Prepare To Promote

Article Contributed by Michelle Desaulniers

In my professional role, I have the opportunity to talk with leaders about their challenges and recommend appropriate training solutions to address those challenges. I enjoy hearing stories; I have a few of my own to share, too, and they are eerily similar. There is a common thread to all of our stories, and that is the overall lack of preparation that employees have prior to being promoted. 

I worked for a manufacturing organization for many years, and while this situation is not unique to manufacturing, I believe that it happens there more frequently. A long-tenured employee with years of experience and extremely well-honed technical skills finds him/herself promoted to supervisor or manager, mainly because of that tenure and technical expertise. 

Seems like the most logical next step for that employee, right? Reward the loyal employee with a promotion – give them more responsibility, a higher salary, and recognition for a job well done. Perhaps you already see where I’m going with this…

Is this employee prepared to be promoted?

These employees are taken from working shoulder to shoulder with their peers and thrust into a leadership role for which they are not necessarily prepared. Heck, they aren’t even sure that they want the job, but they suddenly find themselves in charge of a team of their friends. They watched the previous supervisor and learned perhaps what to do, or more likely what not to do, from them. But when a long-term supervisor or manager suddenly retires, the knee jerk reaction that most managers have is to promote the longest tenured employee. He/she has the technical skills, right? Isn’t that what it takes to be an effective manager?

Simply put, no.

Technical skills are certainly a plus, no doubt. But managers have to think long and hard about promotions to positions of leadership, and take many things into consideration, not just technical know-how. They should first ask “Does this person want to be a supervisor?” Sometimes people feel as though they have to accept a promotion – they would be crazy not to, right? Again, no. People with strong self-awareness know whether or not they’d make good supervisors, and if they’re honest with themselves and with their managers, they’d realize that they enjoy being a line person or a worker bee and have no desire to be a supervisor. But because no one asked them, they are promoted and most often left to their own devices. Sometimes it works out; most times, it does not.

I hear requests from members who, more often than not, say the same thing: “This person was promoted because of his/her technical skill, but they were never trained to be a manager.” Maybe you’ve said that, too. The question is why was this person promoted without the proper preparation? The better question is why is this person not prepared? That speaks to proper workforce planning. And that planning is part of a manager’s job. 

Look at your work force to see where you stand. You should do this on a regular basis – be proactive in your preparation for unforeseen retirements, resignations, or long-term sick leaves. If you won the lottery tomorrow, is there someone ready, waiting, and prepared to take over your job? Or will management find itself in a mad scramble to find a replacement? On paper, the promotion you may suggest may look great, but you’ll never know the reality until that person is in the job – and either takes to the role like a fish to water, or sinks like a stone. A bad promotion costs an organization a great deal – team engagement decreases, turnover increases, no one is feeling happy or productive; most often, it’s the new manager who is feeling the worst in the situation.

The solution is to prepare people before they are promoted! Take a look at your team and identify the highest potential employees that you have. Sit down with each one and have a conversation about where they see themselves going. If they express a desire to become a manager or supervisor, great – get them into one of our leadership training programs like Leadership for Lead People. Upon their completion of the program, see if they still want the job if/when it becomes available; even if the person says that they are no longer interested, the training was not wasted. You dodged a bullet and saved a bundle by having them come to the realization that they’re not right for the role and they’re just fine staying right where they are.  They are better, and so are you, for having attended. Meanwhile, perhaps you’ve got another employee with a shorter tenure, maybe, but who is eager, ambitious, shows signs of real leadership potential, and is ready to move forward. Have the same conversation with that person and again, if they express interest, enroll them in a training class before the unexpected happens. But change in an organization is always expected, isn’t it? We need to be prepared, and prepare our employees for their promotions before they happen, not after. You’ll be setting them up for success, which is every manage