Who Says It’s a Promotion?

authentic leadership authority benefits of promoting from within career career advancement opportunities career development examples of career pathways influence internal promotion leadership management profit profitability profitability killers promotion supervision why do bad employees get promoted Aug 02, 2023
why do bad employees get promoted

One of the first people I remember meeting on an assembly line, when I finally made it to the shop floor after nine full days of orientation, was a fellow named Phil. He was the day shift lead on that line and had been for long enough to have earned a reputation that even a hard headed and strong willed nineteen year old would quickly admire. Truth be told, I had heard about how great Phil was to work for even before I started with the company!

For close to four decades - ten or so years before I started, the nearly twenty years I worked with him, and for close to a decade after - Phil served in a lead role for various assembly lines in the same area of that manufacturing facility. Not only did he make a great impression on me from the start, he and I maintained a solid working relationship in each role I took on moving forward. I can think of more than a few times where I poked and prodded him about throwing his hat in the ring for a supervisor spot. I had seen several others make similar moves and he had earned far more respect than most of them. Each time though, he was quick to shut me down. Phil wanted no part of it! 

I could go on and on about Phil; how he turned down significantly more money with other companies, how he ended up being a tremendous mentor to my son years after he and I worked together, and so much more. My point here though is to emphasize that pushing him to accept a “promotion” into a supervisory or management role would have been a very logical step in the progression to most everyone watching from the outside; everyone except the folks who really knew him!

Phil enjoyed the majority of what he did and he was excellent at it! He had no interest whatsoever in climbing the corporate ladder or dealing with the politics that would have come with that. And while he never said so specifically, I believe he found fulfillment in helping the people around him produce high quality products. Had he been pressured to move into another role, I have no doubt that he could have been just as successful - but I also have no doubt that he would have been extremely frustrated and most likely would have left that organization.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve worked with folks who were just as technically sound in their respective trades as Phil was in his. I saw many of them moved into similar roles where they were responsible for training others and ensuring projects got done. In far too many of those cases, they floundered. Their ability to produce results on their own didn’t translate in any way to training the folks working with them. And the frustration that accompanied this usually pushed more inexperienced team members away than it kept! I can even remember a few situations where some of the most skilled workers, a few actually having been given titles that carried a bit of authority, absolutely refusing to train the newest members of their team. One went so far as to say “if they can figure something out after I tell them once, I don’t want them on my crew.” 

Phil was leading from where he was on a daily basis. The ones who accepted the positions with more authority were doing no such thing. We’ll dig into a few of the ways those folks were killing profitability soon. For now, I want you to think about how much profitability would have been killed if I (or anyone else for that matter) would have forced Phil to accept a “promotion” he had no interest in…

As we looked at the impact turnover has as a profitability killer, I referenced a Gallup study saying that “It's generally estimated that replacing an employee costs a business one-half to five times that employee's annual salary.” If replacing a relatively new employee can cost half their annual salary, I have no doubt that replacing the value Phil brought to his role and the team he led would have definitely cost five times his annual salary. And I don’t think it would have stopped there! After knowing him for close to thirty years, I’m fairly sure that any supervisory or management role he would have accepted would have been short lived. Not because he wasn’t capable, but because he wouldn’t have been able to do the things that gave him fulfillment. That would have resulted in replacing him in yet another role - and losing all the knowledge and skill he had developed in the organization entirely!

Just because it seems like it’s the best next step for their career doesn’t mean it’s what they want. We’ll look at how we can allow someone like Phil flourish exactly where they are soon. First though, we need to consider the costs that come from promoting someone just because of their technical expertise…