I Did a Bad Thing

While this phrase makes most mortals wither, as an HR professional, about half of my conversations start this way. About six months ago - the "bad" thing a CEO did was promote a high-performing individual contributor with no management experience to a senior leadership role managing a team of seven.

Spoiler alert: He wasn't thriving.


I Promoted Someone Before They Were Ready, and They Are Struggling. What Now?

Star Employee (2)

This scenario is common as well-intentioned leaders try to provide upward mobility to internal employees, save on salary, recruiting efforts, and the time it will take an outsider to get up to speed. It can be tempting to promote an employee because they are successful in their current role and know the department, the company, the customers, and the product.

However, promoting someone before they are fully ready for the new responsibilities can be challenging for both the employee and the organization.

Fortunately, it's a situation that can be managed and often turned around with the right approach. Here's what you can do:

Strategies for Turning It Around

  1. Act Now:
  • Address issues as soon as they are identified. The longer the situation persists, the harder it becomes to turn around.
  • Recognize that the promotion may have been premature. Address this realization constructively without assigning blame. Reassure the employee of your support and commitment to their success in the new role.

2.Assess and Identify Gaps:

  • Together, identify the specific areas where they are struggling. This could be regarding skills, knowledge, or adapting to the new role's responsibilities.
  • How are they navigating managing former peers?
  • Conduct a skills gap analysis to pinpoint what needs to be addressed.

3. Provide Targeted Training and Development:

  • Based on the identified gaps, arrange for targeted training and leadership development support. This could include workshops, courses, or on-the-job training.
  • HR should onboard new managers and instruct them on policies, HR processes, legal interviewing, timekeeping, and payroll responsibilities.
  • IT should onboard new managers and explain enhanced access to files and tools, if any.

4. Implement a Mentoring or Coaching Program:

  • Pair the employee with a more experienced mentor who can provide guidance and support.
  • Consider hiring an external coach, especially for leadership and strategic thinking development.

5.   Adjust Expectations and Goals:

  • Set realistic and achievable goals for the employee. These should be aligned with their current capabilities and the expectations of their new role.
  • Regularly review these goals to monitor progress and make adjustments as needed. Create an environment where the individual feels comfortable discussing challenges without fear of judgment.
  • Encourage them to provide regular updates on their progress and any difficulties they face.

6. Increase Supervision and Support:

  • Initially, you may need to increase your oversight of their work to provide guidance and immediate feedback.
  • Offer access to counseling services or employee assistance programs. It can be stressful to take on increased responsibilities.
  • Foster a supportive environment by encouraging their peers to support them. A collaborative team environment can significantly help in easing the transition.

Review and Reflect:

Recently, as we prepared this client for performance reviews, we discussed the growth of this employee over the past six months. The CEO was pleased, reporting that the employee had developed noticeable confidence, established a strong rapport with his team, and started contributing strategic insights. His team reported higher engagement levels, and the promoted employee felt confident in his new role, effectively managing departmental operations and his team.


  • Regularly review the situation. Is the employee showing signs of improvement? Are they adapting to the role?
  • Be prepared to make tough decisions if necessary. If the role is not a good fit despite all efforts, consider other positions that align better with the employee's skills and career path.

Learn from the Experience and Improve Your Processes:

Reflect on the promotion process. What can be learned to prevent similar situations in the future?

Consider implementing a more rigorous process for assessing readiness for promotion and developing succession plans for smooth transitions and critical role readiness.

A "bad promotion" doesn't have to be a permanent setback. Individuals can overcome initial challenges and thrive in their new roles with targeted intervention, training, and support. This support not only aids the individual's career development but also enhances the overall health and productivity of the organization. Remember, the key is to act swiftly and supportively, turning potential failure into a stepping stone to success.

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