Your company likely does this, and it is dumb.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others” - Winston Churchill

When you look around at other team, tribe, or group environments, there is one thing companies do that is the opposite of successful teams and I am not sure where the logic comes from, especially when the science, research, and outcomes have proven it’s a terrible idea. But it is the cornerstone of several processes that are crucial to your company’s retention, performance, cost mitigation, profitability, and sustainability. If your company does this, you will likely have pockets of retention problems, lagging performance, and inevitably some culture issues. So what am I talking about that has such huge consequences? Top-down succession planning.

The majority of companies ascribe to manager-led processes where managers are in charge of performance evaluation, talent development, succession planning, hiring, firing, and goal setting. After working in talent and leadership development for 15+ years…I can firmly say, the majority of managers have NEVER had any training on exercising ANY of these tasks. Most of them have risen through the ranks with the same process they are now tasked with. Which creates some ironic tension when you start looking at the research.

  • 72% of managers don’t like leading people

  • 80% of manager identified “high potentials” are in the bottom 50% of performers

  • “Desire to lead and develop people” is not even in the top 5 reasons a manager took a promotion

  • 65% of employees would rather get a new manager than a pay raise

Simply put, we are promoting the wrong people and then trusting them to make better decisions without any data to help.

The top-down method of succession planning needs to be retired. Promoting for task performance alone needs to go away. Top down identification only promotes good followers (people who think like the selector, don’t cause waves, and toe the status quo.) And promoting good performers only selects good doers (and then we wonder why the fail to delegate, develop, or have a propensity to micromanage.)

It’s time to flip the scrip and start asking who people would trust to follow. Leadership is not leadership without willing followers. Succession planning should be less about selecting who should follow in your footsteps and instead be about Leadership Selection where the team can weigh in on who they would like to follow.

To be clear, I am not advocating for full democracy here. There are flaws with that approach as well. But it is clear that we need to make a shift and be more inclusive of the expertise and perspectives of the people you worked so hard and spent do much to find and hire.

As a manager, you might have information on someone’s performance that their team mates do not. Likewise, their team mates might have information on how that person relates to others on a daily basis that you do not. Both are important aspect of leading a team. It’s time we get the other side involved and make more educated and less biased decisions about whom to promote.

Dave NeedhamComment