Solution Saturday: Dangling Carrots
Mary, (Fictitious name), was offered the opportunity to earn a seat at the corporate table. A current team member plans to step down in two or three years.
She assumed new responsibilities, while still fulfilling her current role.
Mary loves opportunities. But, it’s been several months and Mary is frustrated.
How to make dangling carrots work:
Fit in before making changes. You’ve been saying, “If I was in charge, I would ….” Don’t disrupt while you’re in limbo.
Make things work before making things better.
It’s not likely you’ve been charged to change things if the current leader still sits at the table.
Set a date for the go or no-go decision.
Establish progress meetings. You need more feedback at the beginning of a process than any other time. You might suggest brief monthly meetings with two or three core leaders for the first six months, quarterly after. Have the same agenda:
- What’s working?
- What could be better?
- What’s important?
Successful progress reports focus on observable behaviors and tangible results. Avoid ambiguity.
Hire a coach, even if you have to pay out of your own pocket. You need someone on your team who doesn’t have a personal agenda.
Get permission to attend meetings your predecessor attends. (Attend some, not all.)
Don’t pressure people to tell you if you earned the position, but set milestones for the decision. Perhaps every six months, have a conversation that answers:
- How are we moving in the right direction?
- What do you see that suggests this might not work?
- What’s important over the next six months?
Expect to move on, if you don’t earn the new role. It’s possible you could stay, but it’s easier to go.
What personal behaviors and qualities are important during dangling carrot opportunities?
What structures are important to help navigate dangling carrot opportunities?
Fit in before making changes is a difficult lesson to learn. I’ve almost learned it now.
I know what you mean Steven. I hate fitting in. I want to do things MY way.
2 or 3 years? That’s not a carrot. The people who made that promise may not even be there in 3 years. They just want her to not quit in a year or so and create a really big hole with 2 people leaving. So maybe they will consider her when the role opens up: along with 200 other people, as well they should. If they were serious they could create a Deputy role and let her pick up at least some responsibilities.
Yeah, that does seem like a long time frame. Though I did hear rumors later that Jobs had been grooming Tim Cook for more than a year.
Thanks Douglas. You bring up the concern of, do you think she’s qualified or not? If she’s qualified, why the long time-frame? If she’s not qualified, why are we having this conversation?
When Steve Bennet became the CEO at Symantec he said he would be taking at least 90 days to travel and get to know the various teams before he did anything big.
However, if the ship is sinking you’ll need to get strong buy in from the board and communicate clearly to the people on the front lines that despite it seeming to be a time for quick action, you don’t want the action to be rash and likely result in taking on water even faster.
Thanks James. Yes. The situation has a huge impact on decisions and practices. Good call.
The board may also give mandates that have a big impact on the process.
Mary surely needs to understand the position as it is as well as how it’s represented in the job description – getting clarification from the position’s leader, not the current holder. What exactly happens during the 2-3 years depends upon the organization’s way of doing things. IT SHOULD BE GOOD FOR ALL INVOLVED! To me, if it’s expected to continue the current approach with just a change of personnel, see you… If there’s no opportunity to share opinions and/or be kept informed of progress to taking over every few months, thanks but no thanks!!!
Thanks John. I’m seeing some great feedback on the idea of fitting in vs. changing things.
We do need to bring ourselves to new challenges. We also need to build relationships – fit in – in order to make changes.
I think the challenge of learning a job while the person you are replacing still has the job is “interesting,” to say the least.
Thanks John. I value your insights. The “good for all,” approach is essential. What’s the point if the future looks unfulfilled.
Sadly, I think people enter these carrot dangling situations too focused on the opportunity and not focused enough on the process.
Before you try to catch the dangling carrot, it is very much important to understand the size of the carrot, distance between you and carrot so that even if you catch it, you are not disappointed, elevating the people without assigning the respectable responsibilities is frustrating and instead of increase the performance it demotivates the person. Replacement or elevation without proper and well placed succession plan is void as not done, the replaced leader is neither ready nor prepared and it does harm to the organization instead of benefiting.
Thanks Rajesh. Love the image of reaching for a carrot that is out of reach or reaching for one and then when your reach it, you don’t like it.
This is a post that hits the fringes of succession planning. I feel the the situation Mary was placed in is too ambiguous.
Leaders are driven by opportunity. Dan poses two tell-tale signs of “dangling carrots” for which even the most driven and savvy leader must at least beware: 1) “Fit in BEFORE making changes”; and 2) “It’s NOT likely you’ve been charged to change things if the current leader still sits at the table.”
Of course, I SEE opportunity here. I also sort-of SEE “doing things the way they’ve always been done.” And I SEE conformity…”groupthink”…the phenomena of conforming behaviors.
Years ago at the Jack Welch Center for Management and Leadership in NY, there was an experiment where 10 persons were brought into a room. Nine out of the 10 were pseudo testers or part of the experiment. The other individual was really the one being tested. The experimenter asks a simple question about a line on a match. The answer was TOTALLY obvious. The “plants” gave the wrong answer and, lo and behold, the real test subject went right along with the rest of the group and also gave the wrong answer.
Conformity: It’s easy to stand with the crowd. It takes courage to stand alone. The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning people are willing to call white black. This is such a matter of concern—that it raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.
Even though I explore and try to discover opportunity and prospective conformity—and whether I should do something or not—I have a personal test. I contemplate my next decision as if I see a prospective road in an undeveloped countryside where there is no road. Can I walk it, and can I inspire others to follow and walk on it too, and thus the road comes into existence?
There’s nothing wrong with conformity, as we all ultimately conform in one way or another to someone or something. In sum, though, we should have the courage to trust ourselves as we explore and discover both what we love to do and what we’re good at, and then conform to that.
Thanks Books. Love your insights.
You would hope that those in leadership would encourage us to trust ourselves, as well. I’m not sure that is happening in this case.
Conformity is dangerous. However, one must understand current systems, for example, before changing them. Fit in before changing things.
Your illustration of people choosing the wrong answer is powerful and important. Perhaps self-awareness is especially important when choosing when to fit in and when to change things.
Thank you, Dan. I wish I would have mentioned what you included, because you’re absolutely correct. We have to see what’s going on BEFORE we even know if there’s any changes to be made. Like you’ve said 10 million times, we can’t “stand out” until we “fit in.” I sincerely appreciate your finishing touches to almost all my thoughts and comments–especially when I ramble on. Somehow you’re the only that seems to know what I’m trying to say. Then again, that’s why you’re a sought-after consultant and speaker. Thanks again.
Hi Books. One of the principles I use to guide these posts and conversations is it’s ok to leave things out. It’s even useful. Others fill in the gaps and add unexpected ideas as well.
You’re always gracious, insightful, and kind. Best to you.
Dan, I wouldn’t put any trust in what someone “might” do in two OR three years. That’s a long time and anything can happen, including someone changing their mind about stepping down. However, if Mary can take on new levels of responsibilities to set her up for opportunities outside her current company, that’s a different story. That way she wins even if the dangling carrot gets yanked away from her.
However, in the meantime, the odds that the current leader and Mary can develop a collaborative relationship where the former gradually lets go of more isn’t something I would bet on unless expectations were clearly spelled out and in writing.
Thanks Alan. One of the things we talked about is the way this experience might enhance their potential regardless of what happens. Is it worth it for Mary, even if it doesn’t work out.
Self-development is the first development.
Mary said that she felt the odds were against things working out as expected.
You’re right on.
Dan, you said what I was trying to say in much fewer words and so elegantly:
“…this experience might enhance their potential regardless of what happens. Is it worth it for Mary, even if it doesn’t work out.
Self-development is the first development.”