What to Do When you Promote the Wrong Employee

Promoting internal employees can be a great retention tool, but it doesn’t always work.

Many employees have a hard time removing themselves from their old role when accepting an internal promotion, says Ashley Hoover, Vice President of Sales for Workway, a specialized staffing firm in the mortgage, title and escrow, administrative and clerical, accounting and finance, real estate and banking services industries. And despite proving they are a valuable employee in their current role, they might have the drive, leadership capabilities or confidence to succeed in an advanced role.

“You’d like to think as an organization you have done your due diligence and helped your employees prepare for the new role, but it’s quite common that people who are promoted have a hard time detaching from their old responsibilities when they move into their new position,” says Hoover.

What can you do? This five-step action plan can help you bounce back from promoting the wrong person:

  1. Take responsibility: You don’t want to terminate them because maybe you made the mistake of putting them in the wrong role. So ask yourself: Why are they wrong employee? Are they truly not good people managers? Do they not have the skill set or demeanor for this role? Did YOU have the wrong people involved in the hiring and decision-making process? Maybe it’s a misunderstanding of the role and responsibilities? So ask the newly promoted person what their challenges and work together to turn it around.
  2. Set up a timeline: Every employee needs 30 days to adjust to their new role, says Hoover. The first weeks are spent learning their new processes, examining the company culture and dynamics, adjusting to their new support team and/or their new boss and boss’ style. So consider an action plan and check in at the 60 and 90 day mark. Continue to coach them throughout the process.

“Document these check-ins because if you eventually DO need to terminate the person, you need to show you have documented the times you’ve coached, critiqued and measured their progress,” says Hoover.  

  1. Prevent it from happening again: Hire slow, fire fast, says Hoover. Make sure you never promote someone because someone else quit and your company need to fill the void. Avoid panic promotions by asking everyone within the team to roll up their sleeves and pitch in while you find the right person.
  2. Begin search for replacement: Start putting together an action plan to find the eventual replacement – and reassess what you want in the right candidate to avoid hiring or promoting the wrong person again. Is there another internal candidate or would you be better off searching for an external candidate?
  3. Hold on to your top talent: This candidate may not have been the right person for the promotion. But they were considered for promotion at your company for a reason. So…they must still have value, right?

“Determine what role would be a good fit for that employee,” says Mark Sinatra, CEO of Staff One, a full-service professional employer organization (PEO), that helps small to medium-sized businesses across the country with HR and employee administration.. “Offer training and mentor opportunities in the areas of management and leadership to help them eventually reach the skill level of the position they were promoted to.”


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Kylie Anderson is an L.A. based writer covering employment trends for the ZipRecruiter Blog.

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