Ready to promote internally? Ask yourself these questions first.

Kat Liendgens
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February 8, 2019

As your team grows, you’ll inevitably add more management levels. I’ve always preferred looking at an internal promotion as the first option, since it means you are investing in the professional development of your team and rewarding good performance in the most visible way. That being said, putting someone who has never been in a managerial position in charge of even one direct report poses a risk worth assessing. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before promoting someone internal to a management position, especially if it’s their first time in that role.


Are They the Right Fit?

This question clearly assesses why you’ve chosen this particular team member as a front runner for the job. It’s important to realize that not everyone who is a great individual contributor automatically has the desire and skills to become a manager. During both formal check-ins and informal conversations, ask them about their aspirations. Don’t assume that everyone wants to manage people. Make it clear that there’s no mandate or expectations in that regard, and that someone can have a fulfilling and rewarding career as an individual contributor within your company.

If you’ve identified a team member as a candidate for a management position, be sure to determine if they’re the right fit for the group of individuals who would be reporting to them - and if it’s the right time. For instance, if the team is particularly challenging due to conflicting communication styles and personalities, it may not be an ideal situation for a first-time manager. If you’re looking for someone to disrupt certain levels of dysfunction, it may be easier for an outsider to look at things with fresh eyes. On the other hand, if your internal candidate has the self-awareness, natural communication skills, and the humility to become a leader, a promotion may be the right step. Obviously, you’ll also have to assess which of their current responsibilities can be taken over by other team members and how you have to reassign roles and/or hire additional people to ensure that the team is equipped to achieve its goals.

Invest sufficient time to understand the makeup of the team with regard to skill set, personalities, and the team’s ability to change in order to determine how to achieve the best possible chemistry.

Are They Ready?

Not only do you want to ensure that your internal candidate is the right fit for the job in terms of interest, potential, and alignment, but you also want to assess their readiness for the challenge. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do they understand the goals of the department and the key performance indicators to track milestones and progress?
  • Do they know how to communicate problems and challenges?
  • Do they know when to ask for help?

You’ll also want to be sure that they won’t get ahead of themselves. Sometimes, a promotion can result in over-exuberance or even an inflated sense of self. Continuous feedback is key to prevent this from happening. Discuss strengths and opportunities for improvement and encourage self-reflection. Be an example by leading with compassion and humility, and don’t be afraid to share examples from your own experience. When did you “mess up”? When did you have to check and adjust your own attitude?

Once someone starts managing, they should dedicate a large portion of their time to the development of the team. Is the candidate ready to give up their current responsibilities, even at the expense of their potentially highly marketable technical skill set? Is the candidate willing to give up certain perks? For example, in a leadership role, you will likely want them to be in the office more frequently to learn from and collaborate with you, other managers, and other teams to become an even greater stewart of your company culture. The workload may change as well, and it’s important to be transparent about it. Is the candidate on board with foregoing some, if not all, of the flexibility that they’re currently enjoying?

Examine existing dynamics on the team. Suddenly being in charge of people who used to be not only your peers but, in a lot of cases, your friends, can be awkward. Does the candidate have the maturity to handle the new responsibilities and not let personal friendships affect how they manage? Can you trust them with confidential information?

What skills is the candidate currently bringing to the table, and what skills need to be developed? To what extent is the individual willing to take ownership of their own learning and growth by attending networking events, webinars, workshops, and, of course, through constant reading and seeking feedback? Ask them what their plan is, but also share examples of what other managers have done to succeed and become better at their craft.


Are You Ready?

Promoting from within is not just about the internal candidate’s readiness - it’s also about yours! Be realistic about your ability and willingness to guide them, communicate your expectations, and ask the right questions to let the new manager come to their own conclusions. If you need to be focused on raising money and, as a result, are not going to be in the office enough to nurture your management team, it may not be the right time to promote someone to be a first-time manager.

As an experienced leader, you understand the importance of finding the right balance between letting new managers figure things out on their own and stepping in when needed. It’s crucial that the new manager feels that they are supported. Are you ready to back them up? Are you ready to push back when their team members try to go around them and come directly to you? Are you ready to express your full support for the manager when team members question your decision? Are you able to articulate your plans and benchmarks to your stakeholders?

Giving one of your team members a chance to grow into a management role can be rewarding for you, them, and your company. However, it is not something that should be done without serious considerations regarding the dynamics of the team, your candidate’s desire and aptitude, and their and your readiness.

What about you? What questions do you ask yourself prior to promoting someone to a management role?

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