Horizontal promotions

A few weeks ago, somebody in HR was telling me about a problem that was keeping her awake at night. Faced with the rapid growth of the company, the board had promoted their best technician to product team manager. This was someone who was operationally exceptional, with a level never seen before and an extraordinary contribution. But the fact was that this new manager (who had actually accepted the promotion because the compensation was higher) was not in the least interested in people. This was creating a very problematic situation in the team and, therefore, in product deliveries. In the last few months they had tried all the classics: coaching, team management training, teambuildings, team reorganisation, … With no result. Now everyone was blocked (both manager and team), turnover was starting to occur, brand reputation and sales were suffering and for the HR person it was like a dead end. This is a situation that is unfortunately all too familiar in the organisational world: when, in an emergency, we decide to promote a brilliant technical profile to manager (thinking that “we will help the person with the team issues”) and, in the end, we lose a good frontline profile and gain a bad management profile. Why does this keep happening in organisations of all sizes and sectors?

The explanation, as in almost all organisational dysfunctions, is to be found in our obsession with remaining anchored in 20th century tools and frameworks. Decades ago, in the midst of the productive society model, whoever produced the most on the front line was the best and, therefore, the one who was promoted vertically (the only way to promote that was understood at the time). This modus operandi was accompanied by its corresponding tools: the now outdated performance evaluation (linked to production data) and the grade-based compensation models. In other words, promotion was the only way to earn more and, under the cover of this narrative, vertical organisations, the famous silos, were created. Perhaps the silo model was successful years ago, when the environment and the speed at which the situation evolved were totally different. Today, everyone claims to want to eliminate silos in an organisation, but it is impossible to do so if we continue to act as we did in the 20th century and perpetuate vertical development models as the only way to prosper within an organisation. In the 21st century development is no longer (only) a ladder; in the 21st century development must (also) be a bridge.

How many of the managers we know really enjoy coordinating, aligning and developing their team? How many of them accepted promotion exclusively because it was a way (the only way) to earn more and experience team management as collateral damage that “goes with the job”? Blindly following 90s career development models and strictly vertical compensation tools is going to generate, sooner rather than later, a series of dysfunctions (most predictable, by the way), not to mention the time we are going to have to waste trying to adapt our organisation to those old rigid products that, no matter how many facelifts they have received over the years, are no longer useful in today’s environments.

Solving the problem of managers who are not interested in their teams (and all the situations derived from this) means assuming that the most brilliant person in operations does not have to be the most brilliant person in tactics (and, therefore, does not have to be a manager). But the most operationally brilliant person also has the right to prosper within the organisation, to promote horizontally, without the need to climb the corporate ladder. Therefore, we should consider career plans and compensation models that truly give value to this type of profiles so that they do not need to “flee” to tactics in order to earn more (generating the situation we mentioned at the beginning: we lose someone brilliant in operations and gain a bad manager, simply because of economic reasons).

Do we really want to break down silos? Then let’s open our eyes and let’s get rid of the old tools and ways of doing things that force us to work vertically. Because organisations today need far more bridges and far fewer ladders.

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