Are people checkers or chess people?
I recently had an unusual experience with a client and learned that people were not regarded by the CEO for their uniqueness, but rather were pushed around as though they were checkers on the board. In writing my recommendations for him, here is some of what I said (disguised where necessary to protect him and his company):
In some areas of your organization, people are being used like checkers pieces as though they were easily interchangeable. People, however, are more like chess pieces. Whereas pawns can be interchanged, you cannot substitute a rook for a knight. There is only one queen – and the king’s power is limited. His role (and the winning of the game) must be protected and preserved by the executive management team, of Queen, Knights, Rooks, and Bishops, each of whom has a different role.
Each piece moves in a different way. (from Wikipedia)
The rook moves any number of vacant squares along rows or columns (forward, backward, left or right). It also is involved (with the king) in the special move called castling.
The bishop moves any number of vacant squares diagonally. Consequently a bishop stays on squares of the same color throughout a game. The two bishops each player starts with move on squares of opposite colors.
The queen moves any number of vacant squares in any direction along a row, column, or diagonal.
The king moves only one vacant square in any direction. It can also castle in conjunction with a rook.
The knight moves to a vacant square in an "L"-shape (two spaces forward, backward, left, or right and one space perpendicular to it). The knight can jump over other pieces when moving.
The pawn can only move forward one space, or optionally two spaces when on its starting square, in a straight line away from the player. When there is an enemy piece one square diagonally ahead from the pawn (either left or right), then the pawn may capture that piece. A pawn can perform a special type of capture of an enemy pawn called en passant. If the pawn reaches a back rank of the opposite player, it undergoes promotion to the player's choice of a rook, bishop, queen or knight
In checkers pieces are promoted as they reach the other side of the board. Pieces are interchangeable and any piece has the potential to be promoted. In chess, only the pawn has promotional power and there is an intense amount of work he/she has to do to get to the other side. The other pieces maintain their positions rigidly.
Unfortunately, this rigid need to stay fixed in place is very true in your organization. Not only do you not have a clear succession plan, you have long term employees who do not want management or even supervisory responsibility.
On the other hand, people are rotated around – put into positions into which they do not fit, just to fill needed spaces. You have people who rather do paper work serving clients and people who loathe paperwork and prefer client interaction, stuck in routine paperwork tasks.
I’m sharing that with you because I find that all too often the uniqueness of people is disregarded when making selections. Yes, of course, if an organization has someone with a specific technical skill that person is usually placed in a job requiring use of that skill. However, technical people, who have little or no people management skills are often promoted into positions requiring them to manage others. Bad fit.
In non-profits, too often people are considered like chess pieces assigned volunteer responsibilities based on the need of the organization, without due regard for the preferences of the individual. Thus, the commonly hear complaint that volunteers do not fulfill their obligations.