How to Promote From Within

Shawnee Love   •  
March 27, 2018

Most managers in small and/or growing businesses have functional responsibilities as well as management duties.  That is, they are expected to do “the work” and manage the team of people who are also doing “the work”.

Take a Sales Manager in a small business. She will typically have her own accounts and sales goals and have team members who she is expected to manage to ensure they meet their sales goals.

Similarly, Accounting Managers in small businesses have their own accounting duties as well as the responsibility for managing their people and ensuring they accomplish their duties.

This approach makes sense for the size of the business, but might not just be a function of size.  Often, the reason people become managers is because they are good at and enjoy the work they do. Thus, when they get promoted they want to keep involved in the activities they enjoy and are good at.

When this works, it works great because employees find it easy to respect a manager’s technical competency.  However, promoting into management often fails because the skills to do “the work” are vastly different than the skills necessary to manage people doing “the work”.  If a promoted manager doesn’t have managerial skills, in time, that manager will fail. The phenomenon occurs so often, there’s a name for it.  It’s called the

Peter Principle

Wikipedia defines the Peter Principle as follows:

“The selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence”.

If you want to avoid falling into the Peter Principle trap and yet you want to promote a high performer from individual contributor into management, here’s what to do:

1. Take the time to define exactly what it is you want a manager to do.  Typical responsibilities of a manager include:

  • Building and executing action plans, procedures, policies, and systems,
  • Organizing and overseeing work,
  • Evaluating progress and success of the operations,
  • Modelling company values and professional conduct, andIsometric paper plane, leadership
  • Leading people which may include:
    • Setting goals and performance standards,
    • Coaching team members in meeting goals and standards as well as improving performance, and
    • Developing team members to take on more or different roles.

2. Also identify what it takes to be a manager in your company as it relates to culture fit and character.

3. Once you know what your managers need to do and be, you can assess your internal candidate’s competency and fit in those areas.

4. With knowledge of competency and fit, you can assess alignment and build an action plan to close any gaps between the necessary capability and the candidate’s current ability.

A manager’s job is so much more than ensuring work gets done.  And since employees experience the organization through their manager, it pays to ensure your selection for manager is the right one.  These 4 steps will help you get there.