No One is Ever 100% Ready for Their Next Promotion

One of the key elements of managing a team is working together to map out their career progression and to provide a concrete plan for this. Usually, this will involve talking about what the next step for a promotion is and what they need to do in order to get there.

The thing is, I don’t actually think that anyone is actually ever ready for a promotion. 

I’ve promoted, or overseen the promotion of, hundreds of people at this point in my career and haven’t come to the conclusion above lightly. I actually think that it’s even more prevalent the more senior the promotion is. For example, more often than not, a junior being promoted to a mid-level position will generally handle that change better than a senior to a department manager. 

I can also speak to the c-suite, having seen a number of people step into c-level positions and then take some time to adapt. I can include myself in this given that I stepped into the CEO role at Aira about a year ago and have certainly taken more time to adapt to my “new” job than I’d have liked. 

Now, before I go too down this line of thinking, I need to say that I think this is perfectly normal and mostly okay. The goal here isn’t to ensure that everyone is always 100% ready for their next promotion – I don’t think that this is realistic and it’s also not fair.

The goal is to accept that this is a reality and to provide more support to those who get promoted as a result. 

Let’s get into the details.

Why no one is ever ready for a promotion

I could list a number of tactical reasons here but I want to focus on one core reason that transcends all industries and ties most of these tactical reasons together:

The runway for adapting to a new role is almost non-existent, meaning that we do two jobs at once for a period of time.  

That’s it. Honestly.

When we start a new role, we feel discomfort due to our new company, team, surroundings and whether we’ve made the right decision or not. 

But, it’s a new job – it’s perfectly normal to feel discomfort and for this to lead to unease and nervousness. It’s likely that you’ll be given a period of time to adapt to all of these changes and you may even talk openly about needing time to adapt to your brand new role.

Contrast this with a promotion at your current company. Let’s say that you move from a Senior Designer to Head of Design. You are still taking on a new role and will feel many of the same emotions as someone starting a brand new role, but you’re expected to adapt much, much quicker.

Add in another factor – when someone is promoted, there is usually a crossover period between the two roles. It’s quite rare for you to stop one job and start another without any crossover whatsoever.

Now, imagine that someone external was hired for the same Head of Design role. How much longer do you think they’d get to adapt to the same role? Would they be expected to carry out elements of their old role at the same time?

See the problem?

Of course, there is logic for this – an internal promotion is someone who already knows the company and probably already knows the team well. As a result, we assume that they know a lot and often let them get on with things and probably don’t have a ready made replacement for their current role.

But I think that we need to rethink this. I think that we may be setting our teams up to fail by not spending enough time supporting them when they get promoted, leading to far more problems, stress and failures as a result.

How to provide better support when someone is promoted

When we hire someone external and they start their new role, they go through an induction and onboarding process. 

Why don’t we do the same when someone is promoted?

Inboarding: providing better support for your team when they are promoted.

There are a few elements that can factor into a strong inboarding process which we’ll discuss here.

Ramp up period

Firstly, we need to allow for a period of adaptation to a new role, whether someone is an external hire or not. We should accept that there is a period for them to learn their new responsibilities, get up to speed and to sufficiently scale down their previous role.

The goal of this period is to temper their workload so that they don’t end up feeling overwhelmed and left with a feeling that they can’t handle their new job. 

Buddy system

When someone is promoted, they probably still continue to get support from their existing line manager or in some circumstances, a new line manager. But the underlying fact still exists – this person who is their primary support system is in a different role.

We should look to provide some additional support from someone who is already experienced in the role that they have been promoted into. Ideally, this should also be someone who has experienced the same promotion and therefore, understands the changes that happen and key challenges. 

Again, we surround new hires with multiple layers of support in the first few weeks and months of their role. We should be doing the same for those who are promoted. 

Expectation setting

Most good companies will describe the role that someone is being promoted into and give a strong outline of the expectations of that role. This is pretty standard and a good thing to do so that someone knows what they are stepping into.

But there is a big gap that we need to fill when it comes to expectation setting. 

We don’t talk as much about what to expect when it comes to the changes that someone needs to make when they move from one role to another within the same company. Serious thought should be given to this by you as a line manager, with input from others who have made the same move. This allows you to set expectations for someone that allow them to adapt far quicker than usual.

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