How to Avoid Promoting the Wrong Person

By Sherri Bennett, SPHR & SHRM-CP on Mar 22, 2022
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While it may not occur frequently, as a small business owner, you may promote the wrong employee. Let’s say, for example, that one of your employees is doing excellent work within the context of their role. So much so, that excited about their potential, you promote them perhaps even into the rank of manager. As they start to “settle into” this new position, you disappointedly begin to realize that the promotion wasn’t necessarily a warranted one. What do you do now? The better question to ask is, how do you avoid promoting the wrong person in the first place. 

What generally can happen when you promote the wrong person and then have to turn around and demote that employee is that inevitably it will leave a bad taste in their mouth. Not to mention, there is always the possibility of other employees becoming disgruntled. Promoting an individual who isn’t qualified for or particularly suited to a management role can have negative ramifications across the board. 

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Why You Might Promote the Wrong Person 

Beyond the fact that an employee is doing their current job quite well, there can sometimes be other reasons behind ill-conceived promotions. 

  • You Assume the Person Will Grow Into the Role

    If someone isn’t ready for a certain job or for managerial responsibilities, and you as the company leader are simply hoping that they will eventually “grow into that role,” ultimately what you are doing is setting that person up for failure. They are bound to struggle in this new position and struggling inevitably leads to frustration. 

  • You Fear Losing This Person

    Especially now, with labor shortages becoming the norm, companies don’t want to lose good people. Rather than take the chance that an employee might seek and ultimately find a better job, you choose to promote. And again, if that employee is not necessarily ready for such a promotion, this could lead to undesirable outcomes. 

  • You’ve Overestimated Their Interpersonal Capabilities

    If you’ve promoted someone to the position of manager, their ability to forge and foster meaningful relationships is going to be an important part of their new job. Perhaps that employee‘s previous job did not necessarily demand that they be able to establish solid relationships with team members. Without truly understanding how in fact they connect with colleagues; you could be making a wrong decision. 

how to deal with an employee who didn't get the promotion

Making Smarter Promotion Decisions 

Understanding what your employees are capable of and what their potential might be in terms of ascending to a managerial role is critical for any business owner. When thinking about which employees you might promote, consider the following characteristics and behaviors:  

  • A promotable employee is one who not only demonstrates an aptitude at their current position but also has a clear understanding of what they want for themselves next and how they might attain this goal. There is a difference between ambition and arrogance. An employee you could consider promoting is one who may have already had open and detailed discussions with managers regarding their vision for their future and consequently, seems to have a firm grasp on what is involved with an elevated role in the company.  

  • The individual shows that their people skills are next level. Having excellent interpersonal skills, as noted, is so important for someone aspiring to be management material. They will ideally inspire those who work for them and connect meaningfully with colleagues and peers.  

  • The person is willing to not only listen to feedback but integrate this constructive criticism into their performance. If someone gets defensive or simply dismisses the feedback received, then perhaps this person might not be the best candidate for promotion. Someone willing to learn and grow within the context of their job is someone who might be a good employee to eventually promote. 

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Next Steps: What To Do with the Promoted Employee

Sometimes you will make a mistake when it comes to a promotion decision. Do you immediately remove this individual from their new role? Do you figure out a way to mentor them and thus hopefully coach them into the position? Below are three ways that you can deal with the fallout of having promoted a wrong employee. 

  • Clearly and Compassionately Define Their New Position

    While it may be difficult to come to grips with the fact that you have promoted the wrong person for the job, keep in mind that it is also a difficult thing for them to hear. The first step you want to take is to sit down with that employee and clearly define what this new role entails and what, consequently, is going to help them be successful in it. Once you have identified all relevant facets of the position and the skills required to master the job, then from this point you could create a training plan to help that employee navigate their way into this new role. 

  • Be Open with the Employee About Finding Them a New Position

    In some cases, it might be that there is no conceivable way that the employee will experience success in this new role. And yet, you don’t want to lose this person. Sitting down with them and discussing their options as far as positions that might be a better fit within the company could be the best way to go here. Find out about their interests; ask out about their goals, both short and long-term. Understand how they envision their tenure with the company. The more communication that you engage in with this individual, the easier any transition will be. 

  • Take Some Time to Really Think Through a New Hire for This Role

    Obviously, if you have made a mistake in terms of promoting the wrong person, you don’t want to make the same mistake again. Taking your time and assessing candidates more thoroughly is going to be key. Whatever you must do to give yourself the necessary time, do it as you really consider the steps that you will take to ensure that the next person is a good fit. 

RELATED: Pre-Employment Personality Tests - Are They an Effective Tool? >>

Axcet HR Solutions is Here To Help 

If you need assistance when it comes to evaluating employees and making smart decisions regarding promotions, our experts are here to help. We have years of experience working with Kansas City-based businesses and supporting them and their team. Call today for your consultation

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