What’s so tough about promoting someone into a first-time supervisory role? Shouldn’t that be a topic of joy and jubilation rather than potential confrontation? Well, it depends how you look at it. Of course, it’s always wonderful to promote people into roles of leadership, but the truth is that most newly minted managers require ‘‘the talk’’ before you go ahead and officially bless their promotion.
Why? Because if they assume that they’re simply getting promoted and earning more money to do more of the same, they’re mistaken. Promotions into supervisory roles require a whole new set of skills and strategies, and if your company is willing to invest in them and promote them, then you have every right to establish your expectations on a go-forward basis. As a result, this can be a challenging discussion for you to give and for your employee to receive, but more often than not, you’ll find that establishing this new mind-set will go a long way in helping newly promoted supervisors to excel and thrive in their new roles.
However, don’t be too surprised if you get some initial resistance and even a challenge or two. After all, goes the logic of the newly promoted supervisor, why would you consider promoting me if I wasn’t doing an outstanding job, and why are you killing all the fun and taking away from the moment by telling me about all my weaknesses?
This talk needs to be an honest and balanced assessment of the individual’s performance up to now, along with the heightened expectations you have for that individual in the new role. It may sting a bit during the time of delivery, but it’s meant to get that individual thinking about where he’s been, what he’s accomplished, and where he wants to go from here. As a result, you might want to structure your conversation like this:
Heidi, I wanted to meet with you to discuss your pending promotion. I’m sure you’re excited to see it happen, but before all the paperwork goes through and this becomes formalized, I want to talk with you candidly and openly about my expectations of you in your new role. Does that sound fair? [Yes.]
Up to now, you’ve been an A student. You’ve worked very hard, applied yourself in every way, and did everything that I assigned to you with a smile and can-do attitude. You’ve kept me in the loop regarding your progress and always let me know if you wouldn’t be able to meet a deadline or ran into any unforeseen delays, and I’ve always appreciated that. Truth be told, that’s why I’ve been so supportive of your promotion into a first-line supervisor role.
That being said, I want you to know how things look from my perspective, and I’m not holding any punches. The good news is that this will be an open and honest conversation that I want you to take in and learn from; the not-so-good news is that some of this may be difficult for you to hear, so I want you to approach this with an open mind. Fair enough? [Yes.]
Good. Let’s start with my expectations: If you receive and accept this promotion, you’ll be supervising people who are now your peers. That means that there may be some resentment or jealousy from those whom you feel closest to. It also means that you’re going to have to distance yourself from them a bit so that there’s a clear line or distinction between you and them.
That means, first of all, that you’ll need to dress more professionally. Up to now, you’ve worn clothes and apparel that are befitting of a staff member. But I wouldn’t say they were befitting of a member of the management team. Some people on your staff dress exceptionally well, and you know who they are. I don’t feel that they should dress more professionally than you; however, if you’re not careful, the people you supervise may ‘‘show you up,’’ so to speak. Your image therefore becomes very important, and I want you to give some thought to the image you want to portray both toward your subordinates as well as senior members of management. Is that fair? [Yes.]
Okay. Next, you need to choose your friends a bit more carefully. Up to now, you’ve been very tight with a small group of girls outside of our department—Cindy, Joanne, and Stephanie—and that’s fine. I can’t tell you who to befriend. What I can tell you, though, is that from my view, with all due respect to them, they’re kind of seen as the class clowns on this floor. People don’t take them very seriously because they don’t take their careers very seriously and are constantly joking and giggling and playing pranks on one another.
Again, they’re your friends, and I’m not dictating who you should be friends with. But I can tell you that if I see you and them as one and the same, others will too, and that’s not necessarily going to help your career. My recommendation would be to expand your circle of friends to include other supervisors and department heads. Let people see you networking with higher-level associates, and they’ll tend to categorize you upward into that group, which will help them take you more seriously. Do you see my logic here? [Yes.]
Finally, and most important, I need you to step up in terms of how you see yourself and how you’ll take ownership of the projects you work on and the people you supervise. In short, up to now you’ve been an A student. But I don’t need a student anymore—I need a teacher. And my expectations for teachers are totally different than for students.
For starters, I’ll need you to lead, not follow. I’ll expect you to take well-calculated risks, but always with advanced approval. (As you know, I don’t like mavericks and hate being blindsided.) I’ll need you to speak with authority and command a room, and I know you haven’t really been expected to do that before. This promotion, though, will change all that. They say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone, and I’d like to think that you’re heading into that phase right now.
Are you ready to teach by setting lesson plans, delivering new information, making solid recommendations, and confronting problem situations head-on? Will you be strong enough to discipline or even lay off or terminate subordinates whom you now consider close personal friends? Will I be able to count on you to reinvent yourself in light of these challenges? [Yes.]
These are my expectations, and you need to be sure that you’re ready to step up your own performance to meet them. I promote successful people into successful roles. However, there’s a risk of failure here, like with any change in life, and you need to be sure that you’re ready for the challenge.
You don’t need to answer me right now. I’d rather you sleep on this, think about it carefully, and get back to me tomorrow. Know that you’re not alone in this and that I’ll always be here to help. But before you say yes to this promotion, make sure you’re clear on my expectations and in your ability to meet them. Don’t take this opportunity for granted, and get ready to enter a new stage in your career. When you meet with me tomorrow, I’ll want to be convinced that you’re ready to go and excited. Now let’s talk about what questions you have. . . .
Wow! That’s a lot of information. And of course it doesn’t have to do with only these particular issues; chattiness, avoidance of confrontation, or a messy office are just as valid criteria. What’s important is that you’re honest in your assessment of the individual’s performance up to now as well as your future expectations. Your honesty may be difficult to hear at first, but it can serve as an advantage for the newly minted supervisor’s career development. That’s what enlightened and selfless leadership is all about.