Not Everyone Wants a Promotion

NoThanksWorking with managers and leaders across organizations and industries, I often wonder if they enjoy their jobs and truly want to lead others. Too often organizations promote talented individuals based on their capability to perform the job in question without considering their desire to perform the job. One critical piece of high potential models that I fear may be overlooked is the individual’s appetite for advanced responsibility. Forget for a moment about whether or not the person will do the job and consider if the person will like the job. A strong individual contributor may enjoy collaborating with others, but have no interest in supervising others. A high potential employee known for generating innovative ideas may prefer to work in one narrow area of expertise rather than applying those creativity skills to overall organizational strategy. 

Good help is hard to find, and it is certainly understandable that organizations who attract and hire high potential employees want to make the most of that talent. However, by placing employees in jobs for which they are a poor fit, you might inadvertently put an expiration date on their tenure. Over the years I’ve heard many stories of employees who chose to leave their jobs not because they couldn’t do the job, but because they couldn’t stand the job.

So, what are organizations to do? How can they benefit from employees’ talent if they can’t advance those employees to leadership? The most concise and most honest answer is, “I don’t know”. However, I do have a few ideas:

  1. Consider how high potential is defined. The characteristics that constitute success in one job may not contribute to effective performance in another job. You may need to adopt multiple high potential models to represent different divisions, levels, or jobs in your organization.
  2. Ask honest questions about what employees want to do and be ready to hear that upper management might not be their ultimate goal.
  3. When developing high potential employees, define and offer multiple career paths if possible. Let them know that you want them to be engaged in your organization and allow them to make a positive impact by aligning their aspirations with your strategy.
  4. If you find that your designated high potentials do not aspire to traditional leader roles, start looking at other employees. Your solid performers might flourish in managerial positions where your exceptional performers would flounder. 
  5. After promoting employees, keep an eye on them to ensure they are appropriately challenged and satisfied in their roles. Be prepared to make adjustments, as is feasible, so that you aren’t forcing individuals to stay in positions or perform work that is not a good fit for their natural work styles or core values.

What are your thoughts? Please comment on this blog to share your ideas and experiences in leveraging and retaining talented employees who don’t aspire to traditional leadership roles.