how to get a staff member ready for promotion

One of the signs of a great manager is that her people move on to bigger and better things – because great managers hire strong people and develop them well. Too often, though, when employees get promoted, they don’t get much training for the next step – which can make for rocky transitions.

Here’s what you can do as a manager to set your high performers up for promotions where they’ll thrive.

1. Stop solving problems for the staff member. Instead, actively coach them to solve their own problems, by asking questions like, “What do you think we should do?” and “What advantages and disadvantages do you see to that approach?” (Of course, this is good to do with all employees because it will develop people’s skills and judgment, but it’s especially important with people who you’re considering moving up.)

2. Invite the staff member to shadow you. Invite the person to sit in on calls and meetings with you where you think they’ll benefit from observing. Then, talk with them afterwards and point out why you did particular things – what was in your head about a tricky situation or why you redirected the conversation when you did. Give them a chance to see higher-level conversations and decision-making that they might not normally be involved with, so that they’re not starting fresh when they do move up.

3. Delegate more to the person. Think about what areas of work this person will be handling on the next rung, and find ways to start giving them experience in those areas now, by delegating additional projects and responsibilities. Encourage them to stretch themselves, and be available as a resource as they take on new challenges. (In many cases, it will make sense to be transparent about what you’re doing and why, so the person understands why their workload is shifting.)

4. Give lots of feedback. It’s always important to give lots of feedback, but when you’re grooming someone to take on new responsibilities, feedback is particularly essential. You should do this both broadly, by talking to the person about what you see as their strengths and areas to work on developing in, and more narrowly, by checking in projects as they unfold and debriefing afterwards.

5. If the next rung up involves managing people, work on management skills in particular. The transition from doing the work to managing others who do the work can be an incredibly difficult one for new managers and trips up even highly talented people. So if the staff member doesn’t have much management experience, you might have her begin to manage the department’s interns or lead an important project or otherwise get her feet wet in relatively low-stakes ways. To provide support along the way, regularly talk through thechallenges that arise and how to handle them – everything from feeling comfortable being in a position of authority to addressing missed deadlines. Because managing people is an area where there aren’t necessarily built-in checks and balances until something goes terribly wrong, getting coaching along the way can make a huge difference in building good habits. (For that reason, you also might want to consider sending aspiring managers to formal management training to develop their skills.)

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.


{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Jillociraptor*

    Love this. Getting to shadow my past managers was what really set me up for success. One manager went further than that and actually let me sort of role play what I would have done, or how I would have thought about the situation. It helps a lot to start being able to think through the perspective of those one or several rungs above you on the ladder, and build broader context for your own work.

  2. ThursdaysGeek*

    Great managers must be somewhat uncommon. By that definition, I’ve never had a great manager.

    1. JustMe*

      ThursdaysGeek, I concur. Alison is stellar and I wish every manager conducted business the way she does. 9/10 managers I’ve had didn’t do this. I happen to work in a field where reorgs and matrix environments are common. I could have a really great manager who facilitated growth one day, only to get a crappy one the next.

  3. The Other Dawn*

    A team member of mine is very enthusiastic and a real rock star; she would be a great candidate for promotion. But her opportunities in this department are limited. Unless I, my senior person, or my boss leave or retire, there’s really no chance to advance; people at this company tend to stay for a very, very long time. I encouraged her to think about what else she might like to do, but she’s 23, didn’t go to college, and hasn’t had exposure to any other areas of the company. So, I set her up for information interviews with a few managers who work in departments similar to mine. It worked really well. She got to hear about other departments and what they do and is now participating in some of their meetings as time allows. We think a position will be created in one of those departments next year, so if that happens she would likely get first consideration. If not, she’s at least getting exposure to other things.

    1. Graciosa*

      Are there any options in your company that would help her get her college degree (tuition reimbursement or assistance – even if it’s only a class at a time)?

      I ask because college degrees are now de rigueur for many, many more positions than used to be the case. Not having one will severely limit her opportunities.

      I still remember a letter from someone whose husband had a successful twenty year track record in sales without a college degree. He wouldn’t be hired – or even get past preliminary HR screening – at any of the large companies I’ve worked at, and he had obviously been able to do the job.

      I’m not saying that’s right or fair – and I wince when I see the levels of student loan debt some people accumulate to deal with this – but it is a reality.

      At 23, your rock star has plenty of career left and therefore future opportunity to benefit from getting the credential. I mentioned the company helping to fund it, but I would encourage it even if it needs to be self-funded. There are a surprising number of options now – distance learning, degree by examination (from legitimate schools and not degree mills), online courses, etc. – that make it easier to manage without sitting in a lecture hall for four years.

      If the company isn’t paying for it, she would likely have even more latitude in her choices. My employer only pays for certain types of courses in certain fields, but when it comes to checking the box for a bachelor’s degree it will accept one in basket weaving.

      Again, I’m not saying it’s logical, but a decade from now she may find her options even more limited. A little strategic planning on how to get the credential as cheaply and easily as possible could really pay off .

  4. STJ*

    That was a very interesting article.

    As a manager, I use a lot of the techniques mentioned even though members of my team are not necessarily seeking promotion. By giving my team the skills to operate without me through delegation, feedback and shadowing, it makes my job as a manager much easier.

    It also means if something happens when I’m not around, the course of action taken by my team isn’t too far from the action I’d have taken.

  5. Jill*

    FirstBoss was like this (and that was back when I was a high school intern). Sadly, I’ve never had another manager like her since, in 20 years of working and in a variety of industries.

  6. Wanda*

    This is timely for me. I’m a relatively new manager (just under 2 years) in a large company that does a lot of internal promotions. Though formally preparing someone for their next role is not something normally done here I’ve started trying to do that with my direct reports. I also had a conversation about my role with my manager and we are setting up some formal training for my next position.

    What I found was that I am having a blast having these conversations with my associates and they seem to really appreciate it. I’m finding that it is actually making the hard part of the job (“I need to see these changes in you”) easier because I can show how their actions are a problem for them moving to the position they would like to go to.

  7. _ism_*

    In the interview for the job I currently have, my boss said outright they’re looking for someone to groom for future management roles and “grow with the company.”

    I’ve only been here a year, and my manager does some of the things in your article. Some of them she does the opposite.

    1. Stop solving problems for the staff member.
    Sometimes she’ll give me a challenge to figure out and I’m expected to meet with her to discuss what I *would* do, or draft a plan that we go over, but I don’t have permission to actually do anything until she approves what I come up with. Other times she’ll take a challenge/problem (one which we share and which I have experience doing before) out of my hands and deal with it herself, often not even telling me she did so. Her actions depend on how time-sensitive the problem is, usually.

    2. Invite the staff member to shadow you.
    She lets me sit in on her conversations with our customers, vendors, and the corporate office sometimes. I don’t think it’s part of her plan, it’s just a side effect of her work style. Which is “drop whatever I’m doing and answer the phone/answer my latest email about unrelated topics and cut myself off mid-sentence talking to my employee to address one of the devices on my desk.” When I visit her office trying to get her approval, input, or a question answered I take advantage of this “quirk” and sit and listen, and try to have a discussion about it afterwards. She usually humors me in this effort. Sometimes she’ll take that discussion and turn it into a teachable moment and an hour long lecture, which I appreciate, in a way.

    3. Delegate more to the person.
    I’m being delegated more work and more often, but usually it’s busy-work and not what I thought I was hired to do. My official role involves inventory and shipment logistics at our local factory and directing our remote factories in their shipping matters, as well as being The Person Who Knows What Is Going On Every Hour for the customer order process for all factories. When I do get delegated more, it’s stuff like cutting individual stickers off rolls, collating paperwork printed by other departments, and sometimes they even have me clean things. The rare occasions where I get an important projects and am told I’m handling it, my boss and other supervisors from other departments will randomly take it away from me or give it to someone else when they feel I could help out with busy work for other departments who have staff to do this stuff already. I chalk it up to being new and entry-level but I don’t understand why they let me do important work some of the time and then take it away or give me less meaningful tasks that are “more urgent.”

    4. Give lots of feedback.
    I get occasional feedback. For the projects that are supposed to be my responsibility, my boss doesn’t check in or do post-mortems or anything. But she does say I’m doing a good job with the third parties. When I make a mistake we’ll have long mentor-y discussions that always veer into her telling me a little more about how the corporate office wants us to be doing things and the way things got the way they are (which is rather dysfuctional).

    5. If the next rung up involves managing people, work on management skills in particular.
    This specifially has not been addressed to me.

    soo….. my question is do you think I’m not actually being groomed or considered for a more important future with this company after all? I regularly feel that everyone in this office really wants me to “know my place.” I’m non-exempt and everyone else is exempt and every single one of them seems to go out of their way to remind me I can’t have the same privleges. But then, they have me as the primary contact person for matters the corporate office is interested in, matters our third party factories are interested in, matters our customers are interested in…. And then if I make a mistake or copy the wrong people on an urgent email or something… they tell me to stop what I’m doing and go cut up stickers or tape boxes. I’m frustrated. Cant’ wait for the open thread. This probably belogns there.

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