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tom epley

This response to the comment from Chris Emerson. First, as you know but to emphasize a point, the personnel matrix simply allows one to make difficult personnel decisions more easily and crisply, but clearly doesn't make those decisions easy. Specifically to your specific point, the primary reason individuals wind up in the "still valuables" lower left-hand quadrant is that they were overpromoted to a managerial position when they had neither the experiences nor the inherent skills to be a manager. Determining the inherent or native ability of someone to be a manager, while certainly not simple, also isn't rocket science. Are they emphatic to others, have they proven they can lead by example rather than by authority, do they have a rational mix of judgment and technical skills? If you're unsure, give the candidate a test; assign them to a task where they need to get support from individuals in or outside the organization, individuals that don't report to them. Can they exert constructive influence without authority? Regardless, once in a managerial position, and demonstrating a lack of managerial/leadership skills of at least a minimum level, i would not have much patience. While technical capabilities can be and are learned over time, managerial or leadership skills are much more inherent; not totally of course but much more so. If the individual not performing at a management level doesn't make some serious strides while getting helpful feedback on his/her problems, then go to another option. If he isn't thirsting for feedback and insight into his managerial problems, then go to another option.

I want to repeat a point. The most valid test of an individual's management/leadership skills is whether or not they can accomplish an objective, requiring the help and support of others in the organization, but without strictly defined authoritarian control over those same individuals.

Chris Emerson


Having followed the personnel matrix entries with great interest (they provide a simple but intuitive way to define complex issues), I have a question re. the application of one of the dimensions discussed.

It concerns capability. Based on my experience, I have struggled to make this a binary decision when assessing management ability.

To your point, when assessing someone on technical knowledge/ability (be it in IT, operational management or any other technical skill) the decision is usually fairly straightforward.

However, as a CEO one of the key parameters used to asses your team is their own management capability/ability. People are invariably promoted based on their abilities in their functional area of expertise (IT, finance, etc). Suddenly one day they are asked to become managers. More often than not, it is something for which they are ill prepared and offered inadequate support/training.

Therefore, how to do you categorise someone who is a ‘don’t lose em’ from an attitude and technical capability perspective, but struggles as a manager/leader. While anyone is unlikely to invest time in someone at a senior level that lacks capability in their functional area of expertise, the question of whether to invest time in developing management/leadership capability is less clear cut and often overlooked. How do you weight capability assessment between functional area expertise and management/leadership ability.

tom epley

Your points and two questions are excellent. First an indirect response. the underlying key to the personnel matrix process is separating the two attributes of capability and attitude; ignoring the former while assesing the latter and vice versa, and then having a clear approach based on the resulting positioning within the four quadrants. This process simply makes a typically difficult decision somewhat easier, and therefore faster. Your two specific questions are much broader than the specific subject matter of this particular published entry, but regardless here's my POV:
#1. It is a CEO's or senior executive's responsibility to discern between emotional vs. logic based decisions, and to see through a recommendation to its underlying core. Normal techniques of asking a few penetrating questions, understanding the track record of the person, attempting to determine issues that could have influenced a recommendation, talking directly to those who provided inputs to this individual for verification, etc., are part of the arsenal. The final determination of actions to be taken given a particular individual still comes down to attitude, and separately, capability. If you see a person repeatedly tainting recommendations to suit an emotional need, there are issues of both capability and attitude. With further regard to this, an invaluable technique will be described in G.Decision Making in the Real World, and a sub-topic of Going Deep, to be published in 3Q.
2. this question is more from the point of view of an upcoming employee than a decision of the CEO, obviously, but the same concepts apply only in reverse. This person needs to express and present himself well on both fronts, attitude and capability. He/she should think through their presentations, recommendations, and ideas in both lights. Assuming the capability is existant via the nature of your question, you can still lose out. You can be "right" but express youself with a poor attitude such as combativeness, indifference, out for yourself, not a team player, disdain for your manager, only interested in your own promotion, etc., and lose out. This person, again, needs to think through his positioning within the organization specifically on the attitude scale.

Nicholas Vakkur

The sound advice provided above seems very logical, accurate, and informative. However, one potential difficulty may be in terms of implementation. The above list seems to assume a high degree of rational behavior, enabling straightforward calculations and decision making.

For instance, the first admonition: "Grade everyone according to capability and attitude..." makes complete sense. But how do you actually do it? In my own experiences in dealing with organizations and executives, rarely have I come across a CEO/President that I might consider truly objective. In another words, the CEO, like all human beings, is driven by self-interest. As a result, he (or she) selects junior officers based upon their ability to help maintain his own tenure as leader. Perhaps in larger, public firms this is not as common. However, in my (limited) experiences, it has been more or less the rule, rather than the exception. Therefore, it is possible that the review process may be tainted by 'agency' problems in which the firm and the CEO have different objectives. I realize this may call attention to the underbelly of the organization, rather than to its public face, but to the degree that managers are immersed in similar issues, it can be very confusing and difficult to know precisely how to proceed. It also raises several questions:

1. How can a CEO, or a senior executive, avoid these problems, when human beings function as much, if not more, on emotion versus logic (e.g. inferring it may be all to easy to make self-interested decisions emotionally and then later justify them using logical rhetoric).
2. How can employees who are perhaps more competent than those considered to be 'fast track' by the CEO, yet who are not politcial insiders, ensure that their ability and contribution are recognized?

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