Moving up the ladder in most companies — getting the bigger bucks, the corner office, and so on — is usually synonymous with moving into management. But bestowing a management job on a great employee as a reward carries with it obvious problems: there’s no particular reason a great salesperson or software engineer, for example, knows how to manage, or even has a capacity to learn the required skills.
There’s a name for this phenomenon, of course: The Peter Principle. It was the primary theme running through Laurence J. Peter 1969 bestseller The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. The idea is simple and devastating: “Everyone rises to his level of incompetence.”
Sanjena Sathian, writing for OZY, spoke with Anat Lechner of the NYU Stern Business School. Many, if not most, professional careers require a certification of some sort. But what about newly minted bosses? Lechner notes that managers who “control, very often, many resources — and can influence pretty much everybody in society, directly and indirectly — don’t.” The possible damage to a company can be profound since “one bad manager can ruin the lives of pretty much everybody underneath them.”
How would you feel about needing to acquire such a certification? Not only would a certificate separate qualified people from the disasters-in-the-making, but the process of qualifying could help someone anticipating a move into management find out the areas where they need work, and master them before they become a problem.
Management training could take a few different forms. A certification is just one idea. Potential managers could be also brought up to speed by skill development built into the workday, via shadowing or instruction. At the end, the employee’s skills could be assessed through testing or other means.
There’s no agreed-upon set of skills a manager needs at this point, so at least for now, the form management testing and certification would take would have to be on a company-by-company basis.
Still, some skills are pretty universally required. Sathian asked Derek Sidebottom, president of Farside HR, about the skills anyone being considered for management should have:
- General Knowledge — Do you know yourself?
- The LSAT All Over Again — Can you handle this legal fireball? Better ace these case studies.
- The King’s Speech — How do you work the big room? The small room?
- Shrinks and Coaching — Eep! You just became responsible for someone else. How are you gonna teach them all you know?
- Follow the Money — You should probably be able to handle, well, basic finances. Not exactly a CPA test but think a shrunken version of that.
- Stand-Up — You’d better be funny.
As long as companies use promotions into management as a reward for their best employees, we’re going to be battling the Peter Principle. Advancing from the trenches to the front office is certainly a goal to which many can relate, and it does make sense to promote from within where you can. Maybe management training and certification are just the things we need to ensure an employee’s win is also the company’s.
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