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Internal promotion: Meritocracy or potential?


Opinion article by José Luis Marcó:

Partner of Seeliger y Conde since 2005. He has been Member of the Executive Board of Amrop, responsible for the Financial and Legal areas and Financial Director of R.C.D. Espanyol de Barcelona.

Who can imagine driving a car, at full speed, looking in the rearview mirror? The most normal thing would be to suffer a mishap.

One day, the President of a major retail chain, the retail told me; “Whenever I have to promote someone to store manager, I choose the best salesperson, and in a very high percentage of cases, it turns out that I’ve taken out an excellent salesman and turned him into a mediocre store manager”.

Indeed, past success in a given position does not guarantee that success will be replicated in a different challenge, where the soft skills required have often changed. Internal promotion based on meritocracy is likely to be perceived as the fairest, but it is also the riskiest, and we may place the person we want to thank for the services rendered, his good work and past productivity, in a very difficult situation, in which he will suffer, and eventually be forced to leave the company in the not too distant future. It is therefore potentially very bad for the individual, and obviously worse for the company.

I introduce here a flash phrase that is related to the same concept:

“You hire a manager because of what they know and end up firing them because of who they are.”

It refers to the importance of BEING over KNOWING as we advance and move up in an organization.

If we break down talent, we can see that it is made up of the following concepts;

At the top, the most perceptible to the naked eye: knowledge and experience, which on the other hand are translated into measurable results, which we call “performance” and which we would place on the X-axis of the nine-box matrix.

But let us observe in the graph how, below these two variables, the most important part emerges like an iceberg, the soft-skills (the BEING of people), made up of competencies, attitudes and values.

These factors have been the most difficult to measure to date, but they are the ones that shape and influence to a greater extent the potential to take on new and higher challenges in organizations.

In fact, HR departments in large companies have been abandoning the nine-box matrix precisely because of the difficulty of measuring and therefore objectifying the Y-axis on which potential should be reflected. How can we do it?

The response to the President’s concern about the retail is that we should be able to measure and objectively place on that Y axis of the matrix nine boxes the potentialwhich is nothing more than the ability to BE as one should be in the new position that someone aspires to in an internal promotion, in this case “the necessary being” to become a good store manager, and that will clearly differ from the soft-skills that define a good salesperson.

Measuring potential

How many stores does the retail chain have? And of these, which are best managed by their respective directors? Let’s take that group of good store managers who achieve those good results, and analyze their profile, their set of competencies, attitudes and values that make them good at it. With data analytics we can extract the reference profile of this group of successful managers. If we place it in contrast to all the other vendors we can easily determine the percentage of matching The percentage that each of them has with that reference profile, and we will then say that this percentage corresponds to their true potential to assume the new position, the associated responsibilities and the capacity or potential to successfully undertake them.

We now have the exact size of the Y-axis of the matrix, and we can place all eligible employees in it, looking at the upper right corner to make the best decision for the benefit of both the company and the employees.

It is the best way to promote internally by looking at both meritocracy (performance) and potential, thus driving our car with an eye to the front.

Additional thoughts for those who want to develop their career.

If you are offered a promotion in your company, make sure that your soft-skills profile (competencies, attitudes and values) has a high percentage of matching with those that are expected for the position to which you aspire.

If the result of the analysis shows that you have mismatches with respect to the necessary profile, having the information can allow you to accept the challenge, yes, but having very clear, from day one, where you should put focus and development to adapt your profile to that necessary to be successful in the new challenge. Otherwise, you may go from being an excellent professional in your current role to mediocrity in the future position, even being able to hear tomorrow that you have been “brought to your level of incompetence”. You will then begin to feel the pressure and discomfort, you will feel that you are not in control of the situation and you may derail a career that, if you had managed more prudently, would continue to grow much more solidly.

Stand in front of the mirror, get to know your competency profile, ask for feedback and learn how to develop your BE as a professional, and only then, keep moving towards sustainable and growing success.