How to Handle Promotions without Regrets

By Bryan Orr

It’s a good feeling for a small business owner when you get to the point that you can promote one of your staff to a new position. Giving raises, bonuses, and promotions are my favorite part of the ownership “job.” The challenge is that when you promote, you often unwittingly create more problems than you solve.

One of the primary challenge of promotion are the expectations that surround business hierarchy. People who do the work are seen as less important than managers, and managers are given less pay and glory than C-level executives. So for someone DOING the work, there is an expectation that “moving up” means becoming a manager, a boss or even an EXECUTIVE!

That’s all nonsense.

A worker who produces a product or makes a sale or trims a hedge is compensated based on their ability to perform that task. Better quality, higher production, and superior levels of customer satisfaction lead to higher value in the marketplace, PERIOD.

This market-based value of skill is completely separate from the skills of management or leadership in a direct sense.

Assess the Right Skills

Management and leadership are separate skills where the value lies in a manager’s ability to produce maximum team production, employee morale, loyalty, and affect cost savings and revenue increases to the business.

There is often an advantage in promoting someone who has advanced understanding of the job they will be managing, but domain expertise is only one of many factors related to the topic of promotion to management. There is a management concept called the “Peter Principle” that states that choosing a candidate for a position is often based upon the employee’s performance in their current job, rather than on abilities to do the intended job. In the end, the employee only stops being promoted once they can no longer do the job well. This gives rise to the saying: “Managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”

Provide Clear Communication

Step one in promoting effectively, is in clearly communicating with your team that they will be rewarded for peak performance no matter their role, and their role will be dictated by their skills, preferences, demonstrated performance  and personality traits. The idea that an employee will be “promoted” to management based on seniority or experience alone is just plain silly.

For employees who express an interest in leadership or management, offer them an opportunity to develop the skills required. For me that was providing them with books to read from my collection, suggesting podcasts and articles and sending them to specific training for the skills required. In one case I even hired a coach for an employee to help them make a transition from one position to another.

Actions Speak Loudest

Many times your employees will say that they want a promotion or a new role due to the “grass being greener on the other side” or run of the mill boredom. It is understandable that people can get burned out, but that is a TERRIBLE reason to promote someone to a job that requires a skill set they may not currently have. And hopefully we are good business owners who are aware of the current skill sets of our team members.

When an employee expresses a desire to take on a new role, it is advisable to give them a path of things to do before you further the conversation. Maybe take a communications course, possibly have them read a book and report back to you on what they learned.

In many cases, when you give them even the slightest amount of resistance, they won’t take action even on that first level of expectation toward that goal. If they do go through two or three layers of resistance, then it is a good sign that they are more likely to overcome resistance when they are in the actual role.

Set Time-Based Goals

When you do decide to promote someone make sure that you clearly communicate the skills and tasks that are required for that role along with a broad game plan of how they can continue their development. But the REAL magic is when you set clear, specific and tangible goals that have a time deadline attached to them. This helps to define the differences and the CHALLENGES related to real leadership.

Many times within an organization a pay raise or a promotion is seen as something that is just owed based on time served; an easier job, in a nicer office, with better perks. This type of thinking is a disaster for an owner because it breeds jealousy, low productivity, entitlement mentality and low performing leaders.

It is up to you to promote better. Are you up to the task? Or have you “Risen to the level of your incompetence?”

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Bryan Orr

Bryan Orr is a blue collar business owner who helps executives and business owners use storytelling to communicate powerfully with customers and staff. Bryan is a founder of an award-winning small business in Orlando, Fl as well as sought after podcast producer and consultant. Get to know him at Bryanorr.com.


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