based on a set of behaviors they’ve developed - behaviors that have actually become automatic habits. However, at some point, these habits betray the middle manager, as a different set of behaviors is usually needed for more senior positions. The problem is that if a middle manager’s automatic habits aren’t tamed, they’ll prevent the development of crucial innate behaviors - ruining any chances of future promotion.
As I mentioned before, this is the first in a series of posts about empowering managers. The next three posts will expand on each of the reasons I’ve mentioned here - and how to deal with them.
And always remember:
Great managers are made. Not born.
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