Should your best Individual Contributor be promoted to Manager?

The decision to promote your top performer to a manager is not as straightforward as it seems. On one hand, your best individual contributor may seem like the logical choice for a promotion. They have a proven track record of success and a deep understanding of the company culture and values. However, being an effective manager requires a different set of skills than being a successful individual contributor.

Managing teams is different from managing tasks. One of the main challenges with promoting top performers to management positions is that the skills and competencies required are often different. Just because someone is great at selling, engineering, or accounting doesn’t mean they’ll be great at managing other people who sell, engineer, or account. Managing people involves a completely different set of skills, such as coaching, delegating, and conflict resolution.

Promoting your top performer to a management role can have unintended consequences. While promoting them may seem like the natural choice to reward them for their hard work, it could actually hurt both the individual and the team. If they don’t have the necessary skills, they could struggle with the new responsibilities and ultimately become disengaged or frustrated.

Can they fight the right fights? Analyze if the person is capable of managing conflicts: Conflicts around building credibility versus vulnerability, balancing accountability versus well-being for your team- What is the right proportion where you strike the balance? Deciding what is the right thing to do at the right time for your team is one of the most important traits of a manager.

So, while it might seem like a good idea to promote your top performer to a management role, it's important to first analyze whether they have the necessary skills and competencies to be successful in that role.

Ultimately, the decision should be based on a thorough assessment of their skills and abilities, as well as their interest and aptitude for the role. It's important to provide adequate training and support to help make the transition smoother. With the right support and guidance, your top performer could make a successful transition to a management role.

What are organisations doing wrong?

Promoting your top performer to a management role is like giving a superhero a desk job. Sure, they're great at saving the world, but can they manage a team of sidekicks? Before you make the leap, make sure your star performer has the necessary management skills and isn't just good at flying solo. As the saying goes, not all capes are suited for management suits!

1- Making decisions based on incomplete analysis

Shiffana MK, Senior Manager: People and Culture, Nova Benefits says “Assuming someone is prepared for a managerial role without conducting a thorough evaluation, including a pulse check, is flawed. Simply surpassing expectations in one's current role is insufficient for being qualified to perform in the next role.”

2- Promotion Based on Nepotism or Favoritism

Some individuals believe that organizations promote employees to managerial positions based on nepotism or favouritism. Individuals who are more liked or connected within the organization may be promoted, rather than those who are best suited for the job. It is essential to have objective and transparent promotion processes that are based on merit, not relationships.

3- Inadequate Training and Support for New Managers

Shiffana mentions “When providing training to the first-time managers, HR departments should not overlook the importance of nuanced support. Simply providing coaching may not be enough- new managers often require more direct guidance and comprehensive playbooks to navigate new situations effectively. By executing these playbooks, new managers can gain the necessary experience to reflect on their performance and improve their management skills over time.”

Shadowing can also be a helpful training method for individual contributors (ICs) to develop their skills in conducting effective one-on-one meetings, managing projects, and using project management templates. It is important to identify the appropriate tools/techniques for each team and individual function and provide support without overwhelming ICs. By incorporating these training methods, HR departments can better equip their first-time managers and ICs with the skills they need to succeed in their roles.

What should organizations do if a former top performer struggles in a new managerial role?

Shiffana Mk, Senior Manager, of People and Culture at Nova Benefits, mentions 4 steps to tackle such a situation -

Validation and Building Resilience - a crisis occurs, the priority is to validate the individual. High-performing individuals are often not accustomed to being labelled as poor performers, which can be emotionally draining and can negatively impact their morale, and eventually the team's overall performance. Continuing to validate the individual is a crucial step towards building this resilience. It is important to recognize that individuals may not inherently possess high levels of resilience and need support to develop coping skills.

Providing Resources and Support - This involves working closely with them to identify any obstacles and determining how to provide support. It is crucial to recognize that each person's needs are unique, so there must be enough flexibility to customize the resources and support system accordingly. This is the second most important consideration.

Continuous Observation and Feedback - The third step is to maintain continuous observation and feedback by having regular conversations with the individual and evaluating whether the support system is effective. Both parties should provide and receive feedback, which is critical to the success of the process. Mutual feedback is particularly important in this regard.

Prioritizing Perception and Relationships - It is crucial to understand how the individual is perceived by their team, peers, and higher-level managers / functional leads. While the individual may be performing well, it is essential to consider how they are perceived, and the quality of their relationships with others. Even if an individual's intention is to perform well, it is essential to ensure that others perceive their work positively.

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