Thrown in the deep-end...

Have you ever been promoted or moved to a new role with additional responsibilities within an existing business? Yes? You were probably thrown into the deep-end and expected to swim. Sometimes people struggle to swim and instead they sink; and this can have damaging implications for the organisation and the individual's career.

Many of the businesses I have worked in throughout my career have had robust probation review processes to ensure that anyone new entering the organisation is fully supported to help them settle in, and become a productive member of the team as soon as possible; with regular catch-ups with their manager to check they have everything they need, and have every chance of success in their role.


Therefore, I have often scratched my head wondering why organisations don't commit the same amount of time and effort to someone moving roles internally; because, after all, their success in their new role is as important as for someone coming into the organisation from an external source.


Some of the mistakes organisations make when they promote or move people internally:

  1. Assume that the person wants the promotion or change in role; and present it as a fait accompli, rather than engaging in a consultative conversation about whether this is even the right move for them. Even when a candidate thinks they know what a role entails, until further exploration, they may not know the extent of the pressure, responsibilities or challenges.

  2. Fail to conduct a robust selection process. Even if the organisation believes it has sufficient talent internally without the need for advertising externally, there should still be a selection process involving interviews, competency assessments and reference checking. It is best practice to advertise a role internally, as there may be possible candidates that the management team haven't considered because they are unaware of prior skills or experience (and interest).

  3. Assume a base of knowledge that doesn't exist; this might include everything from how to submit an expense claim to how to manage people. In skipping the selection process, the organisation fails to complete their due diligence relating to the potential gaps in knowledge, experience and confidence of the internal candidate, and therefore miss the opportunity to create a professional development plan to support the internal appointee once they commence in the role. They assume that because someone has been in the organisation for a period of time, they know everything they need to know to perform the role effectively.

Many of my clients' organisations have an issue with their "middle management" - the layer of leaders between the operational front-line and the senior leaders. They bemoan a lack of capability, initiative, judgement and ability to 'step up', but have often done little to support this group to grow and develop. It seems to me that if there are multiple issues with the team in this part of the organisation, then it points more to the system and process of promotion, rather than the people themselves.

You don't know what you don't know.

If you have never had exposure to the strategic aspects of a business and have only ever had your day-to-day focus engaged at an operational level, it doesn't mean you lack the capability to operate at a more strategic level, it may just be that you lack the exposure and understanding of what being strategic entails.

As an organisation (or as someone about to contemplate an internal role change), there are some simple steps that can be taken to ensure success in the new role.

  1. Before making the decision to offer/accept a new role; assist the candidate to explore the role in detail. Don't just provide the position description; encourage the candidate to speak to others who hold the same or similar role and/or those who have worked with this role in the past, and ask them what they know of the role and/or what they expect from the person in this role. What made the previous incumbent successful/unsuccessful?

  2. Have a frank conversation with the candidate and identify the potential gaps in their knowledge, skills and experience; help them understand that asking questions and seeking support for aspects of the role is a strength not a weakness. Once the gaps are identified; create a development plan that supports their growth and capability enhancement. This may be via training or mentoring.

  3. Use a similar format to a probationary review; the first three to six months of the role should contain regular catch ups with their manager to check on their progress, identify and remove obstacles, and ensure they are on track.

However, the best way to set up your people for success in a new role, is via a succession plan. Pre-determining potential candidates for the talent pool for roles, helps to gradually develop the candidate's understanding of the role and its responsibilities, helping them to decide if this is the direction they want to take, before getting too far down path. It allows the candidate and the organisation to identify potential gaps in knowledge, skills or confidence and develop these over time.

The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave, is not training them, and having them stay - Henry Ford

While having multiple 'understudies' for a role can lead to the disengagement or departure of those who are not successful in obtaining the role when it becomes vacant, it is better to have employees who are ready to take the next step, than to appoint those who are not ready; who disrupt teams, fail to be productive and/or negatively impact their own career. A loss of talent can also be alleviated by providing alternate opportunities to keep them engaged, growing and valued.


Before you throw your next employee into the deep end, think about how you can best support them to succeed, as this will be beneficial to everyone and the organisation as a whole.





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