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Promoting Your High Performer

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For many organizations, the beginning of the calendar year is a time for new beginnings. Budgets have been approved, strategic plans are in place, and high performers are being promoted.

The most successful organizations are the ones that develop tried and true processes, and this includes having a process for promotions. Just as a formal approach can streamline a project or business initiative, a formal process for promoting talent plays an important role in ensuring that a new leader is successful.

Whether the leader is moving into a newly created position or filling an existing role, there are a few key steps to ensuring a successful transition:

  • Before offering a promotion, make sure your employee’s aspirations are aligned with the opportunities the new role entails. While this may sound obvious, promoting leaders into roles they are not suited for happens more frequently than you might expect which, of course, leads to unsatisfied leaders and, consequently, unsatisfied teams.
  • Similar to the point above, make sure your new leader wants a promotion. The reasons for not wanting a promotion can range from a desire to avoid the perceived stress and loss of work/life balance that a management role may entail to not wanting to lose connections with peers.
  • Have the new leader actively help define the role. People, by nature, tend to embrace roles they have helped create.
  • When possible, study how other organizations have structured similar positions. Consider reaching out to a former employer, a vendor or a partnering agency that has a similar role in place and speak with the person who is in that position about how it is structured.
  • Ensure that there is alignment on expectations for the role. What areas will this person be responsible for and what are the objectives? To use a sports analogy, you do not want a new leader to work on hitting home runs if the company is expecting touchdowns. It is also important to include key stakeholders to help define what success looks like.
  • Establish metrics and a timeline for measuring success. Knowing what will be measured is a key component of developing an action plan that focuses on your businesses’ objectives and, more importantly, allows your new leader to avoid distractions that may keep the team busy but aren’t a core part of the company’s focus.
  • Generate stakeholder buy-in, both before and after the promotion takes place. Just as people will have a higher degree of ownership in a role they’ve helped create, colleagues are more likely to support a decision if they have been included in the process. This doesn’t mean “promotion by committee.” It does mean making sure that you’ve solicited input from those with whom your new leader will be working.
  • Make sure your new leader has the tools s/he needs to succeed. Expect requests for additional resources, especially during the “honeymoon period,” and consider them carefully. Your new leader may have unique insights into how tools can increase efficiency that may have not been previously identified.
  • Assign a mentor, especially for first-time managers. This “go-to” resource can serve as a sounding board for decisions, provide insights on overcoming challenges, and share personal, relevant experiences. New managers will also benefit from “Management 101” training that addresses topics such as the employee review process, policies about awarding bonuses and raises, and how to avoid common management pitfalls.
  • Stay connected. Bringing a new leader on board should not be a “sink or swim” proposition. Long-term success requires that leaders, staff, C-suite executives and others maintain an open dialogue. This will help identify issues before they become insurmountable obstacles. Part of maintaining an open dialogue includes checking in with counterparts within the organization for their perspective on a new leader’s performance. And, ensure that your new leader is doing the same. Engaging colleagues and teams in the feedback process will help avoid surprises at the end of the quarter or the year.


It is also important to visit with internal candidates who did not receive a desired promotion in order to share the reasons behind your decision. Doing so allows you to communicate, when appropriate, that this was simply a “not now” decision instead of a “not ever” one. If a leadership role does not currently exist for a high performer, you can still keep that person motivated. Talk about what s/he considers to be important and find ways to tap into those passions through projects, new assignments and mentorship.

Successful leadership and succession programs are based on tried and true processes. Following these best practices will help ensure a leader’s – and an organization’s – long-term success.