Magazine article Ivey Business Journal Online

Don't Be Mad about Promoting Mad Men (or Women)

Magazine article Ivey Business Journal Online

Don't Be Mad about Promoting Mad Men (or Women)

Article excerpt

The expression "those who can't do, teach" is well known for good reason. But many business leaders nevertheless assume that top-performing employees are automatically good at managing and teaching their skills to others. The consequences of this assumption can be troubling, especially in today's advertising business.

It's perfectly understandable - even desirable - to want to reward exceptional workers, but owners and managers often believe that the only way they can reward employees is by promoting them to supervisory roles. This is not only not true, it is dangerous thinking.

Simply put, leadership requires a completely different skill set than most people use in performance positions. As a result, employees who perform the best aren't automatically good at training or supervising other people in their areas. Indeed, without training, mentoring and ongoing coaching, the practice of rewarding top performers with leadership roles rarely has a happy ending.

Keep in mind that promotions typically remove employees from jobs at which they thrived, while exposing the entire company to their hidden shortcomings. Someone whose strength is putting clients at ease might not be assertive enough to lead a team. Promoting this person, meanwhile, risks creating a void in client relations that others can't fill. A poorly executed promotion also tends to drive talent away. After all, when skilled people aren't successful in new positions, they don't typically want to stick around.

The above is true for all industries. But today's marketing environment makes it especially treacherous to move ad agency people around without solid planning. It has always taken time for agency employees to master their craft. But the rise of tech- and data-driven strategies is constantly adding new levels of complexity to our work. These complexities have further heightened high expectations from clients, who want seasoned professionals with a deep understanding of their industry working on their accounts like never before. And so when you finally have an employee firing on all cylinders for your agency, it can be a big mistake putting them in new roles.

In theory, great leaders don't have to know how to do what their subordinates do. The job is to motivate, teach and encourage others to get the job done well, on time and on budget. …

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