Choosing a New Supervisor

March 1, 2011 by Wally Bock

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a woman who’s being considered for promotion from individual contributor to supervisor in her company. She contacted me to help her prepare for “the little speech I have to give on leadership.” When I asked about her company’s process, here’s what she told me.

There will be two rounds of interviews by a panel of examiners. In round one, all the people under consideration will be asked the same questions. Those who proceed to round two will be asked to state their “leadership philosophy” and then answer questions from the panel.

I asked about her background and experience. She’s been with her company for more than a decade and received excellent reviews for her work. She’s a designated “mentor,” assigned to help new employees learn their job and their way around the company.

The training department brings her in as an instructor in the knowledge component of her work. As a designated “subject matter expert” she functions as a resource for others. For more than three years, she’s also been assigned as “acting supervisor” to cover for supervisors who are out sick or on vacation, or those on special assignment away from their group.

She sounded like a slam-dunk promotion to me. She’s a top-performing individual contributor and she’s been assigned to work as a mentor, subject matter expert, and acting supervisor. Presumably she performed well in those roles because she’s been doing them for years.

When she told me that her promotion would be based on her performance evaluations and her interviews, I asked about the other experience. She told me it might be covered in the second interview, but the experience itself wouldn’t count.  The company used an “objective scoring system” to decide whom to promote and it didn’t include experience as a mentor, subject matter expert, or acting supervisor.

Can this really be true? My brain shouts, “No!” But my experience whispers “Yes.” Over the years I’ve witnessed too many organizations move people into supervisory jobs based on just about everything except actual experience in the things supervisors must do.

What have you seen? What do you think?

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

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