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Give Everyone a “Ladder”!

July 21, 2016

I have had some version of the following conversation with senior management on many an occasion. It goes something like this: we have this C-Suite/VP/Director/Manager that is terrible at managing people and we have talked to him or her but nothing seems to help. What are we going to do? On further investigation I find out that the person was hired or is a founder because of their intellectual brilliance, their technical knowledge, their position in the industry, and that is their true value to the organization. Then when I ask the Board or CEO why that person can’t be in an individual contributor role, they bring up all the assortment of reasons why it can’t be done. That is when the fun starts!

I am here to assure you that not all people, at any level, should necessarily be in supervisory roles. It may not be part of their true career desire and/or perhaps not a good fit with their personality make-up. However, every organization does need to have excellent people managers supervising their folks. Your people deserve it and the company deserves it. So that is our challenge.

Think back to the best managers you have ever had. What were the top reasons you think of them as being good in that role? Now think of the people you have in supervisory roles that appear to not be doing a top-notch job so you can really understand the difference. If you have already tried coaching and skills training, and the improvement is not significant enough, then you really owe it to everyone within the organization to create a great non-supervisory position for this individual. And if you want to keep the individual make sure that the change is not perceived as a demotion but the message goes out that this change is a better utilization of the person’s true strengths. Always accent the positive.

Scientific and Technical Ladders exist so that people in individual contributor roles can also be promoted and recognized without having to move up a supervisory path. Even in small organizations this is a great alternative so you are not requiring someone to have to manage a team or even one individual in order to get ahead. It is really a win-win situation. Remember it is not about the supervisor and their wants; it is about the people that they are being entrusted to manage and their needs. Managers with excellent people skills have a big impact on motivating and inspiring their people to excel. They cut down on attrition and attract the best to be hired both for their group and also for the whole organization. People want to work for them. Those teams do better and are more productive. There definitely is a ripple effect with excellent managers.

But for those that will excel more as individual contributors, not having the responsibility for managing people may give them much more energy to devote to the issues where they can add the most value. Remember everyone can have a key role in making an organization a success. Sometimes it is just a matter of thinking about people and their strengths differently and then allowing people to move into other roles where they can truly excel. It is incumbent upon us to figure out for each individual we have within an organization, where they can add the most value, and set up a company culture and organizational structure that supports a level of flexibility so people can thrive in any position.

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