feedback and reviews, information flow, leadership, recruitment

Do decision-makers have the right information to promote?

We’ve got a big interest in information flows within organisations, but here, we want to talk specifically about whether decision-makers have the right information to avoid bear-traps that seem obvious in retrospect and promote wisely without fostering a culture of gossip.

What can go wrong?

We’ve all seen dramatic headlines. Variations of: “Allegations emerge about new boss of XX…”. And whenever they come out, insiders will tell you that there were always whispers. These are examples of how information existed but didn’t get into the rights hands. Open secrets make it less likely that someone will raise something formally and harder for you to fix a problem. So how do you make sure that your organisation can avoid blindly promoting someone whose problematic behaviour might, at best, make work-life miserable for those around them?

Sometimes, a poor manager or leader will affect their team’s performance so badly that it will be blatantly obvious in objective metrics. Maybe a sales team is now underperforming but had done well under someone else? Or maybe the top performer in a team is now begging for a transfer to a less prestigious post? These are key signs.

But that sort of information doesn’t always get picked up and can be easily dismissed. And it’s very common for someone’s superiors to have a different view of them than their direct reports (or others below them).

Ideally, organisations will foster a culture of managers and leaders proactively seeking feedback, treating it with respect, and acting on it. And information about what’s going on for a manager’s team can also percolate up through building strong skip-level relationships. But how do you build that information into decisions to promote, while ensuring a fair competitive process?

Some steps you can take

  1. If your organisation doesn’t already have a culture of skip-level meetings and 360s, or other feedback mechanisms, start them now! (You can always contact us now and we can help.)
  2. If you’re recruiting externally, as is common for senior executive searches, make sure you have a recruiter who knows how to investigate background effectively.
  3. Get different perspectives. Try to avoid asking for references or feedback from people who know each other, share lots of characteristics, or might otherwise be giving you the same take. Seek information from sources you wouldn’t normally consider.
  4. Don’t assume that everyone will be forthcoming in, for example, standard staff surveys about management and leadership, or generic 360 calls for feedback. If you need to know something specific, ask.
  5. Encourage staff to communicate information in the right way. It’s normal to blow off steam, and teams might complain together now and again. But you want information coming to someone who can take action if needed, not pooling where it can’t help anyone.
  6. Consider trial periods in significant roles, especially if there are doubts about whether someone has the competences and skills you need. Remember that interviewing is one of the worst ways to recruit; it just happens to be cheap and easy!

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