Think Twice Before Promoting Your Top Producer

Your top producer is such a superstar that it makes sense to promote him or her into management, right?

Maybe not.

Remember the classic “Peter Principle”? It was Laurence J. Peter’s management concept that in any kind of hierarchy, people tend to rise to their “level of incompetence.” In other words, as people are promoted, they tend to become progressively less effective because good performance in one job does not guarantee similar performance in another.

A lot of managers look at their star performers and think, “Wow, this person would be dynamite as a sales manager!” Often, top performers are excited about the promotion, and they don’t want to let their bosses down, so they take the job.

Once promoted into management, great salespeople often struggle to succeed in the new role. Performing and leading others to perform are two entirely different skills. Tiger Woods isn’t known as a great golf coach, and you don’t see LeBron James conducting shootarounds. Their gift is in their performance, and great coaches know that.

Common Downsides

What happens when you promote your top producer into management, and it’s not a good fit? There are several downsides to this common scenario:

  1. You lose the star producer’s substantial production.
  2. If he or she doesn’t like the management role, you might lose him or her to another company or even industry.
  3. New associates might leave your firm or agency because they want strong leadership from the new manager but aren’t getting it.

The Solution: Identify Potential Sales Leaders and Train Them

So how can you identify your next talented manager?

  1. Gauge interest. First, find out who is genuinely interested. If you are looking for a manager, let everyone in your firm or agency know that, and encourage those who are interested to come to talk with you.
  2. Define success in the role. Next, write down what success in the management role looks like. What personality traits are you looking for? What types of competencies does the manager need to have? By what metrics will you measure their success?
  3. Assess potential. You could rely on your own experience to determine who has the best chance of succeeding. For example, if you determine that one goal for your new manager is to hire 20 new agents or advisors in one year, ask your top candidates for the position how they would accomplish that. If you want a more scientific way to assess leadership potential, turn to online assessments; many are available.
  4. Train the new manager. Once you have selected the best candidate, provide training before having him or her assume the responsibilities of the management role.
  5. Have a contingency plan ready. Sometimes people get into management and realize they don’t like it. Plan for that possibility. Give the new manager six months or a year to discover if he or she likes the new role and if it looks like a good fit for the company. If not, allow the manager to return to production or fill another role. You don’t want to lose great talent just because the person is in the wrong role.