Is Your Star Performer Ready for Management?

If your star is missing one of the four skills described here, hit the 'pause' button before making the promotion decision.

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By Beth Miller

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More often than not, I have seen small business owners promote one of their young stars from a job as an individual contributor to a managerial position -- with less than stellar results. You may have had a similar experience and learned from your mistake. Or you may currently be considering promoting one of your own star performers.

Related: 5 Signs Your Employee Is in Dire Need of a Promotion

But before you promote that individual to the first rung of management, engage in a "best practices" move: Pause and assess the individual. Determine what skills he or she may be missing or needs to strengthen. Otherwise, this person may assume a position that will ultimately create stress and become part of the statistical 50 percent failure rate in promotion estimated by the Center for Creative Leadership.

From my experience, there are four skills that first-time manager/leaders are often lacking because they haven't received the training or experience:

  • Delegation
  • Creating goals for others
  • Developing employees
  • Leadership communications

The number one missing skill here is delegation. As a single contributor, an employee gets work done by doing it on his or her own. Yet a manager gets work done through others, which requires an understanding of what needs to be delegated, whom to delegate specific tasks to and how to effectively delegate and monitor progress.

So, how do you as the company leader know if your star performer has the capacity to delegate? The solution is to have employees you're considering for promotion put together a list of tasks they are currently doing that they believe should be delegated, and to whom they should be delegated. If they struggle with this exercise, it is time to pause and coach them or get them some training.

Setting goals and objectives for employees, monitoring progress and communicating with clarity is another important skill that may be missing. Make sure the employee understands how to create smart goals and deliver them with clarity and purpose.

In other words, make sure these goals are not only understood but also linked back to specific corporate goals. This linkage will reinforce the importance of the goal as well as the importance the employee has to the organization.

Related: Should You Always Promote From Within Your Company?

Finally, managers need to have a process for monitoring progress. Unfortunately, there isn't a good pre-exercise for this one; rather, it's going to require mentoring from you or someone else on your team.

Developing employees may be a missing skill, but one that is a critical competency for leaders. Developing employees is also something that the majority of managers are ill prepared to do when they step into a management position for the first time.

However, understanding when to mentor, versus when to coach, and identifying skills gaps and behaviors that need to be adjusted are important in order to create a development plan, and then monitor the plan. There are some great books to help build coaching skills, such as Catalytic Coaching by Garold L. Markle and The Coaching Manager by James M. Hunt and Joseph R. Weintraub.

A related suggestion: Have a potential manager read these books and discuss with you what he or she plans on doing to coach future employees. Do this before this person is officially promoted. It may also be beneficial for you provide this individual his or her own coach, to offer firsthand experience of what coaching is.

Communications becomes something different once an employee becomes a manager. All of a sudden, "communications" become focused on others. Specifically, a manager who wants to become a true leader needs to be able to communicate as a leader to inspire and develop others to be the best they can be.

Managing further requires listening to opposing views and to varying opinions to gain an understanding, and bringing employees together as a cohesive team. It requires asking difficult and powerful questions when dealing with conflict and performance issues. So, before you promote, ask yourself these questions: Does this person listen to others and their ideas? Does he or she ask probing questions to understand other points of view? Do others want to listen to this person?

When this employee communicates, does he or she make adjustments to the communication style preferences of the receiver? If the answer to these questions is yes, he or she has demonstrated the potential to communicate as a leader. If not, pause, coach and train.

Because all of four of these managerial skills require knowledge of techniques and tools, and the ability to effectively put them into practice, you may be able to determine your employee's level of understanding but not his or her level of mastery.

Related: Measure These 5 Talent Metrics for Greater Success in Hiring and Managing Employees

So before making that promotion, hit the pause button and determine this individual's level of knowledge in each of these four competencies. Then identify how to fill those knowledge gaps and create a development plan. Most importantly, work the plan with this person to guarantee his or her success in that first management position.

Beth Miller

Leadership Development Advisor, Speaker, Executive Coach

Beth Armknecht Miller is a certified managerial coach and founder of Executive Velocity Inc., a boutique firm offering talent management and leadership development solutions. She chairs a monthly Atlanta meeting for Vistage, a company that hosts advisory meetings for small business CEOs. Her latest book is Are You Talent Obsessed?

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