There are many benefits to promoting current employees to supervisory roles, but there are also numerous pitfalls.
The abominable economic conditions of the past few years have affected the structures of countless companies. In many cases, businesses have eliminated middle management via layoffs, downsizing, rightsizing, etc. This has left companies with voids in their corporate structures, which many businesses try to fill from within.
Michael Scott, the lovable and verbally-inept epitome of a bad manager on the popular sitcom The Office sums up the first part of this challenge nicely:
What happens to a company if somebody takes a boss away? I will answer your question with a question. It’s like what happens to a chicken when you take its head away. It dies unless you find a new head. I need to find which one of these people has the skills to be a chicken head.
Promote someone with the right skills to be a leader.
Obviously, identifying which member of your staff is competent and skilled enough to be a “chicken head” is the first step in this challenging process. Companies often make the mistake of promoting people based on their technical expertise and longevity, instead of their leadership skills.
When you place an employee who lacks leadership skills in a supervisory position, you don’t just make that person’s subordinates unhappy, you make that person unhappy too! It’s important to carefully identify the traits that make for a good, effective manager in your company, which aren’t necessarily the same exact traits that make a good, effective employee.
Have a solid process in place to handle internal promotions.
When you promote from within, you potentially open yourself up to charges of discrimination from employees who were overlooked for advancement.
You can avoid this by formalizing your company’s internal promotion process:
- Make sure that there are thorough written job descriptions for every position within the company.
- Give your employees periodic performance evaluations in writing. This gives you documentation proving that employees have been coached on what is expected and needed of them to succeed.
- Have all of your supervisors maintain diaries that log employees’ work performances and behavior, as well as attendance and tardiness records. This way, decisions for advancement can be based on a comprehensive overview of an employee’s quality of work, instead of simply on his or her most recent output and conduct.
- Create a system that alerts all of your employees to promotion opportunities and provides them with an opportunity to state their interest in being considered for new positions.
Give a new manager good training and the right amount of training.
Once you’ve picked the best “chicken head” for your management position, the hard work isn’t over yet! If you don’t train that person to skillfully supervise others, their leadership abilities are going to be as erratic and inefficient as, well, a chicken with its head cut off.
Often, companies make the mistake of grossly underestimating the amount of training required to transform a great employee into a great manager. You must accept that there’s a learning curve for anyone in a new position, whether they’re a fresh hire or someone you’ve promoted from within. And you must invest in good management classes.
Many studies show that overwhelming someone with intensive training is a highly ineffective way to teach them how to manage. It may seem like it’s time and cost-effective to get a new manager’s training out of the way in one big chunk, but that’s not the case. No one can retain information once they’ve hit their saturation point, let alone apply that knowledge well later on.
It’s better to provide someone with one day of management training classes per week over the course of many weeks, than to give them a crash-course right up front. This allows them to absorb what they’ve been taught and to put that knowledge into practice, while providing you with more opportunities to obtain feedback on how they’re adjusting to their new role.
Teach your new manager the importance of delegating responsibilities.
Delegation is quite often a skill that new managers struggle with, and one that you must help them strengthen.
Managers who can’t delegate demoralize employees who work under them by making them feel as if they can’t be trusted to do their own work well. Worse, a manager who is bad at delegation inadvertently “trains” their staff to give sub-standard performances. After all, why bother putting in an effort when someone is just going to take over all of your work anyway?
Keep a close eye on both your new manager as well as their team, so you can spot and help them correct imbalances in workload, and other behaviors that undermine employee satisfaction and the success of projects.
New managers need to communicate their expectations up front.
It can be challenging for new managers to supervise people who were previously their peers — especially people with whom they’re friends.
New managers sometimes make the mistake of trying to maintain the exact same buddy-buddy relationship dynamics they had with their coworkers when they were peers, or become overly concerned with being liked by everyone they’re supervising.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some new managers, in an effort to avoid the appearance of favoritism, too forcibly impose boundaries between themselves and their former friends and peers. The truth is that a good middle ground needs to be found.
Management classes will teach your new supervisor strategies to handle relationships with former peers and friends, but there are also some techniques you can help them utilize.
A new manager should sit down with their team and clearly outline (preferably in writing) what their expectations are, and the specific factors that will be used to evaluate people’s performances. By communicating very clear-cut expectations from the outset, it should be a bit easier for your new manager to discuss performance issues when they crop up, without appearing subjective or biased.
Ensure that promotions & disciplinary actions are handled with fairness.
A good manager shouldn’t appear to be biased in favor of certain employees, which can be difficult for a person when they’re placed in a supervisory role over their friends.
The first thing you need to do when discussing promotion with an employee is to ask them to inform if they have any relationships that might undermine the impression that they’re managing their subordinates with total fairness.
In cases where someone does have very close relationships, it’s best to communicate right up front to everyone that when your new manager addresses performance, advancement and compensation issues for those particular individuals, it will only be done with the assistance of another manager — one with no close personal connection to the concerned parties. This way you can ensure that people feel confident that rewards and disciplinary actions are being dealt out with objectivity.
Don’t create a Michael Scott!
In 2009, the Institute for Corporate Productivity surveyed hundreds of employees to discover how successfully they felt their companies handled internal promotions. More than 60 percent only rated their companies as “fair,” and 16 percent gave their companies a rating of “poor.” That leaves a lot of room for improvement!
You want happy employees, and happy managers, and that takes patience, a long-term investment in good training, and the ability to listen to the needs of your staff.
You don’t want to create a Michael Scott, the wildly terrible manager who’s perpetually unable to understand why his employees neither respect him, nor perform as well as he needs them to, and who bitterly laments:
Remember when people used to say ‘boss’ when they were describing something really cool? Like, ‘Those shoulder pads are really boss, man!’ ‘Look at that perm, that perm is so boss!’ It’s what made me want to become a boss… But now, boss is just slang for jerk in charge.
Originally published in the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal.