A Promotion Can Be The Worst Reward

When you’re a small business owner with a really stellar employee, figuring out a way to keep that person on board and happy can be a challenge.

Being a manager just doesn't fit everybody.

Being a manager just doesn’t fit everybody.

There’s only so much money and so many growth opportunities.  So you do what you can. You promote the employee to manager. Frequently, this is the worst possible decision. It can be one of those roads to hell, paved with good intentions.

It really looks like a good idea. After all, this is your best salesman, or customer service rep, or consultant. He or she can be a shining example and help other staff succeed. But managing people requires a specific skill set—like being a good listener– and is greatly helped by a particular temperament—patience, tolerance of others’ differences, assertiveness, strong communication skills and a sense of one’s own authority, for example. The drive and attention to detail that that made your employee the best consulting partner in your company might just make him the nightmare boss that drives other employees away.

Plus, the employee really has to want to spend all day supervising, training, coaching helping other people do their work and helping them work well with their team mates. That’s not what a rockstar sales person wants to do. He wants to be out building relationships, pitching his company’s product or service and getting both the rush of satisfaction and the ka-ching when a client says “Wow, that’s great, I’ll take two!”

And sales isn’t the only area where promoting a great performing employee to management fails.

I know of newspaper reporters who were unhappily promoted to editor.  The job of a newspaper reporter is to chase down stories, meet sources, capture details, and be on-the-scene breaking the news to the rest of the world. She may spend very little time in the office.  So you take that crack reporter and turn her into an editor where she spends all day asking other reporters why they forgot to include this key piece of information, moving paragraphs around and going to meetings.  It’s like taking your best racehorse off the track and making her lead horse pulling a carriage with a bunch of other horses.

Thanks, but, can I go back to the track now?

And that’s the other problem. If it doesn’t work out, if the employee has enough self-knowledge to recognize that he or she wasn’t cut out for management, it can create a tension in the company once that title, status and pay are removed. Even if it’s a relief for both of you when the employee stops trying to manage, you have now exposed the rockstar’s weakness and that may make everyone uncomfortable.

In the tech world, they came up with a solution for this dilemma. Techies can choose the tech track where they spend the rest of their careers in research and development or creating new ideas and products as a CTO or Chief Architect;  or they can take the management track where they’ll wind up as VP of Engineering or CIO, managing other humans. Either way, there’s a long road of excellence and growth before them.

But in the small company, what do you do? Well, first of all, consider other ways of showing your appreciation. An extra week of vacation, for example, might be preferable to a promotion. A raise, the freedom to work on something they’re passionate about for space of time or the ability to take a sabbatical.  For most employees, there are perks you can offer that might make your limited career track less of an issue.

On the other hand, you also have to accept that one day that employee may want to spread his or her wings, and if that happens it happens.  Your job is to spot the qualities that made that employee so great and look for someone else with those qualities who can really grow in your business.

If you don’t know what they are, call us. We can help.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267. 




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