When promotion is not always the right answer

Marion Forbes

By Marion Forbes, director of Mactaggart & Mickel with responsibility for HR

MOST of us have heard about imposter syndrome – where an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.  But now there’s an opposite trend emerging.

We recently had a scenario where we offered a position to an ideal candidate. He was not fully experienced, however we were confident we could develop him. He seemed keen to join us. What actually happened was that that he decided to stay where he was – because his current employer offered him a director position. In other words, they promoted him to stop him leaving.

There are two likely scenarios in this type of situation: the applicant knew he could leverage a job offer as a bargaining tool to secure a promoted role within his existing company; or his bosses created a new role to keep him within the company.

This is happening more often, as the pool of strong candidates in the construction sector continues to shrink.  It worries me. At Mactaggart & Mickel, we are focused on developing our people – but in a supportive and appropriate way – and when the time is right for them and for us. Bestowing someone with a senior job title does not magically provide more wisdom and capability. Look below the surface of the promoted individual and you may see that, in reality, they have only a few years’ experience under their belt.

So, for Mactaggart & Mickel, while it was tempting to throw all manner of incentives at our candidate – we decided it wasn’t the right thing to do. And here’s why. As a director with responsibility for HR, I aim not to perpetuate the cycle of job title inflation. Our industry needs to strike a blow for common sense and use job titles to truly reflect the post holder’s skills and experiences. Not only will we help level the corporate playing field, but this approach also allows us to properly acknowledge and reward those that genuinely merit it.

But there’s another reason too. This newly promoted person is expected not only to manage their own expanded job, but also to lead teams. And good leadership does not just happen with a magical wave of the job title wand.

You need a skilful blend of knowledge, deft problem solving and knowing what drives teams to excel. If the promoted person has not acquired these skills and abilities, then ultimately the business will suffer. Of course, not all impromptu promotions work out this way. Many talented people will go on to do well and exceed expectations. But all too often those who are promoted too early damage themselves, their peers and the organisation.

I believe that the most effective career-development path is to take on other operational roles which provide ‘stretch’, perhaps study part-time and, importantly, learn from others – having a mentor is a great way to do this. In this way individuals can build a strong foundation on which to progress their career. Responsible employers know this and aim to retain staff in a measured, progressive way.

At Mactaggart & Mickel we work hard at growing our own andoffer a number of differing paths to develop future leaders. Our Emerging Leaders initiative supports talented individuals to hone their skills by addressing a specific – and real – business challenge. In fact, recommendations from this group regarding customer touchpoints contributed to us retaining Five Star status from the Home Builders Federation for the sixth year in a row.

An alternative pathway is to support employees to achieve qualifications from the Institute of Leadership and Management through an in-house development programme. For the early years of career development we have found this to be a very effective route to identifying those individuals who have the potential to become future leaders.

In summary, if you’re thinking of promoting someone to keep them onside for longer, be honest with yourself.  Are you making this decision based on merit, as part of proper business strategy? If you are, then all well and good. But if your decision is more of a knee jerk reaction because you cannot face a difficult recruitment process, it’s maybe time for a rethink.