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Before Promoting That Top Performer, Do This

At a recent Leadership Development training, we asked the participants how they became leaders in the organization. Many of the young leaders in the room said they were top performers in their prior roles as individual contributor roles and thus, were appointed into a leadership role. It immediately brought to mind the question...did anyone ask the individual about their career aspirations? Did they even want to become a leader?

We conduct many Voice of the Associate surveys to help create a culture of high engagement. 100% of the VOA surveys we have conducted, one of the lowest scoring questions is,

“In the last year, someone has spoken to me about my career goals."

Consider the ramifications of “promoting” a fantastic individual contributor into a leadership role that wasn’t desired, or wasn’t really the best fit for that move, it’s doubly painful. First, you are removing one of your best performers from a role that is critical to sustainable growth in the company. Second, if you promote them and they either don’t want to be a leader, or fail as a leader, they will leave the company to find a better “fit” for their career path.

We see it all too often. It’s the easiest choice to promote a top performer. But it’s not necessarily the smartest. Avoid potential pitfalls and ensure you fully understand and value what is most important to your most productive people. Below are several things to consider as you work to create a culture of engagement and focus on building the right leadership development strategy.

1. Give your employees a voice

Why is this so critical to company success? First and foremost, is there anything more important than listening to our employees? After all, they are our most important stakeholders and have decided that their time, focus, and investment in success is best with your company.

Unlike the votes of customers or shareholders, they have actually voted with their lives. So, hearing their voice and what is most important to them in terms of culture and engagement should always be front and center. The famous saying that “employees come first, and customers come second” should resonate as it is indeed our employees that help to acquire and keep customers happy. Unhappy employees = unhappy customers. Take the time to learn what is important to each person and what their desired career path might be. Engage them where they need to be met and take the time to understand what they need from the organization at each step in their career journey.

One way to actively “hear” your employee is by conducting a Voice of the Associate (Employee) Survey. This particular survey measures engagement in 4 key areas, where each of your employees fall in their career journey and provides key insights into areas of opportunity to drive constructive actions. You will learn very quickly who in your organization desires a career path to include leadership and who enjoys being a great individual contributor.

2. Create a formal leadership development strategy

When we conduct leadership training, I’m struck by how many times incredible individual performers are asked to take on a leadership role. And, yet it seems to be a rare occasion for that individual to be provided any formal leadership development training. Just because an individual has the skill and ability in the specific role where they were a superstar does NOT necessarily translate to leading a team and coaching to the most important outcomes. Leadership processes and skills, like anything else, are something that must be learned, applied, and improved upon each day.

One recommendation is to build a leadership onboarding program, just like is done for a new hire. Include a structured methodology for supporting the new leader in their journey to acquire the skills needed to succeed as a leader. Without it, both your new leader and their team will experience confusion, disconnection, and a lack of direction. Add to this the challenges of the remote/hybrid work environment, and the importance of this step cannot be overstated. A few key steps to consider as you develop this structure include:

  • Prepare more up front – what specific tasks/responsibilities will the person need to focus on in their first 30 days. One best practice is to assign a mentor to help them in their transition as they absorb these new skill sets and work to improve.

  • Set up face-to-face meetings with their team members – this is especially important when someone is moving from a peer group to become their leader. In these meetings, the new leader can set the expectations for the agreements (see related: You Cannot Manage People, Better To Manage Agreements), answer any questions the team may have and establish a clear roadmap for sustainable growth.

  • Communication, communication, communication – make sure the new leader has the ability to both receive and provide feedback on their journey. By doing so, this will support the focus on producing early wins and establishing credibility while building momentum and confidence.

As your company continues to grow, and new leaders emerge, Butler Street can help. Our leadership development training has been rated top 10 for 3 years and will support your organization in the development of a structured, sustainable, and scalable leadership process.


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