It’s always important to develop internal staff for promotions, new opportunities, and succession planning vs. filling positions from outside the firm. But, what if you start promoting from within and still end up with a mismatch? I’ve had that happen and I’m sure you have too. What went wrong?

We’re all familiar with the Peter Principle, where somebody is promoted past their point of competence. However, there are two other subtle, yet related, causes that many leaders overlook…

Mistake #1: Putting Someone in the Wrong Seat on the Bus when Promoting from Within

Jim Collins popularized the idea of having the right people on the bus, and in the right seat. Have you ever been on a very small plane where they moved people around based on weight so that the trim would be right for takeoff? It’s the same in your organization. Put a talented person in the wrong seat, and the trim will be off. It’s not that they’re not competent in the bigger scheme of things – they’re just not a match for the role you’ve put them into. It’s a cruel thing to leave an employee in that space because sooner or later they’ll burn out or leave of their own accord, and you’ll wonder why a well-intentioned move backfired.

Here are the symptoms you’ll see:

  • They’re working long and hard, but not improving their mastery or results.
  • They’re disengaging and/or giving up.
  • They’re not themselves. Outgoing and confident employees may withdraw and become more tentative, not knowing why all of a sudden they’re no longer successful.

Case Study: When I was working with a client in the manufacturing sector, this exact thing happened despite the best of intentions of the company. A very talented employee on the finance side of the business expressed career ambitions to take on a managerial role on the operations side. He was promoted from within to Plant Manager under an experienced VP of Operations, and things quickly went south. He’d been a huge asset to the organization, always willing to dive into anything asked of him, outgoing, full of good ideas and a willingness to learn. He became sullen, withdrawn, and no longer engaged when sitting at the management table. Someone who had been popular and well-liked now had a toxic impact on those underneath him by simply not seeming to “get” what was required. Tons of coaching, coaxing, and even raises were provided trying to help him get back in the game, all to no avail. When we looked at several factors with a structured approach, we realized he was in the wrong seat; and at that time the only option was to demote him, further eroding his confidence, although he kept his higher paycheck. He stayed but clearly was still in the wrong seat.

Success: The CEO believed in him and when the time was right, found him the right seat where he could use his finance skills to have a positive impact on just-in-time inventories and contribute to the success of the manufacturing operations as a manager.

Mistake #2: Failing to Recognize the Power of Employees in Flow

When you’re doing one of your favorite activities do you find that time flies by? That’s being in Flow. Of course, the reverse is also true – ever had a day drag by when you were involved in something you found drudgery? Part of optimizing the productivity you can get from great talent is by helping those on your team find Flow. I actually introduce my clients to a tool called a PACT – the Performance Alignment Commitment Tool – that has a section on Flow built right in, and the results of this exercise are often surprisingly insightful and quite dramatic. Again and again, I’ve seen hidden talents and desires emerge from this process that could easily be accommodated with a slight tweak to the job. The result? A happier, more productive employee.

When someone is NOT in Flow, you’ll often see these symptoms:

  • Procrastination, busy work.
  • Outright avoidance, excuses, and time-wasting that impacts other employees.
  • Low productivity despite talent.

Case Study: Tina worked in a telephone-sales center. She was extremely good at building rapport with potential clients, but also needed a lot of hands-on reassurance that she was doing a good job. She loved to pop her head into her boss’s office to share details of her client calls and far too much information regarding her personal life. Once Tina found Flow, the troublesome behaviors disappeared. While she loved being on the phone, there were components to her job she wasn’t very good at, such as data entry, and the reassurance and garrulous chit-chat were simply avoidance techniques, allowing her to delay her less-favorite jobs.  Meanwhile, there were others around her who didn’t enjoy being on the phone, but truly enjoyed data entry!

Success: We redefined roles and responsibilities so that she was supported in data entry by one of the other call center staff who actually hated the phones and who was considered a marginal performer. They both found Flow. Once Tina was focused on what she did best – building relationships with clients – it was difficult to get her off the phone even for lunch breaks!  Meanwhile, the other call centre staff member who enjoyed data-entry fulfilled a critical role and became a solid performer, working to ensure the CRM system had the data required to support the folks on the phones.

It’s essential that you structure your workplace so that some employees find fun in what others consider work and vice-versa. It takes a bit of creativity and it all starts with asking the right questions. If you could use a little help to get that process started without having to reinvent the wheel, please reach out.

What difference would it make in YOUR company to have employees in the right seats related to their skills and in Flow related to what they love to do?


#1 Bestselling Author, International Speaker, and Accelerator Anne C. Graham is on a mission to help business leaders and their teams double their profit per employee – or more – in less than one year, in less time per week than they’re spending on email per day. Her #1 Best selling book Profit in Plain Sight includes the 5-step proactive P.R.O.F.I+T Roadmap to do it.  Connect with Anne on LinkedIn.