Managers, Consider These Things Before You Give Someone a Promotion

Feb 5, 2019

When employers promote workers to manager without training and support, the consequences are not good for anyone.

It’s that time of year when leaders get together to hash out their strategic plan for next year. It’s the time when they look at who’s performing well, and who they should and shouldn’t promote. It can be an exciting time, but it’s also a time that comes with considerable risks.

A leader sees the individual’s potential when they’re exhibiting mastery in their craft: top designer, best strategist, highest-performing salesperson, and most senior engineer. They’ve excelled year over year and progressed within their discipline. They often express a desire for more responsibility, visibility, and focus on their professional development.

And so, with all good intentions, managers take them from being at the top of their craft and ask them to step into roles they’ve never held, without the training and support they need. And they’re surprised when those employees fail.

Good employees don’t always make good managers

Managing people requires us to tap into our human-centered skills. We all have them, but we haven’t been encouraged to cultivate them because we spend most of our adult life trying to be better at our chosen craft.

Moving into a managerial role is usually considered a high point in one’s career. It’s a sign that the company recognizes your leadership potential. In actuality, being a good employee doesn’t automatically translate to being a good leader. That transition requires learning a lot of new skills, sometimes from scratch.

When new managers struggle, so do their teams. The likelihood of losing employees under a struggling manager is high. And that gets costly when you look at all that goes into replacing employees. Statistics on the cost of replacing a new hire run from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5 to two times the employee’s annual salary.

But the statistic that matters most isn’t widely or easily measured. It’s the unintended consequences of stripping a new manager of their confidence. That person has gone from a high-performing master of their craft to a wobbling, failing leader. And the impact is deeply felt and hard to shake–both for them and the organization. If they’re able to recover and stay with the organization, their reputation often takes years to build back up. If they leave, or are forced out because of their underperformance, they’re likely to make the same bad habits in another organization and continue to fail. To avoid this scenario, you need to set new managers up for success.

Train before you promote

Many companies train managers when they move into a managerial role, but this is far too late. They need training before they step into a supervisory role, and they need the runway to learn the leadership skills they need.

Make a case for an associate program—one that teaches leadership skills without the promise of a promotion. This type of scenario gives potential leaders a chance to try out the role before they commit to taking it, and provides valuable learning opportunities, even if they don’t become managers.

Invest in a coach

Too often we invest in individual coaching only once a manager is in real trouble. But if you truly want a new manager to thrive and grow, you need to make the coaching investment upfront. This way, they can have the space to bring their challenges and struggles, and they’ll be in a better spot to navigate the new role with dignity and confidence.

Try creating a mentorship program where more senior leaders take a mentor/coach role with newly promoted managers. It’ll provide continued growth for the seasoned leaders, and gives them more in-depth insights into what new managers struggle with at your organization.

Gather low-stakes feedback from their teams

It’s also important to make sure that your investment in new leaders is paying off. Provide regular opportunities for departments to give candid feedback. Not only does this reflect the growth and development of the new manager, but you’ll also be able to see what additional training or coaching can benefit them.

Gathering feedback through standardized 180 or 360 platforms independent of annual performance reviews is one way to give a new manager valuable insights–without feeling like it’s negatively impacting their more formal assessments. And it goes a long way toward feeding a broader growth mind-set, providing opportunities for meaningful conversations around increasing their leadership skills. Creating the culture of feedback early on in a manager’s career sets them up to ask for feedback–and to value and act on it–throughout their professional lives.

When you invest in your employees’ growth, you deepen their engagement. Any investment in your managers is also an investment in their teams. So provide them the training they deserve, the coaching that will help them engage, and the feedback from their teams that will keep everyone thriving. You’ll be so glad you did.

By Dacia J. Faison Roe