Why so Many Promotions Fail

Published on 2014-07-17

Source: Tim Parkinson @ Flickr
ACCORDING TO UNIVERSUM’S LATEST REPORT titled ‘China Top 100 Ideal Employers 2014‘, one of the most important attributes of an employer is advancement opportunities. But success for one employee can be disastrous for the organisation as a whole. How?
“Just because someone is a star performer as an individual contributor, doesn’t mean that they will get the same results as a manager,” says William Wu, VP of Universum, China. “Self management, and management of others, are two very different skill sets.”
And yet, almost all organisations have made the mistake, at one time or another, by promoting staff into a management position without first preparing these new managers with the necessary management skills. So what are some of these management skills? Here’s just a short list, based on some recent management acumen programs ClarkMorgan has worked on recently:

– Creating and Implementing Objectives,
– Establishing and Controlling a Budget,
– Leveraging Diversity within a Team,
– Measuring Individual Contributors,
– Developing Processes,
– Aligning and Motivating your Team, and
– Handling Conflict and Complexity

Now imagine a scenario where a newly appointed manager did not have the above skills. Worse still, imagine that they didn’t even know that they needed these skills to be more effective at their job – a form of unconscious incompetence. The result is likely to include reduced staff engagement, higher staff turnover, and KPIs missed. So what can be done?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]The result is likely to include reduced staff engagement, higher staff turnover, and KPIs missed.[/quote]
Your first realisation is that promotion is not the only way to reward great performance. The role of an HR Generalist will differ from that of an HR Manager, and the subsequent HR Director role. Even in the military during peace time, a promotion requires both past performance in the current role, and training for the future role. Only then, can a private become a corporate, a corporate become a sergeant, or a sergeant become a Warrant Officer. Of course, this all changes in war time, when rapid promotion can be temporarily issued with the incapacitation or death of a superior. Thankfully our workplaces are only metaphorical war zones.
So before your consider promotion as a reward, consider other methods. These could include increased salary alone, transfer to a preferred office location (ie. Hawaii), being assigned to a prestigious project team, or being welcomed into the the company’s ‘high performance club’. There are many ways to show your appreciation that do not require exposing staff to an ill-prepared boss.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]There are many ways to show your appreciation that do not require exposing staff to an ill-prepared boss.[/quote]
Secondly, not everyone wants to be promoted. Moving from an individual contributor role, to one that must manage people is frightening for some. It more often than not increases the workload, and this in turn increases the perceived risk of failure. For many, stability and safety of a role is their biggest need, and they are perfectly happy in their current role, albeit, with a gradual increase in other benefits.
But for those who are not afraid to expose themselves further to the challenge and climb the corporate ladder, training is an must. The conversation between a CFO and the CEO highlights the risk of ignoring training:

CFO, “What if we invest in our people and they leave?”
To which the CEO responded, “What if we don’t and they stay?”

And now you know why so many promotions backfire. The CFO gets his way.