I once wrote a post on The Peter Principle, which discussed a study finding that it's better to promote at random than promote high performers.
At the time I was of the opinion that most people would prefer a competent manager to someone selected at random or because they have an executive sponsor. Upon mature reflection, however, I've partially changed my mind.
Talent management puts a great deal of focus on what influences people in non-management roles but too little attention is paid to what drives manager behavior. Since talent management can't succeed without skilled management, this strikes me as a glaring oversight.
Imagine an intelligent, efficient person who consistently delivers excellent quality work. Better yet, not only does this person have deep skills in her own area, she also has broad knowledge of her colleague's work and is respected by customers and colleagues alike.
Now let's promote her to team lead. Let's even avoid the pitfall of making new managers keep doing their old jobs and back fill her vacated position.
Unfortunately, if we now just turn her loose to find her own way, she probably won't be a very good manager. The reason is that people tend to fall back on what has worked for them in the past.
Think about it. Here you have someone very competent, very focused on their own success and slightly insecure about their new challenge. The first thing they're probably going to do is get in everyone's hair telling them how everything should be done, particularly the poor person who's now doing their old job.
But that, while annoying to some, is not the worst possible outcome. After all, the work will still get done and probably done pretty well. Over time we may lose a few competent people who dislike being micromanaged but we shouldn't see too many ripples at the top of the organization.
The bigger risk is to the long-term health of the organization because managers who succeed by being better than everyone may be reluctant to hire or encourage people who know more or perform better than them.
Of course, promoting high performers without any sort of coaching is not the only recipe for flawed management. Martha Finney has a thought-provoking post over at SmartBlog that discusses how people promoted during the last war for talent are still making trouble today by squeezing out the best people.
Generally speaking, people are promoted based on at least one of three things:
1) individual performance
2) management or executive sponsorship
3) they have 'management experience'
Notice that not one of these focuses on key leadership skills such as mentoring, communicating, trusting others, helping others be successful, etc. Even the management experience criteria only values the experience, not the skill.
The result? Flawed management. And by extension, flawed talent management.
This post featured in the August Leadership Carnival: http://jasonseiden.com/leadership-carnival-fail-style/