Today’s guest post is from Bob Herbold, the former Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft Corporation and author of What’s Holding You Back: 10 Bold Steps that Define Gutsy Leaders (CLICK HERE to buy your copy). You can read more about Bob at the end of this post.
A recent article on www.ArmyTimes.com cited the fact that the U.S. Army is having a major problem retaining mid-ranking officers.
To find out the nature of the problem, the Army Research Institute did extensive surveys and found that for many of those leaving, a key reason was that their immediate supervisor was weak and many claimed that people were being promoted based on seniority; not on merit.
In commenting, Army Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey said “We’re promoting 95% of Captains to Major, and 93% of Majors to Lieutenant Colonel.” Basically everyone is being promoted, no matter what their performance happens to be. It is simply based on seniority. As Dempsey pointed out, “95% of Captains don’t deserve to be promoted to Major.” The surveys showed the troops knew this all along!
The fatal flaw in promoting based on seniority is your top performers realize they can’t make the progress they desire and deserve. It tells top performers that the organization does not care about excellence. Hence, they decide to leave to find a place where they can make the kind of contributions they want to make.
When I was at Procter and Gamble, we had a great practice of having part of a leader’s performance appraisal reflect his or her ability to retain and further develop talent, particularly high-performing talent. That appraisal also reflected either improving the performance of weak performers or moving them out. Over time, these statistics gave valuable insight into the talent development capabilities of a leader.
During my years at Microsoft, we had a very innovative use of employee surveys that got at this issue of what the subordinates thought about the leadership being provided, or not provided, by their boss. First of all, everyone participated in the survey, since it was electronically administered via your PC, and the system would have HR chase you down if the survey wasn’t completed. Second, we would look at the survey results by Department and by Division, and see how the leaders of those organizations were rated by their employees on leadership skills, strategic direction, etc. This employee input would be shared with the leaders and it was powerful.
The interesting thing about this topic is that the troops really do know who the strong performers are who deserve to be promoted. When the boss makes a mistake and doesn’t promote the most qualified candidate, it’s very clear to most people in the organization and probably the last person to realize it is the boss. The point is, in evaluating a manager and considering that person for promotion, input should be sought from his or her direct reports, the peers, and the various bosses who see that person’s work. This is referred to as a 360 process and it is incredibly valuable in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of an individual.
Here are three takeaways that I encourage you to consider:
1. Make sure you have a high quality performance appraisal system in place so that you can track over time the overall ratings and the progress on areas needing improvement of each individual.
2. Track the ability of leaders to retain and further develop high potential talent. Also track the leader’s ability to deal quickly with poor performance. You don’t want weak players clogging the system.
3. Be increasingly selective in promoting someone as the level of the job increases. You want to have real superstars in your higher level jobs.
As you implement these practices, the troops will get the message very quickly that performance counts and that the bosses do know what’s going on.
– Bob Herbold is the former Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft Corporation and the author of three books on leadership. His latest, What’s Holding You Back: 10 Bold Steps that Define Gutsy Leaders was released February, 2011 by Wiley/Jossey-Bass. More on the book and Bob’s blog on leadership can be found at www.bobherbold.com.