Blog Post

Hiring Teams: Stop Selling Management and Start Selling Growth

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This article was originally published on, under Jeff Miller's Forbes Human Resources Council column.

You've finally found the ideal candidate. She has the required three to five years of experience. She has the expertise in technology that your team needs. And she's a hard worker — she got her MBA at night while working full time at her last company. Now you need to convince her to join your organization, so you tell her about the amazing benefits and the cold brew machine in the kitchen. And then, if you're like many hiring managers, you tell her some version of the following: If you do well here, you'll get promoted to a management role in less than a year.

Selling the prospect of management is a common tactic hiring teams use to compete for top talent. But, in my experience, it's a shortcut to making the hire over finding the best fit — and doing it can often be more harmful than helpful to both the employer and the candidate.

When opportunities presented in an interview don't materialize, employees quit. Data from Glassdoor shows that title stagnation is one of the top reasons employees leave companies. In other cases — perhaps in an effort to make good on the recruiting promise — employees are promoted to manager roles before they're ready. In fact, Gallup research shows companies name the wrong person to a manager role 82% of the time.

Instead of overselling management when recruiting and onboarding talent, hiring teams should focus on selling growth.

Move Away From Management And Toward Learning And Development

I find a lot of young people who interview with us are particularly eager to move into management roles as soon as possible — or at least achieve a promotion. But I think what they mean in the limited business language they may have is, "I need recognition for the work I'm doing, and I want to keep improving." Ultimately, what I think they're asking for is growth. In a coaching session recently, I spoke with an employee about whether or not she wanted to be considered for a management position. She told me, "I just want to keep learning and growing."

I find that's true of most employees and applicants. In one survey, 78% of respondents reported a clear career path would compel them to stay longer with an organization. For that reason, it makes sense that HR feels obligated to have a talk track about promotions to management to make sure they don't lose out on the candidates they like.

But not everyone is meant for a management role — and management should not be the only way to grow at a company. Instead, companies should sell learning and development opportunities. Rather than saying, "Take the position, and we'll promote you," tell candidates, "Here are all the ways that you can grow here," or "Here are the training courses and mentoring programs that you won't find anywhere else."

Don't Box New Hires Into Management Tracks

Growth opportunities don't have to be synonymous with management opportunities either. Everyone wants to grow, but not everyone wants to be a manager. For example, I recently worked with a developer when he was first promoted to a management role. We met for regular coaching sessions, and after a few meetings I asked, "Do you even want to manage people?" His response was no. He told me he was in management because he was asked to be, and it had seemed like the next logical step in his career.

For almost a decade now, we've been hearing that the career ladder is dead — that it's a lattice employees can climb in different directions. But this example shows that employees still have the misunderstanding that management is the only path to growth. Selling a management position in the interview only aggravates that misunderstanding, and it can silo a star employee (like this developer) into a career path that he or she might not be the best fit for.

Be Transparent About Management

Addressing a candidate's assumptions about management starts with building transparency in the interview. I think companies are afraid to say, "We only promote a small number of people every year into management positions." Understandably so, because it puts you at risk to lose strong candidates. But rather than promising a management position, focus the management conversation with prospective employees around what management means at your company. Talk to them about the fact that influence doesn't necessarily come from title, but instead it comes from repeated success over time resulting in trusting working relationships. Speak frankly about the expectations and responsibilities, and ask candidates interested in management why they want to move into that role.

If it seems like the candidate might be a great fit for a management position right away or down the line, that's wonderful, but resist selling the position. Instead, sell the learning and development. Tell candidates, "If you want to move into a management role, we will train you and make sure that you are prepared." This will reassure candidates that your company is invested in their growth and success — without making promises you can't (or shouldn't) keep.

Photo: Creative Commons

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The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance

With the economy now on steadier ground, most organizations have returned to administering a merit budget to the pre-recession levels of 3 to 3.5%. In the years immediately following the economic downturn, many merit budgets were eliminated entirely or were reduced significantly and reserved for a select segment of the employee population. Pay for performance has become a necessity for many organizations that are expected to accomplish more with fewer resources. I often get asked: "How can I truly award my top performers with such a limited budget? Should I do so at the expense of my ’Meets Expectations’ performers? What if I need to retain my ’Meets Expectations’ performers and giving them 0% to 2% increase puts me at great risk for turnover? But if I don’t recognize my top performers, don’t I risk losing them...?" These are difficult questions to answer, however you can determine the best solution for your organization by considering the following: Are your employees paid at market pay levels? Is your organization’s performance management process mature? Does your organization have other compensation programs in place to reward top performers (e.g. variable pay)? Market Pay If turnover is a concern, and your organization needs to maintain ’bench strength’ in order to achieve its strategic objectives, your biggest priority should be to ensure that you are paying your employees at market pay levels. Why? Historically, as the labor market strengthens, organizations become vulnerable in terms of losing people. Hiring and onboarding replacement talent is not only costly to the organization, but can also cause dissension among existing employees since new hires may be getting paid more. Be sure to stay abreast of market pay levels and trends, and use the merit budget to correct disparities. Performance Management Process Organizations vary significantly in terms of the maturity of their performance management process. Closely examine your organization’s process and look for ways to improve it. If there is a perception that one management team is an ’easier grader’ than the others, the process is inherently flawed and any pay for performance program will not be viewed as credible and fair by employees. A good place to start is to get a calibration process in place and communicate broad guidelines on expected distribution ratings. Variable Pay Programs Variable pay programs (e.g. bonuses) have become increasingly more popular across all industries and career levels. These programs provide the opportunity for employees to share in the organization’s success while not adding to fixed payroll costs. Some plans have an individual performance component which can be a very effective means to recognize top performers. However, in order for this type of program to be successful, individual goals and targets must be well documented and communicated. Again, this is largely based on the maturity of the organization’s performance management process which takes time to evolve. What are the best steps to avoid wreaking havoc on your pay for performance process? First ensure your pay levels are keeping pace with the market Continue to evolve your performance programs with calibration among managers and a rigorous goal setting process Promote variable pay plans to reward high performers without adding to fixed pay roll costs It’s not always an easy journey but, in the end, it’s best to use a measured approach that is based on business needs and a realistic assessment of your current programs and processes.

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