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Promote from Within: 12 Ways to Tell Your Employee Has Management Potential

Rather than trying to hire someone outside of their organization, small business owners can identify and train existing employees to become managers.
Photo credit: Jadon B/peopleimages.com - stock.adobe.com

A common mistake that small business owners make is not selecting the right people when broadening their management-level staff. Often, a person who’s great at their job — or who has worked in a particular department the longest time — is suddenly promoted to manager. But this person may not stand a chance when pushed into a new role that requires them to motivate and guide others while simultaneously handling the daily challenges in their department.  

But promoting from within can be a great idea, especially because the person will have a deep understanding of the company, systems, clientele and staff they’re asked to supervise.  

What should you look for when making that selection? Here are 12 things to keep in mind when looking for your next company leader within the four walls of your business:

1. Coaching. The best managers see themselves as a coach rather than “the boss.” Who would you rather work for: a mouthy dictator who’s yelling at you constantly, or a coach who brings out your best and helps you solve problems? Managers with a coaching mindset can develop your team to excel, asking powerful questions that allow employees to arrive at their own solutions. It’s the manager’s responsibility to develop and guide your staff to achieve greater performance results. After all, your company can achieve more when it’s staffed with highly skilled, independent thinkers. Look for someone who is always helping other staff members resolve challenges by showing them how to achieve a skill. These individuals focus on training the fellow employee rather than just getting the task accomplished.

2. Focusing on details. Great managers know the devil is in the details. For example, a good art director will make sure the staff uses keyboard commands and shortcuts when designing, as it’s faster than using the mouse. A good production manager will worry about the details of how the next order is staged, as that directly affects daily output. Great customer service staff members will include exemplary notes with orders that answer any possible questions. By keeping an eye on the minutiae, challenges can be averted, orders can be streamlined and more can be accomplished. 

Try to find someone who is quality-minded and checks the details in their own everyday tasks. These individuals ask great questions and always follow up on concerns.

3. Leadership. Great managers don’t shirk responsibilities or avoid challenges. They rise to the occasion, diving in to help with any difficult situation. Look for someone who sets a great example for others to follow. Look around your company, as there are always a few people who stand out from the rest. They show up early or volunteer to stay late if needed. Chances are their work is exemplary and they put passion into everything they do. 

Leadership means often asking “why” or suggesting new ways to do things. A good leader is interested in improvement and doing things correctly. Look for someone who is vocal about process improvement and always wants to make things better. A leader is “out in front,” not a wallflower. 

4. Humor. Managing is essentially centered on one’s core people skills. Using humor to motivate others is a wonderful trait to possess. Staff that can laugh together and have fun while they work will do a better job, work faster and accomplish more than a staff that’s driven by someone who’s stern or humorless. If work can be fun, that’s a direction you should travel. 

While you aren’t looking for stand-up comedians, search for some humor skills. How do they react or tell a story? Are they smiling and good-natured? Do they use humor to help sell an idea or motivate someone in your company to help them with a task? 

5. Organization. Managers oversee all aspects of their departments. There’s a lot of information and multiple tasks, responsibilities, deadlines and other situational challenges that must be handled in a certain manner. This requires a higher degree of organization than your everyday employee may possess. How will multiple tasks get accomplished simultaneously? How will that big project get finished by the due date? For an organized person, it’s easy. If you are constantly chasing even the simplest tasks from someone, it’s a potential clue that they’re disorganized. 

Look for someone who uses a to-do list, delegates tasks appropriately, keeps their work area tidy and always seems ahead of the curve with the workload. Organized people are very precise in how they accomplish their work and if you ask them a question, they can find the answer easily and quickly. 

6. Clear expectations. Great managers set clear expectations and priorities for their staff. Think about your company. Usually, there’s one department that works a little better than another. It’s quite possible that that department’s supervisor is precise in their expectations of what needs to be accomplished, sets goals for the department to achieve and understands deadlines. This trait, if replicated throughout your company, can lead to higher performance all around.

7. Trust. This is a big factor for managers. Business owners should depend on their managers to do what they say they’ll do; they must be reliable and consistent in their performance. You can test the waters with a potential manager by giving them opportunities to earn trust. Allow them to manage or handle increasingly complex situations. Can they be relied upon to talk to customers, approve credit or special favors, travel to trade shows or make purchasing decisions? Start small.

8. Best fit for your company culture. Every company has its own culture. Employees can feel it, and the owners and top managers are the primary drivers of creating and maintaining it. Your management hiring decisions should reflect that culture and add to it. However, moving someone up the ladder can sometimes affect staff dynamics. Will your selection reflect your company’s morals and be seen in a positive light? Discreetly talk to trusted staff members about your potential candidate and get the street-level point of view. Will your move be seen with a positive acknowledgement or a mutinous, disparaging growl?

9. Experience. To make a positive difference for your team, a manager must have a wealth of experience to draw upon to guide the department through challenges. This will go a long way when junior staff members need help resolving tough situations. Look for someone with broad experience who can calmly teach your staff critical lessons. It’s also a big plus if they’ll reach out and find answers for larger problems when they aren’t sure of the correct route to take.

10. Positive attitude and enthusiasm. A person with a “Debbie Downer” mentality or someone who always complains is too divisive to push a department forward. In some cases, the right attitude can be more important than experience. Staff members with whom other people enjoy working and who show up every day wanting to make a difference can make the best managers. Harness that positive energy and let it pull your company forward. 

11. Listening and communication s Great managers listen twice as much as they speak. Communication is at the core of human understanding, and motivating and teaching staff members to excel begins with active listening. This isn’t easy, as managers often fall into the trap of lecturing instead of asking questions. Candidates who talk over others or need to have points repeated may make poor managers. Look for people who are present in the moment and can clearly communicate instructions and listen to others when problem-solving.

12. Gets things done. I’m a big believer in establishing a “culture of execution” within a company. You need leaders who possess the drive to get things accomplished today, not tomorrow. Finding someone who can knock out today’s to-do list and then come back asking for more is beneficial to your company. The opposite is someone who always makes excuses about why things aren’t getting accomplished. “We’re too busy” doesn’t cut it. To create success, key managers find ways to get everything accomplished — often early — because they know there will be more to do tomorrow. 

This article is adapted from a byline initially published by Impressions Magazine. Marshall Atkinson is the chief operating officer of Visual Impressions Inc. and Ink to the People, Milwaukee. Atkinson has lectured on sustainability at ISS trade shows, and webinar industry panel discussions regarding the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). 

Promote from Within: 12 Ways to Tell Your Employee Has Management Potential

by | Aug 24, 2023

Rather than trying to hire someone outside of their organization, small business owners can identify and train existing employees to become managers.

A common mistake that small business owners make is not selecting the right people when broadening their management-level staff. Often, a person who’s great at their job — or who has worked in a particular department the longest time — is suddenly promoted to manager. But this person may not stand a chance when pushed into a new role that requires them to motivate and guide others while simultaneously handling the daily challenges in their department.  

But promoting from within can be a great idea, especially because the person will have a deep understanding of the company, systems, clientele and staff they’re asked to supervise.  

What should you look for when making that selection? Here are 12 things to keep in mind when looking for your next company leader within the four walls of your business:

1. Coaching. The best managers see themselves as a coach rather than “the boss.” Who would you rather work for: a mouthy dictator who’s yelling at you constantly, or a coach who brings out your best and helps you solve problems? Managers with a coaching mindset can develop your team to excel, asking powerful questions that allow employees to arrive at their own solutions. It’s the manager’s responsibility to develop and guide your staff to achieve greater performance results. After all, your company can achieve more when it’s staffed with highly skilled, independent thinkers. Look for someone who is always helping other staff members resolve challenges by showing them how to achieve a skill. These individuals focus on training the fellow employee rather than just getting the task accomplished.

2. Focusing on details. Great managers know the devil is in the details. For example, a good art director will make sure the staff uses keyboard commands and shortcuts when designing, as it’s faster than using the mouse. A good production manager will worry about the details of how the next order is staged, as that directly affects daily output. Great customer service staff members will include exemplary notes with orders that answer any possible questions. By keeping an eye on the minutiae, challenges can be averted, orders can be streamlined and more can be accomplished. 

Try to find someone who is quality-minded and checks the details in their own everyday tasks. These individuals ask great questions and always follow up on concerns.

3. Leadership. Great managers don’t shirk responsibilities or avoid challenges. They rise to the occasion, diving in to help with any difficult situation. Look for someone who sets a great example for others to follow. Look around your company, as there are always a few people who stand out from the rest. They show up early or volunteer to stay late if needed. Chances are their work is exemplary and they put passion into everything they do. 

Leadership means often asking “why” or suggesting new ways to do things. A good leader is interested in improvement and doing things correctly. Look for someone who is vocal about process improvement and always wants to make things better. A leader is “out in front,” not a wallflower. 

4. Humor. Managing is essentially centered on one’s core people skills. Using humor to motivate others is a wonderful trait to possess. Staff that can laugh together and have fun while they work will do a better job, work faster and accomplish more than a staff that’s driven by someone who’s stern or humorless. If work can be fun, that’s a direction you should travel. 

While you aren’t looking for stand-up comedians, search for some humor skills. How do they react or tell a story? Are they smiling and good-natured? Do they use humor to help sell an idea or motivate someone in your company to help them with a task? 

5. Organization. Managers oversee all aspects of their departments. There’s a lot of information and multiple tasks, responsibilities, deadlines and other situational challenges that must be handled in a certain manner. This requires a higher degree of organization than your everyday employee may possess. How will multiple tasks get accomplished simultaneously? How will that big project get finished by the due date? For an organized person, it’s easy. If you are constantly chasing even the simplest tasks from someone, it’s a potential clue that they’re disorganized. 

Look for someone who uses a to-do list, delegates tasks appropriately, keeps their work area tidy and always seems ahead of the curve with the workload. Organized people are very precise in how they accomplish their work and if you ask them a question, they can find the answer easily and quickly. 

6. Clear expectations. Great managers set clear expectations and priorities for their staff. Think about your company. Usually, there’s one department that works a little better than another. It’s quite possible that that department’s supervisor is precise in their expectations of what needs to be accomplished, sets goals for the department to achieve and understands deadlines. This trait, if replicated throughout your company, can lead to higher performance all around.

7. Trust. This is a big factor for managers. Business owners should depend on their managers to do what they say they’ll do; they must be reliable and consistent in their performance. You can test the waters with a potential manager by giving them opportunities to earn trust. Allow them to manage or handle increasingly complex situations. Can they be relied upon to talk to customers, approve credit or special favors, travel to trade shows or make purchasing decisions? Start small.

8. Best fit for your company culture. Every company has its own culture. Employees can feel it, and the owners and top managers are the primary drivers of creating and maintaining it. Your management hiring decisions should reflect that culture and add to it. However, moving someone up the ladder can sometimes affect staff dynamics. Will your selection reflect your company’s morals and be seen in a positive light? Discreetly talk to trusted staff members about your potential candidate and get the street-level point of view. Will your move be seen with a positive acknowledgement or a mutinous, disparaging growl?

9. Experience. To make a positive difference for your team, a manager must have a wealth of experience to draw upon to guide the department through challenges. This will go a long way when junior staff members need help resolving tough situations. Look for someone with broad experience who can calmly teach your staff critical lessons. It’s also a big plus if they’ll reach out and find answers for larger problems when they aren’t sure of the correct route to take.

10. Positive attitude and enthusiasm. A person with a “Debbie Downer” mentality or someone who always complains is too divisive to push a department forward. In some cases, the right attitude can be more important than experience. Staff members with whom other people enjoy working and who show up every day wanting to make a difference can make the best managers. Harness that positive energy and let it pull your company forward. 

11. Listening and communication s Great managers listen twice as much as they speak. Communication is at the core of human understanding, and motivating and teaching staff members to excel begins with active listening. This isn’t easy, as managers often fall into the trap of lecturing instead of asking questions. Candidates who talk over others or need to have points repeated may make poor managers. Look for people who are present in the moment and can clearly communicate instructions and listen to others when problem-solving.

12. Gets things done. I’m a big believer in establishing a “culture of execution” within a company. You need leaders who possess the drive to get things accomplished today, not tomorrow. Finding someone who can knock out today’s to-do list and then come back asking for more is beneficial to your company. The opposite is someone who always makes excuses about why things aren’t getting accomplished. “We’re too busy” doesn’t cut it. To create success, key managers find ways to get everything accomplished — often early — because they know there will be more to do tomorrow. 

This article is adapted from a byline initially published by Impressions Magazine. Marshall Atkinson is the chief operating officer of Visual Impressions Inc. and Ink to the People, Milwaukee. Atkinson has lectured on sustainability at ISS trade shows, and webinar industry panel discussions regarding the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).