fostering a community of people interested in exploring strengths
Lately, some of our Strengths Campus blogs have been touching on a subject that I’ve felt strongly about for years. Last week’s “2 x 4” column started it off with a discussion of how to “value world-class performance in every role.” Tracy Hutton picked up the baton by sharing some of her experiences as an HR leader, trying to make the case that great performance should be rewarded on the spot and not necessarily shoved up a promotional ladder that may end up feeling more like a punishment for the employee. I’m adding my voice to the chorus.
The idea that you reward someone for outstanding performance by promoting her, thereby taking her out of the very role in which she excelled, has always struck me as absurd. Clearly, this is not a new observation on my part. It's been over 40 years since The Peter Principle rather famously took a stand against mindless promotion up the corporate ladder. Still, it seems for the most part that we haven’t found a better way. If only we could have a world where people were rewarded for doing what they do well, without having to change jobs.
Actually, I can think of a few industries that follow that simple reward scheme. Pro sports and the entertainment business come to mind. Imagine if, instead of their current practices, Hollywood and professional sports teams worked like the corporate world does.
“Sorry, Peyton, you're a great quarterback... but we can't pay you more than your coach is making. It wouldn't look right.”
“Sure, we're happy you won the Oscar, Ms. Bullock, but people with your experience level just don't make that kind of money.”
“Those are lovely children's stories, Ms. Rowling, and we'd love to pay you more, but your editor does have seniority over you.”
“You have a fantastic voice, Mr. McCartney. I don’t want to promise anything, but if you play your cards right, you may be a band manager one day.”
Absurd, right? I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the quintessential “dream jobs” are precisely those jobs in which you can be rewarded handsomely for doing what you love and not managing what you love. Sure, people dream of being movie stars or rock stars or pro athletes or novelists because of the fame and the riches you can earn. And because it seems like getting paid to play all day. But I wonder if it isn't also because we know that if we excel in those roles, we'll get to keep doing more of them, instead of less.
All of this is not, by the way, to devalue great managers. I think that excellence at managing people is no less important a contribution than excellence in leadership, or in dealing with the nuts and bolts of the job. But I do think — to restate the obvious once again — that being good at working with the nuts and bolts doesn’t necessarily correlate strongly to being good at managing the nuts and bolts workers. I’d love it if we learned to value both in their own ways.