Michelle Gibbings* outlines ways in which hiring managers and job applicants can prevent a situation where a square peg is being rammed into a round hole.
At some stage in your career, you will likely have looked at someone in the hierarchy above you and wondered how they got there.
There’s a saying that everyone rises to their own level of incompetence.
It’s a concept initially developed by Canadian educator and author, Laurence J.
Peter and published in the book, The Peter Principle, co-authored with playwright and lecturer, Raymond Hull.
They write: “As individuals we tend to climb to our levels of incompetence.
We behave as though up is better and more is better, and yet all around us we see the tragic victims of this mindless escalation.”
They outline the hazards of climbing up the corporate ladder, including ulcers, alcoholism, allergies and ‘Tabulatory Gigantism’ (an obsession with having a bigger desk than your colleagues).
Whether the book was part satire is open to debate, and Dr Peter did say he was kidding.
I’m not so cynical as to believe that we all rise to the level of our own incompetence.
However, like you, I’ve seen situations where people are promoted into roles for which they are unsuited.
So have researchers.
A study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found that the better sales representative a person was, the more likely they were to be promoted into management.
However, their promotion then negatively affected the salesperson’s new team members.
The research revealed that the managers who had high sales performance records before their promotion saw a 7.5 per cent decline in the sales performance of their new subordinates.
In contrast, the managers whose prior sales performance was relatively poor saw a significant improvement in their new subordinates’ performance.
Just because a person is good at the output and delivering results doesn’t mean they will automatically be a good leader.
One of the problems is that when we are hiring, we usually look at a person’s performance in their current role rather than the skills they need in the future role.
There can also be many other factors that impact whether someone thrives in their new position.
For example, personal circumstances, the level of support and coaching they receive, and shifting internal stakeholders, to name a few.
So who’s accountable for making the situation work? It’s easy to say it’s purely the responsibility of the person who accepted the job.
The logic is that they should only take a role where they can fulfil the requirements, but there’s more to it than that.
Circumstances can change, and so too can expectations.
The hiring manager also plays a role.
They hired the person, so what are they doing to help that person succeed? Everyone plays a role.
If you’re seeking to move up the ladder, you need to ask yourself some questions before you apply for the promotion.
Firstly, why are you seeking a promotion? Is it for the status, learning and challenge, the financial reward or something else?
Do you have the capacity and capability to fulfil the role’s expectations?
While you only need some of the skills from the outset, you want the ability, capacity and willingness to learn.
Next, consider the support you need around you to be successful in the new role.
This includes looking at the resources you may need, the time you want to devote to learning, and the headspace you need when you start a new role.
As I write about in my book, Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career, various studies report that 35-to-40 per cent of senior hires fail within their first 18 months.
So you need to be ready to do the work.
One of the critical elements is making your relationship with your new boss work, for which you have to take 100 per cent responsibility.
You need to clarify mutual expectations early and often; negotiate timelines for the work you are doing and aim for early wins in areas critical to your boss.
These are only a few of the elements to consider before you seek the role and then once you are in the role.
If you’re the hiring manager, you also need to challenge yourself and ask questions.
Are you hiring the best-suited person, settling because you can’t find someone else for the role, or being overly influenced by other people’s opinions?
I’ve seen situations where people have been promoted into positions to fill a vacancy because no one else is available.
From the outset, there are reservations about the person’s capability, yet appropriate support is not provided to help the person succeed.
It is the same when people have been hired because they have been recommended by someone more senior.
As the hiring manager, be clear on what you are looking for in the role and the level of support you are ready to provide.
Then, if someone steps into the role and it isn’t working, you need to rechallenge yourself.
There may also be other mitigating forces at play.
Are there events occurring in their personal life that are causing stress and distraction? Is there an unusually high volume of work and tight deadlines?
Is there a resource shortfall which is creating pressure? Do they appear overworked, exhausted and stressed out? Are there organisational changes under way which are creating uncertainty?
This isn’t about making excuses for their behaviour.
It is about being fair and kind and recognising that everyone is human.
Lastly, consider if you are spending enough time providing clarity on expectations and coaching support.
To make a workplace work well, everyone needs to play their part and play it well.
*Michelle Gibbings is a Melbourne-based change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. She can be contacted at [email protected].
This article first appeared atwww.changemeridian.com.au