Clearly every business wants to demonstrate loyalty to its existing staff by promoting from within. However, this just is not always the best policy.
Too often, I have seen small businesses promote their best salesperson into the sales manager’s position, and so many times, this turns out to be a disaster. This rarely works out since the skills the employee has mastered as a salesperson are so different from those needed to be a great sales manager.
Salespeople are normally in control of their own destiny and do not necessarily have any management skills. Their method is to form a relationship with a client and then close the sale. These skills just do not translate to the role of a manager.
Assuming the responsibility of a manager means they must shift emphasis from “my sales” to “the group’s sales.” Managers also must be accountable for motivating and enabling the team to sell more.
In addition to disparate skill requirements, staff perceptions can be an added complication of promoting from within. The staff naturally sees each salesperson as more-or-less equal, but an internal promotion elevates one employee above the others, which can be a hard situation for your staff to buy into. A person who was once their contemporary and friend is now their boss, and an abrupt change in positions like this can cause frustration and anguish among your staff.
Many years ago, I served in the Air Force Reserve during the Vietnam Conflict. I joined the reserves out of college -- Georgia Tech (I just had to put that in) -- and even with a degree in engineering, no firm was willing to hire me since they knew I could be drafted at any moment. Because of this, I joined the Air Force Reserves as an enlisted man.
During my third year of service, I was selected to receive a direct commission as a second lieutenant. I did not have to complete Officer Candidate School or any other training program, which means one day I was an airman second class, and the next day I was a second lieutenant. Although I was elated about now being an officer, the commission came with a few unpleasant issues.
Prior to the promotion, I was an equal with just about every enlisted member of our squadron. We worked together, went to summer camp together and complained about our officers together. This promotion, however, elevated me above all enlisted men, meaning those who used to be on equal rank with me now had to salute me and treat me with deference. Even after seven more years as an officer, many of my former fellow airmen never accepted that I was now their boss or respected the fact that I was an officer.
After everything I have seen and personally experienced, I really believe the military and businesses should make sure that when promoting from within, the new manager does not supervise any of his or her former colleagues whenever possible. This will ease the new manager’s transition in so many ways.
There may be cases, however, when the promoted employee will have no choice but to supervise their former colleagues. In these instances, it is key that you ensure the new manager has the skills required to assume the job as soon as possible.
Sending the new manager off to school after announcing the promotion is not a bad way to handle a situation like this. The time the manager is away will act as a buffer, allowing the team an opportunity to wrap their heads around the change.
If schooling is not possible or necessary, the CEO should attend a meeting called by the new manager. The CEO’s role during this gathering will be to express their support for the new manager and reassure the staff that they will be a great leader. Before concluding the meeting, the CEO also should invite employees to come talk to them if they have any concerns about the change.
Now go out and make sure you have a plan in place for internal promotions. Remember, in the event you have to promote a staff member into a management position, you will avoid much of the turmoil if the new manager does not supervise anyone from his or her old team.
Jerome S. Osteryoung, director of outreach services at the Jim Moran Institute in the College of Business at Florida State University, can be reached at 850-294-7477.