From Peer to Supervisor: The Benefits and Challenges of Internal Promotions

Learn to navigate internal promotions, the ideal progression for new managers, and how coaching can support the transition from peer to supervisor.

What are the risks and rewards of promoting a team member to be the team supervisor?

Promoting from Within

In many companies, the typical first step in the management progression is for a top-performing employee to step into a leadership role within their own team.

Internal promotions are often the easiest transition for the individual, as they are already familiar with the team and its dynamics. This approach has the additional benefits of being a great way to recognize and develop talent, boost morale, and ensure continuity within the team.

However, the new manager will need support as they navigate the new role so that they don't slip into their comfort zone or alienate those who were once their peers.

A new manager needs help with:

    1. letting go of being the "expert"
    2. avoiding being the "rescuer" 
    3. navigating the change in relationships with peers

Every participant in my new manager program is navigating these exact challenges; coaching is better equipped to address these issues than a training class or course.

The best way to support their early development is to coach them yourself or find them an external coach. While you should definitely incorporate some coaching practice into your management style, we recommend an external coach because there will be a lot of stress that you aren't able to help them navigate—some of it related to you, their boss.

An Ideal Progression

Ideally, a manager would be able to start honing their management and leadership skills within the group they know well. Once they have a solid foundation of managerial and leadership skills, the next step is to become a full-time manager in a department outside their knowledge realm.

For example, an engineering manager could then become a finance manager. (No, it is not necessary for them to have the technical skills of the team they're managing.) This allows them to gain familiarity with another aspect of the business before stepping into an even greater role with significant business decision-making responsibilities. 

Promotion Practices of Large Corporations

Some large corporations have the ability to promote employees to manage a different team right off the bat. This approach has its advantages, especially when they have complementary disciplines (e.g., a mechanical engineer becoming the supervisor of the electrical engineering department). However, it also has potential drawbacks: it can be treated like a "sink or swim" test for the new manager (which is a terrible way to assess someone's leadership abilities), and it can be a slower developmental path compared to simply pairing an internal promotion with one-to-one coaching.

Promotions in Medium to Small Business

Medium to small businesses often have a lot more flexibility and incentive to be creative in their promotional decisions. Sometimes, a management role is created for a person who is already regarded as an informal leader. Unfortunately, these small businesses lack the training and development resources to bring new managers up to speed. A new manager can fumble along for a while, which can significantly impact retention and performance for the rest of the team—something a small business may struggle to remedy.

The Bottom Line

Promoting from within is risky but often the right choice. But a promotion is an investment, and that investment should be protected with the right resources. Coaching helps new managers navigate the challenges that come with the transition. By providing the necessary support and following a thoughtful progression plan, companies can develop strong leaders who are well-equipped to manage within—or outside of—their technical comfort zone. 

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