Thinking of promoting someone into a management role? Not everyone is suited to managing people. Here are the questions you need to ask first.

If you’ve come to a point where you are thinking about promoting someone into a management role for the first time, there are a few questions to ask first.

When Should You Promote Someone to a Management Role?

What’s the mechanism for deciding you need another manager in the business? The general rule of thumb is when you have a span of control of more than seven people. That means you have more than seven employees reporting to you. Things become unwieldy and unmanageable when you have more than seven direct reports.

Things become unwieldy and unmanageable when you have more than seven direct reports.’

I did some research for this when I wrote my book, Great People Great Business, and I found a lot of evidence of people agreeing with that span of control. It’s just become one of those rules of thumb over the years. In my experience, when I’ve seen people managing more than seven, it gets complicated, and it gets really hard. 

The only exception is if those seven people are all doing the same job. If you have seven painters, or if you have seven bookkeepers, or seven IT support people, and they’re all doing the same job, you can increase that span of control to about 20. But if your direct reports are all in different roles, then seven is about as big as you want to get.

Once your business grows to a size where you have teams in place and you need to decide on a structure and put a manager in place.

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Who’s the Right Person for a Management Role?

It’s very important to resist the temptation to promote the person who’s been in your business for the longest. You can have great people in your organisation who may have been there a long time, and they may have awesome technical skills. But that doesn’t mean that they are great leaders, and it doesn’t mean they necessarily want to be leaders. 

Resist the temptation to promote the person who’s been in your business for the longest.’

So you need to ask, who in the business is a potential leader? And are they actually interested in a management role? If you have people in the business who are not interested in management roles, that’s okay, it just means you’re going to need to look outside the business for managers. 

Obviously, it’s always going to be better to be able to promote from within because you’ll get much more efficiency, they know exactly what’s going on, and they’ll get up to speed more quickly. 

What Training Do You Need to Provide to Potential Leaders?

Hopefully, you have some form of performance feedback process within your business, where you sit down with your staff every quarter and have a chat about their performance. You should be talking with them about what’s coming up, and any barriers in their way. 

As part of that, there should be quite a focus on their development, and that’s when you can ask the questions, what are you looking for in terms of your next role? Where do you want to take your career? Are you interested in managing people? 

If you have staff that say, ‘Yes, I want to do that at some point,’ then that’s the time to start developing them. It’s not ideal to wait until someone is in a managerial role to start the development, because they’re thrown into the deep end. They need to use a completely different skill set to the skill set they were using in their previous role. 

For example, if you promote someone who’s an accountant or an IT person or an engineer, and say, ‘you’re technically fantastic, now go and manage people’. That’s tricky. Managing people is a very different way of working. 

It is much better to provide the development before they go into the role, and it also gives them an opportunity to opt out. If they do attend the training workshops, or they have a mentor, or they have a coach, they may realise that managing people is not a good fit for them. 

Part of those conversations around development is also saying, ‘it’s okay, if that’s not for you’. Promotions don’t always need to include managing staff. If you have someone who’s absolutely fantastic technically and isn’t interested in managing people, I’d really encourage you to find a way to acknowledge their fantastic technical skills and their longevity in the organisation through a promotion that doesn’t necessarily involve managing people.

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How Will You Continue to Support Them in the Role?

Once your new manager is in the role, you need to continually invest in development and feedback mechanisms about how they’re doing as a leader.

I’ve seen plenty of examples where people are managing the way that they were managed, which could be five, 10, 15, 20 years ago. But the workplace is changing at a rapid pace. We now have five generations in the workplace at the same time. What may have been considered good management five, 10 or 15 years ago, may now be completely antiquated and not motivate your teams at all. 

This is why you need continual development. Employees are looking for a two-way relationship. They want to be accepted as adults and accepted as humans in the workplace. They want leaders who understand that they are self-motivated, but they need to feel valued, trusted, listened to, appreciated and that they belong. 

We know from research from Gallup, that managers can impact up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. In other words, people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers. 

people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers.’

Managers play a vital role in organisations and have a massive impact on workplace culture. If you are going to have managers in your business, you need to make sure that you are investing in their ongoing development.

How Will You Provide Feedback to Your New Manager?

You need a mechanism to establish if your new manager is managing effectively. The best way to do this is by asking for feedback from their staff. 

There are a number of ways to do this. One way could be to ask the manager, ‘how do you think you’re doing?’ And the next question is, ‘how do you know?’ This is giving the manager the onus and the empowerment to go and find out by asking for feedback from their staff. Then you can ask them to talk to you about the feedback they’ve been given. 

Another way is to have a ‘skip level meeting’, or roundtable with the owner, where the employees have a meeting with a manager one level up. So let’s say that’s you, in this meeting  you can ask them questions about the workplace as a whole, but also about their particular leader. 

You can also use staff surveys to ask questions about leaders. Whichever way you do it, and you may do it in multiple ways, this is how you know that someone is successful as a manager. They’re not successful due to their technical skills, because leading and managing employees are completely different ball games. 

How Will You Make Responsibilities & Accountabilities Clear?

If you’re going to promote someone into a management role, you can’t just change their title and leave the job exactly the same

It’s very important to have a look at the position description, to look at what their goals and KPIs are over the next 12 months, and to ask:

  • If your role is now a manager, what does this look like? 
  • What’s the difference? 
  • What are the things in your current role that need to be delegated appropriately? 
  • What are the new things that you’re now taking on? 
  • What is the new line between you and the new manager (if you’re their manager)? 
  • What are our roles and responsibilities and accountabilities, and where are the new lines? 

It can be really difficult when you’re promoting someone internally into a management role to have the staff accept what’s happening. They’re may fall back onto old ways and keep going to whoever they used to report to

Sometimes you may even need to say to the employees, ‘you need to talk to your manager, because it’s not fair on them if I keep answering your questions and they are left out of the loop’. Sometimes that can help people to understand the new organisational structure in place.

How Will You Manage Your Own Expectations?

Sometimes with founder-led businesses, I have found they want to hire a 2IC (second in command) role, or promote somebody into a 2IC role, and then just step away from the business.

The reality is that a 2IC doesn’t own the business, the founder does. They are still an employee. And yes, they may take on a lot of responsibility, they may be really passionate about the business and love it. But at the end of the day, it’s not their business. 

It’s really important to set your expectations. The new person is going to help drive the business forward, but at the end of the day, you are still accountable for the business as a whole. If they go and get another job, or if they want to take four or five weeks’ holiday, it’s not a personal thing. It’s just that they are an employee, they don’t own the business. 

Having a 2IC in place is not going to be the answer to everything, it’s not going to be all your dreams come true. You can go on holiday, and someone else can run the business, but you’re probably still going to be involved in it in some way. 

If you want to be able to step away, there are strategies you can use. You can have the other person buy into the business, and change the structure a little bit. But it’s important to note when you start the process of promoting someone, they may leave. That’s why it’s very important to be clear on roles, responsibilities and accountabilities.

If they do get another job down the track and you need to hire someone else in, you’ll already have that set up, and you won’t have to sit back and think, ‘what do I need a new person to do?’  

If you are looking at development for your emerging or current leaders, we have a series of leadership workshops available and I encourage you to have a look at our Leadership Development Workshops.

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