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3 Ways to Avoid Promoting The Wrong Person

Written By Ash

Why don’t we make the best sports players the managers? Why don’t the smartest thinkers become the teachers? Why don’t the highest performing salesperson become the sales manager? To avoid falling trap to The Peter Principle. 

As an employee, you may have faced the following situation; after time and effort of working towards a promotion, upon starting your new role you find yourself not fully prepared for it. Either your expectation of what the role entailed was way different, or you felt under-prepared to execute the duties and responsibilities of the role, or you even felt a lacking sense of competency for the position. 

As a manager, on the other hand, the following situation may sound familiar; a position has opened and it’s time for you to promote one of your direct reports. You identify the star player; someone who you have seen outperforms his targets year on year, has strong interpersonal skills and is generally seen as the Most Valuable Player. Without second-guessing, you proceed to promote this person only to find them struggling in their new role and seem to be out of their depth. 

If any of the above resonates with you, you may have fallen victim to The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle is a concept in management made famous by Laurence J Peter and Raymond Hull in their book with the same title in 1969. The Peter Principle observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence” as an employee is promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another. 

Although the concept was published in 1969, we still see many examples of The Peter Principal in companies today and even more so in highly hierarchical organisations.

An easy example to illustrate The Peter Principle, which is a promotional error many companies still make today, is by looking at sales teams promotions.

If Company A needed a new sales manager; they would typically look at their sales team’s individual performance and conclude that the person with the best sales track record should be promoted to sales manager. Now this person despite an amazing sales track record may find difficulty executing his new role because the skills and competencies needed to be a good sales manager differ greatly from the skills and competencies needed to be a good salesperson.

The bigger the change in the design of the role, the bigger gap of incompetence may exist. For example, if you’re promoted from engineer to senior engineer, your work may be more challenging but you’re using the same skills. When you are promoted from senior engineer to manager, however, you may lack the “soft skills” needed for such a role. These can include your ability to motivate team members, delegate tasks and responsibilities, communicate effectively, resolve conflict, and liaise with other teams and senior management.

The bigger the change in the design of the role, the bigger gap of incompetence may exist.

Obviously, it’s undesirable for someone who lacks the competence to hold a position of responsibility in your team or business. He will start becoming aware that he’s under-performing after thriving in previous roles, and he will likely feel demotivated, frustrated and anxious. Over a long period of time, as more and more senior roles are filled by people who are ill-equipped for them, company-wide mediocrity sets in leading to reduced productivity, reduced morale and reduced innovation. Those factors alone have a huge impact on top and bottom lines. 

Due to this, companies are placing increased importance on the development of employees, in fact, a report from Brandon Hall states that 58% of companies say that their top priority is closing leadership gaps but, only 19% of them say they are “very effective” in developing leaders1. With that, the below points will help ensure your company won’t promote employees into incompetence and therefore avoid The Peter Principal. 

1. Groom The Way Ajax Does

Many companies still reserve the target of their succession planning programmes to a few high-level critical positions and develop their direct reports to possibly fill those roles when vacant.

The problem with this is only upon reaching those levels are employees now starting to be groomed, and should the need arise to take the new role now they are highly underprepared.

Reserving succession planning for a select few roles is short-term thinking.

Consider instead, a build-up of potential successors across levels of the company starting from the very bottom of your structure.

The time spent grooming an employee from entrance to the top ensures your company’s readiness for successors.

Reserving succession planning for a select few roles is short-term thinking.

An example of building capability and competence over time from outside the corporate world is Amsterdam based football club Ajax, historically one of the most successful clubs in the world. One of the reasons the club has been so successful is its long-term perspective. Talent is scouted early. Children as young as 7 join the Ajax Youth Academy. As the children age, the best ones get promoted to higher divisions and the most successful end up living their dream: playing in the Premier League. This is an excellent example of the long-term, strategic perspective taken by Ajax. Talent is groomed for at least 10 years before they join the Premier League team. Whenever a player of that team leaves, Ajax has multiple candidates lined up who can replace him, regardless of the position in the field.

2. Think Mobility Like Apple

Your employees are the backbone of your company, especially the ones who do a good, solid job, day in and day out.

Many HR teams then automatically feel that not promoting these high performers will result in them either being demotivated and dropping in performance or worse, leaving the company.

But some of these employees may not have the potential to move up yet because of a gap in competence for the new role.

Once again, a promotion here may be a short term reward that leads to long term problems.

This is where companies now need to expand their idea of growth to include more than just upward mobility.

Employees can also grow and develop laterally, which also contributes to their long-term development.

In fact, many examples have shown that lateral moves make employees more knowledgeable which contributes to a higher career growth. 

Employees can also grow and develop laterally, which also contributes to their long-term development.

Consider one of the most famous succession planning stories of the corporate world, Apple. Steve Jobs was working hard to prepare Tim Cook for the position of CEO. Cook took on a variety of different operational roles including manufacturing, distribution, sales, and supply chain management before working directly with Jobs to gain experience in the CEO role. It wasn’t a single vertical career track that led to Tim Cook leading today’s tech giant, but rather, the many many lateral moves that increased his readiness for the role. 

3. Performer Like Shearer, Potential Like Mourinho, Both like Cruyff

One of the basic elements of succession planning is how to identify successors effectively.

This means companies need a systematic way to look at their entire organization and apply parameters in measuring talent.

A method that has been widely used is applying the matrix of performance against potential and looking at where employees fall.

However, understanding what this matrix truly means is crucial as misinterpretation leads to overlooking the right successors. 

A method that has been widely used is applying the matrix of performance against potential and looking at where employees fall.

We can illustrate the idea of performance and potential by looking at 3 names that have made a mark on the world of football. 

Alan Shearer; The High Performer: In the Premier League and for Newcastle United, there are few players more legendary than Alan Shearer. The striker still holds the record for all-time Premier League goals scored and is usually rated as the best striker in league history. As correctly predicted by fans, in 2009 when Newcastle United’s manager was taken ill due to heart conditions, Alan Shearer took the club reins. Unfortunately for Newcastle United, not only did Shearer fail to save them from relegation, but they also had one of the worst runs in Newcastle and Premier League history. An example of how high performers can be mistaken for high potentials to bigger roles. 

José Mourinho; The High Potential: As a player, José Mourinho made just fewer than 100 appearances for 4 different Portuguese clubs, in that time he scored a mere 13 goals. Nothing really materialised from his short career on the pitch, but it provided the foundation for one of the most successful managerial careers we’ve ever seen. Through his strong passion for the game and outstanding tactical knowledge, he has gone on to win over 20 honours including the world’s best club coach 4 times. An example of how high potentials may not perform in their current role, but excel when given the opportunity. 

Johan Cruyff; The High Performer High Potential: A testament to Ajax football development discussed earlier, Cruyff trained with the club as a youth and debuted professionally with Ajax. His career is regarded as one of the best great footballers turned great manager stories of our time. As a player, he contributed strongly to the success of his club and the national team even winning the most prestigious award in football, the Ballon D’Or, 3 times. As a manager, aside from success in winning football cups, he also pioneered coaching styles and techniques said to be ahead of his time resulting in clubs like Ajax and Barcelona successfully redesigning youth academies. Cruyff is an example of how high performers with high potential can excel despite role expansion. 

High performers stand out from average employees in any organization.

They consistently exceed expectations and are management’s go-to people for difficult projects because they have a track record of getting the job done. They’re great at their job but may not have the potential, or desire, to succeed in a higher-level role or to tackle more advanced work. 

On the other hand, a high-potential employee is harder to identify and is one who has been identified as having the potential, ability, and aspiration to climb to higher-level roles or tackle new and advanced work.

High potentials can be difficult to identify, for two reasons.

First, high performance is easy to observe that it then drowns out the less obvious attributes, behaviours and traits that characterize high potentials–like change management or learning capabilities.

Second, few organizations define the attributes and competencies needed for each different role–which means that managers don’t know precisely what to look for to assess potential.

To overcome this, companies first need to define the parameters they look for in potential that upon assessing can clearly separate high and low potential candidates; whether it be soft skills, leadership capability, communication prowess or any other attributes. 

“When performance is the only criteria employees are evaluated on,” warns Brian Kight, Director of Performance at Focus 3, “high performers will be the only ones moving up–and your high potentials will be moving out”

Criticism of The Peter Principle

While the theory sees many examples to make it evident and the book which sold millions of copies worldwide stayed as a bestseller for 33 weeks, there are many schools of thought and research that critique The Peter Principal.

Some companies believe that to maintain a high calibre workforce which leads to high performing organizations an “up-and-out” strategy made famous by law firms is more suited.

Another is that performance will eventually “regress to a mean” in large organisations despite The Peter Principle being present. 

Whilst there may be some schools of thought that oppose the idea of The Peter Principle, it can’t be denied that it does occur. The potential business impact of The Peter Principle especially in the long run can be detrimental.

Therefore, companies should use the above as a guideline to avoid promoting employees into the point of incompetence. 

Reference

1. https://www.infoprolearning.com/infographic/13-shocking-leadership-development-statistics-infopro-learning/

Are You A Contender Or Just A Pretender Of The Digital Age?

Are You A Contender Or Just A Pretender Of The Digital Age?

Written by Founder & CEO, Sharma Lachu

“I thought productivity is supposed to drop when you work from home, how come we are working a lot more?”

In a catch up with his team lead, one of my colleagues innocently quipped. While we all found it hilarious, it also piqued my curiosity. Are we just lucky at Accendo, that we were mostly born as an organisation in the Digital Native timeframe, or did we build the mindset needed to behave in this way?

That led me to think of organisations that we not born in the digitally native era and how they are progressing in these times.

If nothing else, this pandemic has shown us that people around the world are adaptable, agile and most glaringly – resilient, together. From New York to Florance, China to Australia, people have come together to redefine what the new normal (yes, I am aware this is over-used) is.

How is it, that the COVID-19 pandemic we face today has served as a stimulus to what we perceive as Digitisation. What happened to “We don’t think we need this now” or “This is just nice to have… not essential”. There are even memes going around allotting the credit of digitisation to COVID over that of the CIO or CTO.

How is it, that the COVID-19 pandemic we face today has served as a stimulus to what we perceive as Digitisation.

Tools such as Microsoft teams, G-Suite, Zoom are surely helping the scenario but we are also aware that these tools are mere enablers. What about people’s readiness to execute continuously and to hold the stamina required to be “digitally effective”?

In my humble opinion, just having the tools in place to work “Anywhere, Anytime” is not the true north for a digital workforce. I opine the real true north, in this case, is the decision quality, speed of execution and levels of productivity.

I opine the real true north, in this case, is the decision quality, speed of execution and levels of productivity.

This is the very framework of a digital workforce. When talking about building a digital strategy, I have seen companies spend millions blindly investing in technology without having a real sense of measurement of the Readiness of the people to adopt these new practices. “Create and they will adopt” may work for Apple, Google, and Tesla but unfortunately, most companies do not have the discipline to rigorously hire and groom talent as they do.

“Create and they will adopt” may work for Apple, Google, and Tesla but unfortunately, most companies do not have the discipline to rigorously hire and groom talent as they do.

I keep talking about “Readiness” – why? Because without knowing where you are now, there is no point trying to figure out “How to get to a new place” or “Where this new place is” and this means leaning into data as a true digital business would.

Why are we afraid of our data at work?

In every aspect of our lives today, data plays an important role in deciding what we eat, what music we listen to or even what news we see.

Algorithms have been quietly ruling our lives for over a decade now. Do you think the news you see on Facebook or Google is neutral? Think again. Algorithms go through what we like, what we read, glance over and what we ignore in order to place in front of us news that is aligned to our belief system. This is not me ringing the Zeitgeist alarm; this is just the way algorithms works – the confirmatory bias*.

In every aspect of our lives today, data plays an important role in deciding what we eat, what music we listen to or even what news we see.

On the other hand, when I see how low the bar is set with regards to the data we are willing to share publicly and the lack of trust deficit we have for Social Media, I wonder why people are so willing to “expose” one’s life to companies who then use this data to form opinions of us?

But this very “us” is not willing to do the same when information is asked of us at our workplace. Suddenly, data becomes private. The very same person who will expose all the most intimate moments of their life on social media will not share the most basic info at work.

Why? Where did the trust deficit go?

Then, it struck me. Social Media has always been a form of expression and appreciation. Fake as it may be to some, we want to display a version of ourselves there because we get to control how and what we display and we, to some extend are already aware of the outcome – Likes, Shares, Views – all these leading to a hit of dopamine in our brain which according to Simon Sinek, a study at Harvard proved that 8hours of social media a week is equivalent to the same amount of dopamine a crack addict gets in a shot. We are consuming digital crack.

Unfortunately, when I share data of me at work, it is always used against me. Lesser bonus, no promotion, criticism of my poor performance and on and on. This is why, even after spending tens of millions of dollars on huge HRMS systems, we still cannot seem to get the most basic information right. Josh Bersin in one of his papers put it nicely, “I’ve talked with multiple CHROs who have spent many millions of dollars on replacement core HCM systems, only to find out that the employee experience fell short and required a new layer of software on top.”**

I’ve talked with multiple CHROs who have spent many millions of dollars on replacement core HCM systems, only to find out that the employee experience fell short and required a new layer of software on top.“- Josh Bersin

Why do professional athletes rely on data to make their work better?

I take a lot of inspiration from sports. I always think of myself as a huge amateur sports enthusiast; one who enjoys studying every little detail about it. In studying football, cycling, badminton and many other sports, it had become evident as daylight that they all seem to understand how data can be used to consistently improve their performance – one small step at a time.

In building the case for incremental improvements, Fernando Torres once said in response to an interviewer’s question about how he has become so prolific, that all he does is listen to Rafa Benitez because after looking at some sheets and screens he (Rafa) tells him where to stand and the balls seem to keep coming there and he keeps scoring.

Chris Froome blew up Stage 19 of the Giro D’Italia doing something no one thought was ever possible (if you are interested, please watch this link. It is mind-blowing how science was used to enable the human performance)

Usain Bolt in the run-up to his Olympics World Record used an immense amount of data to better his “off the block” segment of this sprint.

I can keep going with examples where is it the norm (not the exception) to use data to better ones’ self. So why do we not do the same at work? Why do managers punish the “athletes” when there is data? Why not use it to find ways to better the individual and by bettering the individual, you better the team.

I put it to you, that the reason we still do this today is because we are stuck with the old ways of working. One, where the manager has the power and the staff just does what the manager says. I’m sorry, but those days are long gone. The power balance of employment has moved from Employers to Employees. The organisation that will thrive is the organisation that understands how to build “Talent Experiences”. Those that are still determined to hold on to nostalgia may as well prepare to be nostalgia.


We, collectively, spend more time at work than anything else we do in our lives. Is it not incumbent upon the leaders to make sure that the people that work with us are provided with an environment they can thrive in? There is sufficient data to show that when parents go home frustrated from work it increases the likelihood of their kids becoming bullies in school***. As an irresponsible leader, we are contributorily negligent in committing these crimes – vicariously through the kids of our colleagues that we mistreat.

Is it too much to ask that from now, organisations start thinking more like sports teams in knowing that the best use of the data we collect about our people should be used primarily do develop them, re-skill and up-skill them, predict movements so you can help them and understand their best position so they can contribute immensely back to your organisation? 

Reference

*https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fdata.2019.00011/full

**https://oliver-dev.s3.amazonaws.com/2019/01/27/12/54/25/916/Tech_Disruptions.pdf

***https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3519332/

Revelian Partnership

Accendo Expands “Assessment Marketplace” With Revelian

Revelian’s award-winning assessment products now available on Accendo’s TalentPulse Platform

Press release: Kuala Lumpur, Apr 14, 2020: Accendo Technologies, a leading provider of talent assessments and career pathing solutions, announced that it had entered into a partnership with Revelian, an Australian-based company specialising in data-driven human behaviour insights, and now part of Criteria Corp, an LA-based leader in psychometric assessments for recruitment.

A core objective of Accendo’s TalentPulse solution is to make it easy for clients to deal with multiple assessment solutions. Many clients face challenges of working with multiple vendors, who provide their assessment reports in their own unique formats. Internal talent management teams then have to manually collate data from all the sources, and then create a unified report that can then be used for meaningful decision making. The Accendo “assessment marketplace” offers clients the flexibility of choosing solutions that meet their needs, with the benefit of dealing only with one vendor – Accendo – who also combines data from all vendors to provide a single report. Accendo’s platform also includes dashboards to help take decisions around succession planning, employee development and talent acquisition.

Speaking about the partnership, Sharma Lachu CEO & Founder, Accendo Technologies, said that “Revelian’s products are a fantastic addition to our portfolio. Revelian’s interactive, reliable and flexible solutions are trusted by top employers around the world to deliver powerful HR insights. We especially see an increased demand for game-based solutions, and Revelian’s world-class products will not only deliver rich insights to HR teams, but also provide a high degree of engagement for the candidates. We look forward to working with them and delivering even greater value to our customers.”

Cherie Curtis, CEO Revelian shared that “As Revelian continues to expand globally we were eager to identify partners interested in and who actively promote psychometric assessments in their region. Accendo is innovative in their approach to find, engage and retain top performers, so our game-based assessment Cognify, was a natural addition to their suite, offering their clients powerful candidate insights.”

About Accendo

Accendo helps organizations revolutionize how to attract, assess, align, develop and retain top talent, both inside and outside the company. The company’s cloud platform enables organizations to run entire talent journeys that includes conducting assessments, obtaining meaningful insights for strategic decision support, and crafting learning journeys and career paths for individual employees. Accendo is reimagining how talent assessments are used through an impactful combination of data science, intelligent analytics, process efficiency and user experience. Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the company services leading corporates across a wide cross-section of industries, with needs for succession planning, graduate hiring programs, Hi-Po identification, promotions, recruitment and talent optimization.