Companies making huge investments in developing their "high potential" employees also need to invest in helping those top performers keep from drowning in their own wakes. A recent Personnel Decisions International evaluation of 500 mid-level managers found that 27 percent of leaders who are viewed as high potential employees also have a high risk of demotion, dismissal, or performing below expectations. (The complete study is available from PDI as a free white paper.)
While quantum-leap opportunities can keep a top performer engaged, if the manager/wanna-be executive is not prepared for the distinct challenges that come with greater responsibility, difficulty and possibly derailment can be expected. Fast-tracking high-potential employees is another version of the scenario that has played in business development groups for decades--a top performing sales person is promoted to sales manager where the individual stumbles, struggles, and eventually fails. From sales to finance to technology to marketing the technical and tactical strengths that get you recognized and promoted are not the skills that will make you successful as a senior leader. New executives often don't realize that the independence that got them to a senior role will destroy them once they arrive.
As the Steven Roth Professor of Management at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, Sydney Finkelstein has conducted one of the most extensive research efforts into corporate mistakes and failures. His insights are captured in his book titled, Why Smart Executives Fail. Finkelstein says that one of the most prevalent warning signs of executive failure is success and the arrogance that often accompanies it.
Outstanding results in one role won't equate to great performance in a more senior leadership position unless the individual is equipped with the interpersonal skills needed to interface with, lead, and relate to diverse groups of people. "It is important to remember that corporate mistakes are about people," says Dr. Finkelstein.
A successful marketing executive was hired by a world-renowned organization and she quickly set out to accomplish the aggressive agenda placed before her. She successfully achieved what she was hired to do, but she did it without building a network of relationships with those she led and with other departments in the organization. As soon as she completed the initiative, the executive's employment was terminated. Tactical strength resulted in strategic failure.
There are at least 135 very talented, high-potential managers currently on a course toward derailment. How many of them are in your organization?