Demotion is never easy

We’re worried about how one of our supervisors is going to react. We don’t want to lose him, but we’re going to have to bring in a manager over him. This employee is clearly our star technical person. But he doesn’t have the scope or experience to manage the department as it continues to grow.

Thoughts of the day: First and foremost, your job as CEO and owner is to do what’s best for the company. Make it clear this is a reorganization in preparation for a growth spurt. Make the changes you need to make and be prepared for all variety of outcomes.

Think carefully about the decision you’re about to make. What isn’t working? Can the employee be trained to do the job you’re asking? Do you have enough time to get through a round of training? Will the employee willingly engage if more training is offered? Does the employee want to stay in the supervisory position?

Talk it through with the employee. Find out what he or she thinks about the situation. Don’t make any promises when having this conversation, no matter how hard you’re pressed to do so. But do be prepared to answer some of the employee’s questions about options and next steps. It’s probably best to have another member of management in the meeting to help keep things on point and to witness the conversation.

Regardless of the loyalty you may feel to any employee, you must look out for the well-being of the company and the growth of the staff as a whole. Putting employees in situations in which they are in over their head can be challenging for everyone on the team; keeping them there if they are struggling can make a tough situation even worse.

Be sure to discuss this first with the employee, and not let the cat out of the bag with others prematurely. Offer options such as continuing with the company as a valuable team member or moving on to another job elsewhere. Make it clear that you’d prefer it if the employee chooses the former, but you’ll understand if it’s the latter.

Consider giving the employee a position of importance to move into. Becoming a technical specialist, with equal grade as a supervisor, may be one way to do that. If you can afford to, use that equal grade to justify keeping the employee at the same pay and benefits as a supervisor. When you’re ready to address the situation with the whole company, talk about the change as a different but equally valuable step on the career ladder, managing and sharing expertise instead of supervising people.

After you and the employee have agreed on next steps, hold a department meeting or companywide meeting if you’re small and announce the changes. Explain how upcoming growth requires that you reach outside the company to find someone with expertise handling the challenges that will be coming the company’s way. Talk about how the importance of minimizing the risk and lessening mistakes by hiring someone who has, “been there and done that.”

Reality check. Are you willing to spend the time needed to hold this employee’s hand through the frustration that may come out? Is this employee enough of a team player to get that you’re trying to do what’s right for everyone, employee included? Will the employee have a greater than 50-50 chance of succeeding in the new assignment? Does this employee have enough maturity to support the new manager?

Make the changes you need to make and be prepared for all variety of outcomes. If the employee leaves, who will fill in as technical expert? What will this employee be held accountable for? What training will be needed to prepare for the position of technical expert? Invite the employee to meet with you and the new manager, once hired, to talk about how best to manage the department.

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A Manager’s Guide to Hiring the Best Person for Every Job” by DeAnne Rosenberg.

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