Determining who to promote and when is one of the hardest decisions that a leader has to make.  In a perfect world, promoting a smart, hardworking employee to the next level would be a simple next step in a career progression.  In reality, it’s anything but that.

Typically promotion discussions come up when an employee has mastered the skills necessary to do his/her job.  Leaders want to reward the employee and not risk losing him/her to an opportunity down the street.  Here’s the challenge:  Moving to the next level, often requires a different skill set than the one that made the employee successful in his/her current role.  Worse, promoting someone who isn’t ready can be a greater loss to the organization in the long run.  It can result in lower morale, productivity, and the loss of an employee who used to be one of your best.

Here’s an example:  Bob is a brilliant engineer.  He’s been doing great engineering work for several years and is ready for a new challenge.  Should you promote him into a role where he is leading other engineers?

Before you do, here are some things to consider:

  • Is Bob passionate about leading people or is he interested in getting promoted because it is the next step?  If he isn’t passionate about leading, create a role as a technical expert which recognizes his contributions while continuing to build on his strengths.  Don’t put a round peg in a square hole.
  • Has Bob ever led people?  If not, try out his leadership capabilities by having him lead a project first before making a longer term commitment.  When it’s done, discuss the results with him.  Did he like being in a leadership role?  How did he do?
  • Has Bob had any leadership training?  Great leaders aren’t born, they are trained.  Invest in good quality training.
  • Designate a mentor.  Leadership, especially first time leadership, is hard.  Provide a mentor who knows the organization and can provide good quality advice on how to handle the day to day issues effectively.

Don’t risk losing your best employees by promoting them above their capability level.  Instead, prepare them for future opportunities that utilize their strengths by giving them the right tools and support to ensure their success.

Next time, join me in discussing what to do when you do have the wrong leader in place.

Lead on!


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