Getting the right people into leadership positions is a huge challenge for organizations. Companies with top-tier leaders tend to be more innovative and adaptable than their competitors, while poor leadership contributes to high turnover, low morale, and poor collaboration. Remarkably, many companies still struggle to identify high-potential employees within their organization, leading them to select employees who are poorly suited for leadership roles about 80 percent of the time.
Given those odds, it’s probable that even organizations that do a good job of filling their succession pipeline with quality candidates will make a poor employee promotion decision from time to time. What sets successful companies apart, however, is how they choose to react to these mistakes when they happen.
Here are a few tips for correcting poor promotion decisions:
Understand the Problem
The first step in responding to a poor employee promotion decision is understanding why the person is not succeeding in their position. While it may be apparent that something isn’t right, it’s important to identify the true nature of the problem. Why is the promoted employee failing? Are they missing key skills needed to be successful in their new role? Did they misunderstand some aspect of their role? Are they struggling to handle the pressure of their new responsibilities? Sometimes a person fails in a position because they lack the motivation to put in the effort, but it could just as likely be that they’re doing the very best they can and the results simply aren’t good enough.
There are all sorts of reasons why someone may turn out to be a poor promotion decision. In some cases, the problems may present themselves right away, but it may take some time to determine whether or not the situation can be salvaged. When new people move into leadership positions, they often need a few weeks to grow accustomed to their new role. During that time, team members will also need to adjust to having a new leader. It’s critical that the organization have a formal onboarding process and sets up a timeline for evaluating this transition period to determine whether any performance issues are temporary or representative of a deeper problem.
Be Accountable for the Decision
Once a company understands why a promoted employee is falling short of expectations, it must take accountability for putting that person in the position in the first place. A good assessment and selection process should consistently identify high-potential employees and place them on a development track for leadership positions. A strong succession process is supposed to provide training and development opportunities to prepare these employees to step into new positions as they become available, ensuring minimal disruption and consistently high quality leadership candidates.
When the wrong person is promoted, it could indicate that some aspect of the promotion decision process is flawed. Perhaps the person was hired too quickly due to pressure to fill a void. The problem could also indicate an issue with promotion criteria. Maybe the process placed too much emphasis on past performance and experience rather than assessing skills to determine if the candidate could fit the success profile of the position. By taking responsibility for a failed promotion decision process, organizations can refine their selection process to reduce the chance of making the same mistake in the future.
Of course, after understanding why a promotion isn’t working out, the organization still needs to take steps to deal with the problem. There is always the temptation to take a “wait and see” approach, but this will generally only make the problem worse. If an employee is struggling due to a lack of skills or expertise, they’re likely feeling overwhelmed and frustrated in their new role. Simply giving them more time to grow into the role without any direction or feedback is unlikely to produce positive results, especially if they’re in a leadership position where their poor performance can impact their team’s productivity and engagement.
Determining the appropriate action to take, however, can be a delicate situation. In the case of a toxic employee who is failing due to negative behaviors or a lack of effort, it’s best to provide feedback that calls the problem to their attention and gives them an opportunity to improve. If they fail to comply with an agreed upon expectations in the improvement plan, the organization can then begin the process of removing them from the position.
But circumstances are rarely that simple. Even if they’re struggling in their current position, the promoted employee may still bring tremendous value to the organization in another capacity, or it could be the case that a bit of targeted development could provide them with the skills they need to succeed. In these cases, the organization bears some responsibility for putting someone in a position they weren’t equipped for in terms of competencies. By communicating directly with the promoted employee, the company can work with them to develop an action plan to transition them into another role or, if possible, create a development plan to provide the skills they need to be more successful in their new role.
A good leadership development program should provide an organization with plenty of high-potential candidates, but sometimes employee promotions still don’t work out. When a candidate turns out to be a poor fit for their position, it’s vital that companies acknowledge the problem quickly and take steps to address the issue. By taking informed action quickly, they can mitigate the negative impact of the decision and ensure that future employee promotions will be more likely to succeed.