Monday 26 April 2010

The Story of the Unpromotable Managers

After the management assessment centre, the unsuccessful candidates, who had been identified as not having potential for promotion, were sent on a series of workshops to address their deficiencies - or as they saw it, to lick their wounds... Within the year, nearly all had secured a promotion, after all.

A key part of their achievement was a result of ‘Thickening the Plot.’ This is a concept I learned from the field of Narrative Therapy, though the way I go about it is not the way therapists might. I tend to do it firstly historically, by re-visiting the past through the lens of the new positive narrative and seeing how well it accounts for all the evidence we have collected, and also seeing what new evidence we can collect that this narrative is preferable.

Then I invite people to look forward, and agree how we will continue to nourish the new story (what evidence we will go out of our way to provide in support of it) and also what evidence we may need to starve the old story of, to prevent its resurgence (that is, are there any particular behaviours, or interpretations of others’ behaviours, which we will need to stop doing....)

This was particularly powerful with the protagonists in the Story of the Unpromotable Managers. While many of them were convinced the assessment centre had not been fair, we looked at the story they needed to be able to tell back into the organisation, to get their careers moving forward again. Part of that story clearly had to be how they had worked to overcome the shortfalls identified by the centre. We did not need to debate how accurate the assessment was: we simply had to recognise the need to collect evidence to prove that the perceived weakness was a weakness no longer.

That led to each participant working to prove that he or she was capable of demonstrating strengths in those areas; and over the course of several months, they supported each other in developing that evidence using real work projects, and meeting as action learning sets to drive them forward and check that the learning was both applied and captured. By the end of the series of workshops, all had a good story to tell - and the organisation heard them, so that many are now promoted.

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