|I seemed to spend quite a lot of my time when I worked as a manager in the Civil Service sitting on promotion boards. Later, in a different context, I went on to manage recruitment of people at senior level.
Back in the day, in the Civil Service, people were promoted to grades not jobs and then, sometimes long after, they took up a post at the new level. Sometimes, in large departments, promotion boards could go one for two or three weeks and you seemed to see battalions. In all honesty, I’m not totally convinced that the panel’s judgement was entirely sound when it came to the last interview on the afternoon of the final day.
What I did learn, though, was quite a lot about what marks someone out for a more senior role.
We saw lots and lots of people who were very good at what they did. Some had been doing the same job very well for a very long period of time. They could tell you an awful lot about it. Usually, they could tell you why what they did was necessary – although not all were very clear about that.
There were others who had been in their role for a much shorter time. They could tell you why they were there and whether they should be. They knew what their work meant in the wider context of the department. Not only that, they could talk about the role of the department overall. They could look ahead and see possible challenges that they, their section and the department might face. They had thought about the issues and had their own perspective on them. And, yes, they could usually understand as well the opposing view.
When it came to looking for people at more senior level, the ability to think widely, as well as in several dimensions, mattered even more. Yes, you did want people who were technically and professionally competent but you were looking for breadth as well as depth and an ability to see the broader perspective was critical.
So if you are serious about wanting to break through to the very top of your organization, make sure you reflect on the work you do and its context; above all make sure you can take the broader view.
I wish all those starting out on, or a continuing, a job search this week every success and if I can help, please get in touch.