Why You Shouldn’t Promote a Great Performer

Have you ever promoted a high-performing employee to a management position, only to be disappointed at his or her lack of performance in the new role? Sometimes, a promotion actually derails an otherwise successful worker…but why?

The picture that comes to my mind is a pool full of swimmers. If you ran the local public pool and needed to hire a head lifeguard, would you be wise to yank the fastest racer out of the water and put him up on the stand? Maybe or maybe not…it would depend on the person’s capabilities and desire to guard others’ lives, wouldn’t it? You’d need to consider the person within the context of the requirements of the job.

Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days, claims that transition failures occur when new leaders either 1) misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or 2) lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them. Our experience as a staffing agency would add that not all of this is the new leader’s responsibility, however. It’s up to employers to screen promotion-worthy workers with those two factors in mind.

Misunderstanding the Essential Demands of the Job

This first problem, failure to understand what the job really requires, can be headed off by implementing a performance acceleration tool before the transition is made. The best way to start off a new employee, whether newly hired or promoted, is to give him or her a roadmap that will ensure the best chance for success. If you’ve never created or used a performance acceleration tool, read this. (We take seriously the quality of the candidates we present to you, and when you’re ready for us to negotiate an offer, we do everything we can to ensure the success of both the candidate and your organization…which is why our direct hire placement guarantee comes with a caveat: that you implement our Great Start Tool when you onboard your new professional.)

Lacking the Skills for the Job

The second cause of transition failure cited by Watkins involves the Peter Principle, something many leaders have heard about but sometimes forget to heed when it comes to merit-based promotions.

What’s the Peter Principle and where did it come from? In 1969, Laurence J. Peter wrote a book observing that as humans, we tend to keep on using what’s worked before, until it ceases to be effective in a new setting. Often, even when what has worked progressively becomes too challenging, we fail to recognize that it’s no longer working.

Peter particularly saw this principle applying to employees who receive promotions based on past high-level competence but who may not possess the different skills necessary to succeed in the new position. Promoting someone based on his or her current performance may seem logical. But making promotions on this basis often leads to people being promoted to their highest level of competency and even beyond, to a level of incompetence–a role for which they’re not well suited.

Bob Dunham of the Institute of Generative Leadership agrees that, all too often, great performers fail when they’re promoted to management positions:

When a great performer goes down in flames as a manager or team leader it is usually because being first violinist in the orchestra does not qualify them to be the conductor. The roles and skills are very different. By “performer” we mean someone who is qualified to make and fulfill promises as an individual. By “manager” we mean someone who is qualified to make and fulfill promises with a team.

Dunham asserts that management is a profession in and of itself, that it requires unique skills and capacities which should be considered when you’re promoting someone. If you’ve ever had a great manager (or been one!), you’ll understand what he’s talking about. Although the best managers need to understand the work they supervise, primarily they must be driven by a desire to help their workers and equip them to succeed.

Thinking Twice Before Promoting a Great Worker

Now you know why you shouldn’t promote a great performer. Just because someone is great at his or her current job doesn’t mean a promotion is in order–unless, of course, you’ve observed that this person is motivated and recharged by helping others succeed. The next time you consider promoting someone to a managerial role, remember the Great Start Tool and the Peter Principle before you move him or her up to a level of possible incompetence.

Do you need help finding a great manager rather than promoting from within? Amtec can help you recruit the best professionals by actively marketing your job opportunities, connecting you to passive and active job seekers, and assisting with offer negotiations. Click here or call (714) 993-1900 to get your search started.

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