It happens all the time. You hire the best and the brightest, you provide them the means to do a great job, to learn and to grow. Then the day comes you feel like your best individual contributor deserves a promotion. He has done such a great job in his current role, he is smart, dedicated and you feel he has a great potential so you promote him to a manager. That is when things go wrong, somehow he struggles in his new role, people in the team still respect him for his technical skills and ability to get things done, but they don’t respect him as a leader, they don’t follow him. He still feels like he needs to keep doing the work of individual contributor, creates a rift in the team, the motivation in the team is deteriorating and you struggle with retention. What went wrong?
It happens all the time. You take a great individual contributor, rip him out of his ideal job where he really contributes and put him to a role that is not suitable for him, that doesn’t bring him joy and that makes him fail… I used to work for a big global organization with half a million people worldwide. We had a very good training program for new managers, we had a detail development plans and everyone had a clear career path to follow. People were promoted based on the merit, on their contributions and sometimes on their tenure with the company. There was this joke going around that we promote people as long as they are able to handle the job. When they get to a position that is above their abilities their promotions stop. Unfortunately this eventually leads to organization where all the roles are filled by people who cannot handle them.
So what is the alternative? You don’t promote people based on how they are doing in their current job, but rather based on their abilities to handle the job that needs filling. So instead of promoting the best developer to development manager role you promote the one whose contributions in developer role were not particularly noteworthy but who has a great ability to communicate and is able to organize others for a common goal. As I wrote in The Broken Ladder there are different ways to look at career and you can have a very fulfilling professional life without moving up the ladder. You essentially want to find a sweet spot for everyone in your team and then make him work miracles.
What are the advantages of the sweet spot concept? What are the advantages for the organization, you as a leader and individual employees?
Everyone does what they are good at
You let everyone excel in what they are good at. You maximize their potential by focusing on their strengths and that brings maximal value for the company. If someone is a stellar developer, accountant or sales person why to make him a mediocre manager? You organization then suffers big loss on the individual contributor side that is difficult to fill and what you get back is a manager that will have a negative impact on the rest of the team thus lowering the productivity of everyone else.
Everyone does what makes them happy
It is all about passion. If you do job or tasks you are passionate about you feel great deal of personal satisfaction and you are happy. Having people in the right roles, where they bring the best of themselves allows them to be super successful and that brings a great deal of satisfaction with their jobs and happiness to their lives. If you love having things under control, you want to understand everything in the smallest detail and you love getting things done with your own hands and that is what makes you happy then being in a managerial position where you are required to work through other people will make your life pretty miserable. Why would you want that?
People can still grow
The danger of having everyone in their sweet spot is that they get really comfortable and will not strive for more. That mindset would be very dangerous for the organization as it would stifle future growth. So even when you give everyone a chance to be in their sweet spot you still need to challenge them, step by step increase the scope of their work so they learn more, expand their skill set and essentially expand their sweet spot to bigger and bigger role.
Twitter type summary: “Going for the sweet spot is the best strategy for building a high-performing organization where people do what they are passionate about.”
How do you promote people in your organization? What are the criteria you use to get people into management roles?
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