Making the Tough Decision to Not Promote is Really Hard

I operate a small plastics business outside of Burbank and love every minute of it and have for the twenty years I've been doing it. What started out as just my wife and I molding household furnishings out of our basement has turned into an internationally shipped product line of patented sealants for self-storage facilities such as StorageMart, with just under three dozen employees operating everything from factory mechanics to sales.

The first extra hand we hired was Bob. Now Bob is a hard worker and true blue in his values and responsibilities. He started out as our assembly line operator when he was only 30 and hasn't left the company since. In the fifteen years working for us, he's risen to factory manager, a position he's been in for the last five years or so.

The problem is Bob really wants to become a regional manager and while he's been around the company long enough to be an expert on just about everything, my wife and I just don't think he's cut out for the job. He works wonders on the factory floor, and uses that in his arguments for why he deserves the promotion. While the pangs of lost productivity are certainly a factor in our resistance, Bob believes that's the only reason we refuse to make the promotion. But it's more than that. We just don't think we'd get the most out of Bob as a regional manager as we do out of him running the floor.

What's a self-made couple supposed to do? Bob is our friend as much as he's our employee.

The Team Doc Says…

If you and your wife believe Bob to be unqualified for the promotion then there's not much else to discuss. You are making a tough decision which is complicated by your friendship with Bob, but I believe you will do the right thing.

Your situation begs mention of the Peter Principle, which states that employees are often promoted to the point of ineptitude. Bob uses his success as the factory floor manager to argue why he deserves to be promoted, but being excellent at one skill set does not mean the employee is a good fit for the next position. In fact, that's what causes the Peter Principle to take effect — supervisors promote workers until the worker is at a level that is no longer easy for him or her. The result is often a loss in productivity.

My advice is to approach Bob with a thorough explanation for your decision. Find the real reason that underlies Bob's desire to become regional manager. There may be a way to accommodate your needs from a business perspective and Bob's desire to move up. Make sure you communicate to Bob how highly valued he is in his current position and why promoting him is a perceived risk to the company. Friendship between employee and employer is a two-way street. If he's a good friend and a good worker, he'll more than understand.

About Denise O'Berry

Denise O'Berry is President of The Small Business Edge Corp, a small business consulting firm. A small business owner since 1996, Denise understands the challenges facing small business. She's lived them herself and helped hundreds of clients work through the frustrations, fears, and joys of owning a small business. Denise is the author of Small Business Cash Flow: Strategies for Making Your Business a Financial Success, a practical guide about keeping the cash in your business - where it belongs. Find more resources and tips at deniseoberry.com and askteamdoc.com