Managers Who Want to Reach the C-Suite Must Learn to Probe for Insights About Where They're Falling Short

Managers Get a Lot of Feedback, but Rarely Does It Help Them Get to the Top; Smart Executives Learn How to Ask the Questions That Reveal How They Are Viewed by Senior Management

NEW YORK CITY, NY--(Marketwire - October 5, 2010) -  Aspiring executives looking to get to the top cannot rely on the feedback they typically receive from their bosses to help them get there. Traditional 360-degree reviews rarely get to the heart of what will prompt decision makers to move them into more senior, powerful positions. What really matters are the much deeper, more complex factors. But, most managers who are looking to move up don't even consider these variables or even know they exist -- in large part because company feedback has fallen short, according to John Beeson, succession planning and organizational development consultant and author of the forthcoming The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level (Jossey-Bass, October 2010).

"For various reasons -- fear of de-motivating performers, the difficulty of obtaining a consensus view about a manager, and a tendency to jump to conclusions about people's potential -- companies are reluctant to provide direct feedback to upwardly aspiring managers. Most formal performance reviews only hint at the underlying issues that can stall an executive career," says Beeson. "It's only through searching for the 'feedback that really counts' -- the insight about where you actually stand in the eyes of those who make executive-level placement decisions -- that you can start to address and demonstrate the core selection skills that are essential to reaching the C-suite."

The onus is on the manager to take the initiative and do the hard work to extract the deeper insight. Without this information, managers are left grasping for straws, unable to address the widely-held perceptions that can hold them back.

In order to tease out this information, serious aspirants need to understand:

  1. Who to Ask -- While direct supervisors are a good place to start, managers should try to contact the highest-level executives who are knowledgeable about their work. Make sure you clearly communicate the goal of these conversations: gaining additional insight into career development possibilities. Then the manager must begin to piece together the commons threads of the feedback received relating to the core capabilities.
  1. How to Ask -- Managers need to watch for "code words" and phrases that can mask important issues, while asking probing questions that get behind the polite conversation. For example, being told that they need to "become a more impactful team player" can indicate a need to improve their collaborative problem solving skills in interactions with peers in other parts of the company. 
  1. How to Respond -- People tend to react to criticism immediately, and often defensively, but changing people's deeply-held perceptions takes considerable time and effort. Managers need to let the dust settle emotionally -- then objectively assess the feedback received and concentrate on the one or two issues that are the most critical to address.

Those who go the extra mile for real feedback learn which core selection factors they need to hone and demonstrate. All are important, but the process of teasing out feedback helps a manager identify those few skills where they need to devote their efforts in order to breed confidence on the part of those who make executive placement decisions for their organization. 

"Once aspiring executives have taken time to analyze this feedback, they should focus on the one to two priority capabilities that they need to develop," says John Beeson. "This process requires persistence, and managers need to display these new skills in a consistent and visible way. But while much of the hard work of developing these skills lies ahead, accurate feedback about where you truly stand is the essential foundation for career progress."

To schedule a conversation with John Beeson or for more information, please contact Frank Lentini of Sommerfield Communications at 212-255-8386 or

About Beeson Consulting
Founded in 1998, Beeson Consulting provides management consulting services to some of the largest, most respected companies in the world. Services include succession planning, top-talent development, executive assessment, organization design and executive coaching. For each client, the firm brings to bear best-practice expertise; practical, action-oriented solutions; and a consultative, customized approach. All Beeson consultants have a combination of corporate and consulting experience.

To learn more about Beeson Consulting, please visit

Contact Information:

Frank Lentini
Sommerfield Communications