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This article was published on November 14, 2014

How to promote a first-time manager without upsetting everyone else

How to promote a first-time manager without upsetting everyone else
David Hassell
Story by

David Hassell

David Hassell is the founder and CEO of 15Five, lightweight performance management software that delivers a full suite of integrated tools - David Hassell is the founder and CEO of 15Five, lightweight performance management software that delivers a full suite of integrated tools - including continuous employee feedback, objective tracking (OKRs), pulse surveys, and peer recognition. Named "The Most Connected Man You Don't Know in Silicon Valley" by Forbes Magazine, David has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Wired, Fast Company, and the Financial Post. You can learn more about 15Five and David Hassell at

David Hassell is the CEO of 15Five. This post originally appeared on the 15Five blog.

When your business is growing fast, you spend a ton of time and resources hiring new people and promoting from within. Unfortunately, promoting people can be costly. Some new managers get caught in the ego trip, or their subordinates can feel bitter because they were overlooked for advancement:

Really, you promoted Jerry? He doesn’t even know what a pivot table is. How do you ensure that Jerry doesn’t blow it and scare away the rest of the sales team?

The best advice I can give a new manager is: instead of making assumptions, take the time to gather team feedback by asking the right questions.

1. Get on the same side of the table — literally!

Sometimes tensions arise between new managers and their former peers. The first step is for the manager to get back on the same side of the table as the employee.

And I mean that literally. During the initial meetings following a promotion, managers should sit next to employees instead of across from them. This small action will take away the me vs you energy, and lets employees know that both people are on the same team and will work out any issues together.

Then try putting yourself in your employee’s shoes, instead of being judgmental and making them wrong. There is always a logical reason for their point of view. Perhaps they feel threatened or insecure in their abilities.

Great managers try to see that instead of feeling disrespected. From that place of understanding, relationships can be built or repaired.

If someone got passed over for a promotion, their manager could think stop crying, if you had worked harder you would be sitting in this chair instead of me. A much more productive frame is to view their discomfort or jealousy as a sign of their ambition to be a manager.

Take some time to understand, get their world, and reflect what you see back to them. From there, so many positive conversations are possible: I get that stepping into management is something you would like to achieve. Let’s plan to help you achieve that – develop skills and goals to get you there either here or wherever your career takes you.

2. Point out the elephant

Should managers communicate issues with employees right away or give them time to adapt?

In general, most people are conflict avoidant. It’s uncomfortable. That is why gossip prevails in the workplace. That energy of feeling upset has to go somewhere — usually in complaints to others.Complaining make everything worse because by talking about it people are perpetuating their anger or frustration and nothing resolves.

The best practice is to face the short term discomfort of a difficult conversation as soon as possible. This avoids dissatisfactions that build between manager and employee until the feelings become unbearable and irreparable. We all know how difficult it is to be amicable with someone once you have a grudge against them.

Every manager on my team shares performance standards and asks each employee if they are clear on their roles and responsibilities. If performance falls, managers continue the conversation by asking how they can support the employee’s improvement.

This may be an uncomfortable conversation to have with a former peer, but without setting expectations everyone is set up for failure.

3. Don’t let it go to your head

Being promoted to management is a significant accomplishment in a person’s career and should certainly be celebrated. Unfortunately, that pride sometimes descends into a power-trip. If you are receiving disdain from your peers, it may not be jealousy — it might be you.

Most people will deny that they are that way while simultaneously pointing out the faults of others. So as part of your regular regimen of questions, ask your team, “How am I doing as a manager? What can I do better?”

Feeling superior and that others are only there to serve you, dehumanizes employees and makes them feel like resources instead of people. To shift out of a feeling of superiority, managers can ask themselves what their motivations are. Maybe it is to create something meaningful or to become financially successful. Employees have similar motivations.

Supporting them to get what they want elicits loyalty and respect, not fear and contempt.

Fostering great relationships with employees takes time, but managers can get started on the right foot by understanding each employee’s individual experience and their professional goals. That will lead to the success of the entire team and the opportunity for future career advancement.

How do you support new managers to be most effective? Leave us a comment below. 

Read next: Disengaged employees: What are they really thinking?

Image Credit: Found Animals Foundation 

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