What Does March Madness Tell us About Leadership Promotions?

Guest post by DDI’s Bradford Thomas:

Being from Kentucky—where we have no professional sports teams—March Madness rises to a whole different level.  It’s our Super Bowl, our World Series and our Stanley Cup. Don’t believe me?  Check out this blog on ESPN.

The annual NCAA Basketball Bracket pool turns everyone into water cooler prognosticators.  Annual bragging rights in the office pool centers on your ability to amass a lot of points by picking the early round upsets.  For those novices reading this blog, it means picking lower skilled teams (10-16 seeds) over much more talented teams (1-4 seeds).  

Now we all know that the odds heavily favor those highly-talented teams, but there are typically a few major upsets each year—including this year where two #2 seeds (Duke and Missouri) fell to #15 seeds for only the sixth time in 20 years.

But does this phenomenon occur in the business world?  You bet your college mascot it does.  Every day companies are making decisions about which individuals to promote on a system similar to the NCAA seeding process:  the odds are heavily weighted to those individuals deemed to be the most talented with talent typically being defined as possessing the best technical skills.  If performance on the job is the equivalent to moving to the next round in the NCAA tournament, you  expect to see the top individual contributors to win.  However, as with March Madness, some lower seeds actually do better.

In last year’s Finding the First Rung study, we asked frontline leaders how they got their job.  We took a look at how frontline leader assessment participants answered this question.  It probably isn’t surprising that a significant chunk of managers said that they were promoted because of their “technical expertise.”  What may be surprising—like Duke losing to Lehigh—is that those managers promoted because of their technical expertise were more likely to have development needs than all other promotion reasons in 6 of the 9 Manager Ready competencies (see table).  Some competencies—like Guiding Interactions—were not even close.

If you were armed with this information prior filling out your promotion brackets—would you continue to automatically promote the technical experts? 

Bradford Thomas, is a product manager with Development Dimensions International (DDI). Brad has more than 18 years of business development, consultative sales, and marketing experience. He is the co-author of six research studies on leadership readiness and sales talent management. Brad has been published in the SmartBrief on Leadership, Workforce magazine’s “Dear Workforce” and DDI’s blog Talent Management Intelligence. Contact him at brad.thomas@ddiworld.com.