When Promotions Don’t Work and How to Make Sure They Do

If you’re like most people, you would be able to recognize the Ghostbusters theme song if you heard it. And you would know the refrain, “Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!”

In today’s world, a much more important question is “Who you gonna trust?”

While that question applies to every aspect of your life and work (that’s why I’m offering a five-week trust master class soon … see below), I raise the question today with reference to job promotions. Because a lot of them don’t work. According to Profiles International, 40% of internal job moves made by people identified by their companies as “high potentials” fail.

Why is that the case? Because many organizations make the mistake of just looking at someone’s ability when they’re assessing an employee for a management job.

That can be disastrous. I’m sure you can think of some hot-shot sales rep or a genius software engineer who was promoted to a managerial position and the results weren’t good at all. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me in my speaking and coaching business how often high-producing individuals get promoted into management jobs that require a totally different mindset to be successful.

So why do so many promoted people fail? And how can you be sure you pick right in the future? Check out the quiz below and the answers to some of the questions.

►1. Three reasons many promotions do not work.

The reason newly promoted people fail so often comes down to three critical factors

The first one is the leadership behaviors a person exhibits. Does the other person have the skills that the new leadership role requires?

This isn’t always an easy one to figure out especially with young employees. After all, the leadership behaviors people develop through training and experience over time are not necessarily apparent from who they are when they start.

The second reason is motivation. In other words, does the other person REALLY want the position? And are they WILLING to make the sacrifices the job will require?

As I tell my coaching clients, “Leadership is not for the fainthearted. It demands large reserves of physical, mental and emotional energy to drive progress and to implement change.” Then I ask them, “Are you ready and willing to take on that challenge?”

The third reason is commitment. How committed is the other person to the company and its mission?

Most organizations focus on whether or not an employee can DO the new position. And that is important. But all too many organizations neglect an equally important question, “Does the employee WANT to do the job?”

When you avoid those three mistakes, your chances of picking the right person to promote go up dramatically.

In addition to avoiding the three promotion mistakes I cited above, there’s an additional way of making sure you pick the right people to promote. It’s making sure those people are “high potentials” in the first place.

Truly “high potential” employees pass this 11-point quiz. Some of the questions are mine and some come from Profiles International.

►2. Eleven questions to make sure people are good candidates for promotion

a. Does this person have a proven track record for accomplishing impressive results – not just meeting expectations?

In other words, a person is not promoted to a position of leadership just because they’ve been there a long time (seniority) or because of some notion that it’s their “turn”. To be a tough-minded leader, any candidate for leadership should have a relentless focus on results, performance, and achievement.

b. Does this person take charge and make things happen? Or sit back and let things happen before producing?

It’s all about mindset and work style. You want a leader who is an actor, not a reactor … who takes initiative rather than waiting to see what happens.

c. Does this person inspire confidence in their decision-making?

Trust is a must or the relationship will bust. Other people need to trust this person to make consistently good and right decisions.

d. Does this person have clear values that they follow faithfully?

As I often tell my coaching clients, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

It’s all about having moral courage, setting the example, doing the right thing, even though it may not be the popular thing. As Senator Barbara Boxer said, “If all you do is take the path of least resistance because you’re afraid of not being loved, then you don’t really stand for much.”

It’s all about authenticity as well. A leader earns the trust and respect (but not always the agreement) of others when the leader knows who he/she is, talks the talk, and walks the walk of congruency with their values.

e. Can this person lead through persuasion and influence?

There’s a big difference between leading with effective communication skills and leading with power and position. The first one invites collaboration while the second only invites submission, sometimes resentfully so.

f. Do others trust this person to lead projects and teams, even though they may not have a leadership title?

There’s some truth to the notion of “natural-born leaders.” They’re the ones that end up leading a variety of people and tasks even though they may not be the official leader in title. Other folks notice them and tend to follow them.

g. Does this person have an understanding of how to separate the “goal” from the “process?

As an employee, the only questions that tend to count are “what’s the job” and “when does it have to be done.” A leader, however, has to look at the bigger picture, fully understanding the goal to be accomplished first … and then decide on how they’re going to get there.

h. Can this person keep a global perspective? Are priorities apparent or do they become mired in the details and tactics?

This question hinges on two qualities: vision and discipline. Good leaders are aware of a great deal more than their project and all of its elements; they have the vision to see how it fits into the larger organization and how to prioritize what’s most important. Beyond that, good leaders are disciplined enough to get distracted by the inevitable details that will occur along the way.

i. Do obstacles stop this person? Or do they represent challenges, not threats?

An ineffective leader gets negative and de-motivated by obstacles, while an effective leader gets fired up and creative in overcoming those obstacles.

j. What success has this person had with multi-tasking?

Very few leaders have the luxury of only working on one thing at a time, as they often have to juggle several balls well at the same time. Look at this person’s previous experience and track record with regard to multi-tasking.

k. How do unexpected changes affect this person’s performance?

Change is inevitable, but suffering is optional. To be effective, leaders need to handle these changes without it dramatically and/or negatively affecting their results. After all, leadership is the willingness to keep changing while continuing to accept the risk of failure.

There’s also an interpersonal dimension to this question. Most employees want their leaders to insulate them from change, which is not possible. But a leader must be able to protect their people from danger, as much as possible, and still expose them to reality.