Question: Our top software developer is now struggling in his new role as supervisor. His team is in an uproar ever since he was promoted from a peer to their supervisor. All the while client work is suffering. What happened? Is this supervisor salvageable?
Answer: For many, internal promotion seems a natural solution for an employee with a track record of excellence in his or her area of expertise. While not entirely incorrect, management often reasons that a great doer = supervisor material. And why not? This is much more logical than promoting a poor performer to a supervisory role or bringing in someone in from the outside, isn’t it? Not to mention, for cost-sensitive organizations, the internal promotion can save thousands in hiring, onboarding, and training expenses.
Unfortunately, task or core competency-based promotions can sometimes be a short-term gain with long-term losses. Here are some reasons why:
- The promotion is wanted by the organization, but not necessarily by the individual being promoted. It is essential that an internal promotion is a collective decision. Take for example my experience working with a biotech company. I was getting a lot of complaints about a particular supervisor. He was a scientist who excelled in the lab but was struggling in his new role as supervisor. When I met with him I learned that he never wanted to be a supervisor. He took the job because he wanted more money but was now miserable in this role and was thinking of quitting. Having a pre-promotion conversation to evaluate the employee’s interest in the management track is critical.
- Future leaders need development and grooming. Thoughtful succession planning is essential. Plunking someone into a role they are not ready for can mean disaster. There are many companies that have management training programs. You do not need to develop an overly formal process but having them do some homework to learn what being a supervisor means can save you a headache down the line. We worked with a forward-thinking client who brought us in to educate non-supervisors on what it is like to supervise. We discussed things like, what are the expectations from management? How do I supervise those employees who were my peers today but my direct reports tomorrow?
- Goals, objectives, and expectations need to be discussed up front. This includes a new job description and most importantly written and realistic performance expectations on which you will be measuring them. Set goals with the employee to help them achieve milestones in this new role and check in regularly.
- Committed support from management and executives. Many companies do not give the new supervisors the training and support for them to be successful in their new role. Worse, some companies do not get collective buy-in for internal promotions. Coaching and mentoring a new supervisor is essential, both from internal and external sources along with the need for ongoing training. This can be done by hiring a firm to conduct training, or you can send them to an outside course. When sending employees for a training course outside of your organization, it’s important to understand that content it will not be customized to your business, its unique needs or the unique needs of the employee’s new role. We have worked with many clients to provide customized training, specific to the needs and expectations they had of the new supervisors.
- Confidential supervisory peer group. When conducting internal training for clients an unanticipated outcome is the formation of an informal support group with their peers. We’ve also facilitated these peer groups in a more formal process for clients and found they can be a valuable resource for supervisors. The group shares ideas and learns from one another and along the way it helps build the team.
- Career plans/pathing are often discussed too late. Always consider the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) Factor. Employees are successful when their extrinsic and intrinsic needs are met by their employer. When promoting, consider whether the promotion will fulfill as many of an employees’ needs as possible. A bump in compensation, or a title change, may not be enough. Take time to learn what employees want and whether they will be leading a team for the right reasons.
Perhaps you aren’t completely convinced yet. If not, consider the hazards of promoting the wrong person/mismanaged promotion.
- Employee turnover. Those they supervisor, as well as the employee who was promoted, are all at risk for leaving your business. Turnover is costly and a time-consuming distraction. Take proactive steps you need to in order to prevent it.
- Compromising the company culture and core values. When people are unhappy at work, their negative feelings can creep in and affect your workplace with actions that do not align with your culture and core values. You know the saying “one bad apple…”
- Decreased productivity. Those who work for this supervisor are likely spending wasted energy and time on talking to one another about their shared misery.
- Increased risks related to corporate theft, service quality, absenteeism, etc. Consider the influence a high performer in your organization has. They have access to critical data, clients, and the ability to slow or stall service or good delivery, to name a few things. When the wrong people are promoted with little to no preparation or training they can become a liability.
- Low morale. Unhappy, influential employees have the ability to infect others – quickly. The old ‘rotten apple spoils the barrel’ adage. (Add content here).
Sink or swim is the old school approach to managing employees. Setting your employees up for success in a proactive way will have a positive effect on your workplace and ultimately your bottom line.