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As change and uncertainty have accelerated over the past two years, Josh Bersin and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic reminded everyone of a long-standing principal – The Peter Principal.  It states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties” (“Hire Leaders for What They Can Do, Not What They Have Done”; Harvard Business Review, August 27, 2019). In other words, Laurence J. Peter believed that “most competent people are promoted until they reach a position that is above their skill level.”

But how could this be true?  Why would most companies/organizations put someone into a job where they are likely to perform poorly – or even fail?  The answer lies in how most organizations promote individuals.  Specifically, they may consider their performance in their previous positions, but they most clearly consider how they are currently performing, and then they promote employees who are meeting – and exceeding – their objectives in their current position.

This is where the problem lies – an employee’s current position may be quite different from the position into which they are promoted.  Take Sales.  A salesperson contacts potential customers, talks with them to understand their needs, determines/designs solutions that can meet those needs, and then offers that solution(s) at a reasonable price and with acceptable conditions.  Along the way, the salesperson builds a “relationship” with this potential customer that is based upon mutual respect, a desire to assist and/or solve a problem for the person.  Then, the most effective salespeople are committed to long-term support and success of that customer.

Now, let’s think about a sales manager.  First, they must create teamwork among a group of performers who are generally self-centered and self-driven. Second, the manager must also establish an environment that fosters continuous learning, adaptability, and change – even when those changes may not maximize their employee’s (salespeople’s) self-interests.  Finally, the manager must continuously ensure that everyone consistently demonstrates high levels of integrity and support for all members of their own company, in addition to their customers.

It’s no wonder that a recent study of 200 companies found that performance as a salesperson was negatively correlated with performance as a sales manager.  That’s right; the best salespeople made the worst sales managers!  (Bersin, J. and Chamorro-Premuzic, T, Harvard Business Review, 2019).

So, what should an organization do?  Ignore an employee’s previous/current performance when making promotions?  Of course not.  Instead, it is essential to consider a person’s potential.  And not just any type of potential – the potential to perform the position (or group of positions) currently under consideration.  But, since leadership positions in any organization vary widely, is there an efficient process for this dilemma?  Yes, there is – targeted and validated leadership assessment. 

For over twenty years, E.A.S.I-Consult® has built and perfected a leadership assessment process known as EASI-Quotient™.  Although this process incorporates many key features, we incorporated the following, which are essential to be considered a “best practices” leadership assessment approach:

  • Context is essential. An effective leader in one company, department, or position may not be effective in a different company, department or position. Therefore, you should conduct a thorough and systematic analysis for specific company- and position-related attributes before any assessment.

  • There are four “universal capabilities” that most effective leaders share. We refer to these capabilities as the Four Leadership Pillars.  These should always be assessed:
  1. Strategic Agility
  2. Ability to Develop Talent (other employees)
  3. Innovativeness and Driving Continuous Improvement
  4. Ability to Engage Colleagues Across the Enterprise

This may sound like a significant challenge.  How can these key factors be considered and accurately assessed?  It begins with an organization and position analysis.  Once this is completed, job-relevant assessment  components can be integrated into your hiring or promotion process.

By utilizing this systematic process to determine who should fill the next opening for a leader in your organization, you will quickly see improved performance. In addition, by doing this early in a person’s career, an organization can establish a strong group of leaders who are likely to possess the potential to move to more challenging – and more senior – roles.

Although it may sound daunting, consistently identifying persons who will most likely serve as effective leaders in specific roles in specific companies should not be overwhelming. Instead, it starts with finding the right partner – a partner that will provide a proven approach in assessing your candidates for future leadership roles.

About the Author

E.A.S.I.-Consult is a leader in researching and identifying leadership capabilities in an effort to help organizations reach their full potential.

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult® and is a licensed Psychologist. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership. E.A.S.I-Consult is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.