How to decide whether someone is ready for promotion?

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs and MDs of high growth companies, helping them with strategy development and implementation. Whilst I can come up with amazingly effective ideas for how to scale any business, the one challenge they all end up facing is building the right team quickly.

The fact is, talent quickly becomes the limiting constraint for many high growth companies especially leadership and management skills. As a company grows from a dozen to a few hundred people, finding the right people who can manage teams and departments becomes more and more difficult.

One of the common strategies for these companies is to promote from within and then backfill with new talent. It’s a good strategy when it works, but too often I see companies promoting the wrong people into the wrong roles, and suffering because of it.

Below are six questions I ask when a leader is thinking about promoting someone into a management or leadership role:

  1. Do they want it? Really?

The first thing to consider is if your candidate really wants the new role. While people always want to advance and feel like they’re making progress, you’ll want to make sure that this is really the role for them. This might take some digging and an honest conversation, but make sure you ask the question.

  1. Can they manage themselves?

Moving up the management ladder will mean more projects, more people, more issues, and more demands. If someone hasn’t developed the skills to deal with multiple, and often conflicting, priorities and learned how to allocate their time effectively, they can quickly become overwhelmed and ineffective. Make sure they have the management skills to take on these new challenges.

  1. Do they have the skills?

If the promotion you’re considering involves new skills and capabilities, you need to make sure they are trained and ready. For example, moving someone into a management role that requires a level of financial competence when the person doesn’t know the basics about accounts could be a disaster.

  1. Can they manage people?

The mistake many companies make is taking a starting player and making them a manager. Just because someone is a brilliant coder doesn’t mean they will make a great team manager. In fact, the best technical people often make poor managers because their expectations and standards are far beyond anyone else on the team.

  1. Do they embrace the culture?

One of the risks in promoting someone is that the promotion gives them a much bigger impact on the culture of the company. If they are not a good cultural fit, you’ll be exacerbating the problem by giving them a more influential role. You will also be sending a message to the team that this person represents what is acceptable within the business.

  1. Can they make strategic decisions?

As you move up to management and leadership, one of the big changes is your shift in focus from day to day operations to strategy and longterm thinking. Before you move someone up the ladder, make sure they can think strategically and be able to take a holistic view of the business.


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