Are you promoting the wrong people?



Working for a business that provides opportunity for career progression is appealing. Many people seek the opportunity for career progression and development and are keen to be able to grow with a business. It’s something I get asked a lot when interviewing; people want to know what does career progression and development look like at this company, do they promote internally? Some businesses have gone to the extent of having a policy on recruiting and how they manage offering positions internally before going externally to market. However, does career progression and development necessarily mean promotion and are we promoting our internal people for the wrong reasons?

In business, we have a tendency to fall in to the trap of promoting our best performers. When I worked in real estate, many times I saw the highest achieving sales person promoted to Sales Manager. I’ve seen it in agency recruitment, the recruiter that filled the most jobs was promoted to manage a team of recruiters. It happens in all types of businesses and for all types of positions. Let me give you some examples:

  • Our receptionist who is sensational at running our front desk is promoted to Admin Manager
  • The technically minded highly skilled machine operator is promoted to leading hand or team leader
  • The number crunching accountant who knows your financials inside out is promoted to managing the finance team

All too often we fall in to the trap of promoting our best performers into management roles.

Promoting these people can be a win win and result in a positive step forward for the business and the individual. Or it can have dire consequences.

I was recently interviewing a highly successful sales person. He loves sales; it’s his passion, he is good at it and he knows his stuff. Naturally, he quickly became the highest performing sales person in the team and before he knew it management were asking him to coach and mentor struggling sales people in addition to continuing to sell. Before he knew it he had been promoted to Sales Manager, it had seemed like a natural transition and all was well for a period of time. Then the wheels started to fall off. The passionate sales man wasn’t getting to do what he loved anymore; selling. He was managing people, having difficult conversations with under performers, analysing sales reports and trying to motivate team members. No longer was he loving what he was doing and was his role playing to his strengths. The outcome: he left the business.

I’ve seen similar scenarios across many businesses. We promote our top performers, we do it with the best intentions. We want to offer career progression and development but we all too often think this must come in the form of a promotion. That’s not necessarily the case. Career progression and development can come in many forms; further training, taking on new challenges such as project work or coaching and mentoring others without actually managing.

Unfortunately for the business who promoted their best sales person, it ended up costing them dearly. They lost their top performing sales person who excelled when he was in the right role, the role that played to his strengths.

Sometimes these promotions naturally evolve over a period of time, like the sales example I’ve shared. There was no discussion at any time about what this sales person wanted to do with his career, about his people management skills, about what the role would really involve – difficult conversations with under performing team members. In other scenarios we approach the individual and “sell” them the opportunity. We offer increased pay, more influence and decision making, more responsibility etc.

How often do we actually assess our best performers skills and experience for the job? Do they have the skills and expertise to have the difficult conversations? Do they want to be responsible for having those conversations with people who have been their colleagues and in some cases friends until this point in time?

If you are considering promoting an internal team member you need to do your due diligence just as you would for an external hire. Interview them. Share the warts and all version of the job. Assess the skills they need to be successful in the new role and identify gaps. Have a plan for how you’ll develop and support that person with the gaps through training, coaching and mentoring. Understand their true motivations and the types of tasks and responsibilities that play to their strengths. Only then will you really be able to make a well informed decision.

Promoting the wrong people will cost you dearly. Not only do you risk losing that top performer all together from the business but what damage could it do to your culture and employee engagement? Promoting internally is a positive when it’s the right position for the right person.



Angela Connor is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource and career coaching companies. She understands the significance of having the right team of people in a business and is passionate about helping business to attract, recruit and engage the right people so those people can inject their talents into the business; creating an environment where they can do great work and love what they do. Find more useful information and advice at or by following Angela on LinkedIn.



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