Do You Value Seniority More Than Performance? Don’t Fall Into The Tenure Trap
I stopped by a coffee shop recently and while I was waiting for my cup of coffee I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation that was happening at one of the small tables near me. One of the men there was complaining rather loudly about how someone else on his team had just gotten a promotion, even though he had been at the company much longer than the other person. He was pretty disgruntled and went on to list the reasons why he should have received the promotion. The list included, well, that he had been there longer, along with some things he didn’t like about the guy who got the job. I run into this quite a bit when I work with organizations that have never made a choice about whether they value tenure or performance more highly. It is important that you define what matters most in your business so that everyone on the team understands the guidelines and they become part of your expectations and your culture.
Hopefully, the people who have been around the longest in your organization are also some of the best performers. In many businesses though, there are individuals who take a different view and believe that as long as they have paid their dues by showing up for several years, they can relax a little bit and let some of the new people pick up the slack. I’ve always found a little humor in the metaphor “I paid my dues” because I have never come across any kind of dues that weren’t recurring. Dues are not a one-time thing. They, like performance, need to happen on a regular basis if you want the privileges associated with them. There are certainly organizations out there that have lots of tenure, and only mediocre performance.
Not getting fired is not ground for promotion!
Simply managing not to get fired, is not grounds for a promotion. I have known some amazing people who have put in a tremendous amount of time, energy and passion into building something, doing their job well, teaching others and frankly, they deserve some rewards for what they have accomplished. And I hope that they received them along the way. Their managers, peers, and others in the organization should have thanked them, let them know how much of a difference they made, and looked for opportunities to help them if there was a need. They should be compensated well, rewarded when their performance warrants it and given opportunities to grow, thrive and reach their full potential. That’s what should happen when people perform well. But there is a stark contrast between just showing up and adding real value to the organization and we need to differentiate when we reward and invest in our people.
Should people that have been around a while be given a fair shot and the support they need to step up and perform more effectively? Yes, everyone should. They may even get a little longer to right the ship if they are struggling or have burnt out a bit on the job. They certainly deserve more of our help as leaders so that they can get back on track. But we have to be very careful about what we value in our organization. If it is possible for someone to simply hang around longer and therefore get a promotion or a reward for longevity and nothing more, you can bet that the newer people in the business will quickly decide that doing enough to get by is the most efficient way to succeed in this culture.
The conversation in the coffee shop shifted as I was picking up my beverage. They had moved to sports as a topic and the guy who was complaining about not getting the promotion was talking about an NFL quarterback who had been placed on the practice squad for one of the football teams. He was explaining how that would be the best job on the team because you make a league minimum salary of a couple hundred thousand a year and you don’t have to work as hard or get hit at game speed. I couldn’t help but think that if you were to interview this quarterback, I doubt he would have been so happy about the demotion. He had probably worked for something bigger and better in his eyes. I’m sure the only way you ever make a practice squad in the NFL is by striving to be a starter, not by looking for an easy job that pays well.
Performers get rewarded by showing up every day and doing their best and receiving all that comes with that kind of approach. But the showing up part by itself should never be a reason for a promotion. We all have periods where we miss the mark, don’t feel like it, and simply choose to do less. But we can’t expect to be rewarded for that, no matter what we did yesterday.
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