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From Peer to Manager

Many years ago, I was promoted out of my peer group to a first line supervisor position and as a result, had to manage those very same peers.


I’ll be honest, I struggled for several months to make the transition and that struggle was as much to do with my peer group adjusting to the new relationship dynamic as it was to me finding my way in the new role.


To be frank, I was really not prepared for the step up – There had been no preparation in advance, just my boss at the time telling me what a great job I had been doing and that he felt the time was right for me to take on a role with greater responsibility.


My experience is by no means unique. This very same scenario plays out across many businesses regularly. So, what should be considered before promoting the peer to manager of former peers?


Promote based on merit - Personally, I think there must be in place a rigorous and defensible selection process i.e. someone promoted from within should be promoted on merit and this should be evidenced and made transparent for all to see. This is crucial as it gives the newly promoted manager early credibility and allows others in the organisation to feel that the promotion was fair and the right thing to do.


Transparency – Talk about the promotion, reasons for the promotion and rationale for the change openly and often. People mostly get bent out of shape when they perceive a promotion to have been carried out covertly and more as a “coronation” rather than as a result of a merit-based process. The person or people making the decision to promote should share feedback with anyone considered for the promotion but who did not make it this time. That way, they keep those people engaged and may also discuss further development opportunities to ensure they are better prepared the next time a promotion opportunity arises.


Train and Develop - Prepare the selected candidate prior to asking them to take on the responsibility (this can also be done in parallel of course if it’s not practical to do this beforehand). What I mean by this is that anyone moving into a role where they must now supervise, manage or lead people must be given the opportunity to develop their skills and capability in this area. This is not just important for the person concerned, but perhaps it is of even greater importance for the people he or she will be supervising, managing or leading!


Coach – Assigning an internal or external coach to work with the newly promoted supervisor, manager or leader for the first 6 months can be incredibly helpful in supporting, encouraging and perhaps challenging the person to navigate their way through the changes, process of self-discovery and re-positioning that they will go through as they assume their new responsibilities and work towards meeting their new objectives and expectations.


Mentor – Assigning a mentor can also be very helpful just so the person has an opportunity to tap into the expertise and knowledge of someone who has been there and done it and who can provide guidance and advice in a more directive way.


Rules of Engagement – This can be addressed by the leader who has promoted the person into the new role in that they can facilitate a session with the newly promoted person and the previous peer group to discuss how things will work going forward. However, this is where the newly promoted person also needs to take the opportunity to re-baseline the relationships. In this case, they can speak openly about the change, explain how they would like relationships to work going forward and highlighting his or her new responsibilities and accountabilities in the new role. This helps everyone get on the “same page” from the get-go!


Review – Finally, if you do everything right before and during the change, don’t consider it as job done! There really needs to be an ongoing development plan, regular check ins and support given to the newly promoted person, certainly during the first 6 to 9 months (or whatever timescale makes sense for the individual and organisation concerned). So, review with the newly promoted person regularly and ask how they think things are going? What’s going well? What could be better? What help do they need? Etc. At the end of the first year, you may want to consider a 360-feedback process and use the insights from this to inform the following years development planning process.


Ultimately, if you invest up-front, make sure you have merit-based processes in place, operate from a position of trust and transparency, set people up for success and support on an on-going basis, then you will likely eliminate or mitigate the risk of frustration and acrimony that can arise when promoting someone from within a peer group.



Rod Pearson - Managing Director and Principal Coach

Bondgate (Scotland) Ltd


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