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Success Secrets | Promotion: more art than science

Success Secrets | Promotion: more art than science
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First Published: Sun, Jun 08 2008. 10 49 PM IST

Updated: Mon, Jun 09 2008. 10 05 AM IST
When you have a capable person to promote in your company but that person does not have the appropriate tenure with the organization, is it better to hire someone from the outside for the job?
—Natalia Salistean, Bucharest, Romania
How emphatically can we answer no? So emphatically, we hope, that whoever in your company is putting you in this bind gets shaken out of believing that, in this day and age, there is such a thing as “appropriate tenure”.
It’s ideal when internal candidates for promotion have logged at least two or three years to prove their mettle in good times and in bad. But in the high-demand environment of the global marketplace, talented people are so hard to retain and Gen Y-ers have so little tolerance for meaningless dues-paying assignments, why would any company put a high-performer through unnecessary paces to satisfy a bureaucratic requirement?
That uncompetitive practice is a throwback to the days when an employee’s time served could, and often did, trump his value-add. So, no, you should not hire someone else for your job opening. And should your bosses come at you to defend that decision, after you remind them of the talent wars, remind them of something else they probably already know. Promotion is more art than science. You can never be sure a candidate—regardless of tenure —is going to succeed. You can know only if he’s passed two simple tests.
The first, obviously, concerns performance. Has the candidate consistently posted superior results in his current job? We’re not just talking numbers here. Superior results also mean a person has broadened his job responsibilities and brought new insights to the team—about work processes, market challenges or opportunities to be seized. Basically, superior results mean a person has over-performed, and they tend to be a leading indicator that he’s ready to make the leap to a bigger role.
The second test concerns values. Does the candidate consistently demonstrate the behaviour the company wants to see in its leaders? Is he customer-focused? Does he share ideas? These are just examples; depending on its mission, every company has different values. But when it comes to promotion decisions, the question about values is the same: Does the candidate live and breathe them?
Even if a candidate passes both tests, you might want to ask yourself a final question, especially if short tenure is a concern. Did the candidate inherit a “tail wind” situation? Occasionally, a person has benefited because his predecessor left him a gift—a backlog of orders, for instance, or a high-functioning team. You shouldn’t hold good luck against your candidate, but it does merit consideration.
In the big picture, however, your instinct should always be to promote a strong internal candidate sooner rather than later. It’s good for the individual, who gets to build his skills and experience without the nonsense of marking time. But just as true, it’s good for the organization. Promoting young insiders has a fast way of attracting good people to your ranks; indeed, it will help make you a talent magnet. Best of all, it keeps your top performers inside.
Granted you may not get every promotion right, but you can be sure that nudging your high fliers into the welcoming arms of the competition is an “appropriate tenure” policy you would soon live to regret.
In your opinion, what are some of the positive traits of leaders from the armed forces who have entered business, and what are some of the challenges they face?
—Mark McGrath, Columbus, Ohio
Positives first, because they’re so plentiful, and one of us (Jack) has hired several thousand junior military officers (JMOs) over the years. The list starts with whip-smart and tenacious. Next, most military officers possess can-do, upbeat attitudes. Moreover, the vast majority demonstrate the too-rare quality of edge; they can make yes-or-no decisions without muddling. Their people skills are likewise superb; they tend to be great at motivation and team building. And finally, and of special note to global companies, JMOs will move anywhere. Your toughest location might be better than the best outpost they’ve endured.
The challenges: Too many JMOs can’t seem to get the military’s necessary bureaucracy out of their systems and, as a result, they embrace rules and regulations that slow them down. Second and last, some officers lack visionary thinking. They may have risked their lives in the military, but some JMOs seem less inclined to take risks in business. On balance, though, there is no balance. The positives win this debate hands down.
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Campaign readers can email them questions at winning@livemint.com. Please include your name, occupation and city.
Only select questions will be answered.
©2008/by NYT Syndicate
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First Published: Sun, Jun 08 2008. 10 49 PM IST
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