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Commentary: As more managers resign, will we see a ‘Great Promotion Wave’?

There’s so much flux in organisations as supervisors also quit in larger numbers since the pandemic hit. Could this mean it is time to look at those who have been passed over for promotions? Mayank Parekh gives his take.

Commentary: As more managers resign, will we see a ‘Great Promotion Wave’?

Looking beyond the star performers at workplace can give others a chance to learn new skills. (Photo: iStock)

SINGAPORE: Resignations are picking up pace since the pandemic begun.

Competition for talent is increasing and shows little sign of easing. Closed borders and market dynamics for many occupations especially in the infocomm and technology sector have shifted towards the jobseeker.

Indeed, a worldwide employment website found that job postings in Singapore in August were up by 55.7 per cent from pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.

As the economic recovery continues, skill shortages will be exacerbated across a much wider range of occupations.

A CHANCE FOR WORKERS TO ASSUME MORE SENIOR ROLES

In the short term, the mismatch between demand and supply in the labour market will likely mean higher staff turnover for businesses and more opportunities for workers to switch jobs.

What about managers? Anecdotally, I am hearing of higher-than-normal resignation rates for supervisors too – and more cases of middle managers suffering from burnout, with the prolonged pandemic travel restrictions for EP and S-Pass holders straining manpower.

Although a low resignation rate in a company relative to the industry average was an indicator of good employee engagement in pre-coronavirus times, they may be less the case today.

On the other hand, high resignation rates can both reflect and signal low staff morale. They are also costly to the firm because they need to devote resources to settle in new employees.

RENEWING TALENT

Staff turnover can be an opportunity – it can bring in new ideas and fresh perspectives. The pandemic has unleashed a huge demand for digital skills as all businesses had to shift online.

But the big tradeoff is losing staff who have valuable institutional memory and the downtime needed for training and settling people in.

What firms can do is look inward – in recognising and promoting internal existing talent, giving them the chance to step into a managerial role if a position opens up.

In my experience however, many of our local HR policies tend to be overly focused on the top performers. Practices such as the “bell curve distribution”, “forced-ranking”, “9-box grid” (a commonly used talent management and succession planning tool) are geared towards identifying the top 10 to 15 per cent of employees rather than nurturing average performers to achieve their best.  

One manager recounted an incident to me where he was chastised for recommending a middle-band performance grader for promotion. I am sure we have all been in appraisal sessions with similar stories. But what if we saw “average workers” differently?

Retaining a “solid” ensemble is just as essential to business success as keeping individual “star” performers happy.

The broad middle of workers are the pillars of strength in your organisation. They plug away quietly but no less competently – except they don’t demand fanfare and recognition. They keep the engine of the company running.

In my experience, the “average worker” can end up feeling undervalued or unappreciated for their contributions.

Some go job-hunting because they want new challenges, see a lack of career progression in their current role, or have issues with the management style or culture in their current company. Many also believe they simply need to be given a chance to develop their leadership skills.

Listen to HR experts explain what’s behind worker unhappiness despite greater attention on workplace well-being and what managers should do on CNA's Heart of the Matter podcast:

DOES THIS MEAN WE EMBRACE MEDIOCRITY?

But how do you know if someone is ready to step up to the plate of a managerial position?

A recent article in Harvard Business Review by Rod Friedman, an award-winning psychologist suggests that “creating a high-performing workplace takes more than simply hiring the right people and arming them with the right tools to do their work. It requires creating opportunities for genuine, authentic relationships to develop”.

This means companies must expand the definition of performance beyond the usual metrics of meeting hard measure KPIs such as sales targets.

They should fold in new competencies to assess staff who have weathered these abnormal times – for instance, were they willing to adapt quickly by learning new skills or processes? Did they show innovation, teamwork? Did service delivery and stakeholder management improve despite challenges?

The question is, how to you quantify these intangibles?

Increasingly, organisations are turning to the use of Organisational Network Analytics (ONA). By examining the strength, frequency and nature of interactions between people in networks through the use of email, calendar and phone metadata, ONA provides detailed information about such as flow of information, decision-making, revenue producing collaborations, innovation, inclusion—even trust, purpose and energy.

Global companies like Google, Unilever, Microsoft use ONA tools to see how teams and networks within an organisation collaborate and behave, and how work gets done daily.

In an ordinary organisational chart, you may not be able to tell that a mid-level staff was critical in ensuring sales reports were sent out on time or that customer complaints were dealt without supervision but resolved quickly and amicably.

On the other hand, it could highlight how a senior person was peripheral to day-to-day operations or that one part of the company was isolated from another when it came to information flow.

Managers on their part can also know where attrition will put the business at greatest risk of losing knowledge and connections. Or which mid-level manager is critical to information flow between a department and the rest of the organisation and work on rewarding or promoting them.

People wearing protective face masks cross the road at Pickering Street in Singapore on Sep 6, 2021. (File photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Although currently used predominantly at global companies, the relatively inexpensive tools, digitisation of company-wide processes and growing demand for people analytics skills in HR, suggests that ONA is likely to be a near-term reality.

EMPOWERING MID-LEVEL WORKERS

Using a competency approach helps define key skills expected of a job from basic to proficient to mastery and empowers mid-to-low level workers to improve relevant skills in a specific set of tasks such as customer issue resolution to press ahead of top performers.

Skills instead of seniority or educational profile as a promotion criteria helps to level the playing field among workers of different backgrounds. It can also help workers realise how much they have and can go beyond being a cog in the so-called wheel.

Every company needs “stars” and they should be well rewarded for their talents. But there are “hidden gems” littered in the ranks. In the face of this resignation wave, leaders must confront the issue of how to broaden talent identification beyond just the high achievers.

A caveat is that not everyone will want a managerial role even if they are cut out for it.

From the ashes of this Great Resignation Wave, some may stand out and eventually become higher performers, but bosses should also keep in mind others just as competent who don’t want more responsibility at work and choose to remain under the radar.

Mayank Parekh is the CEO of the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) which aims to professionalise and strengthen the HR practice in Singapore.

Source: CNA/cr

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