Over Promoted

Whirlwind last week between Wash DC and my hometown, Austin, TX. I would like to welcome our new subscribers from those Time Span workshops.

From the Ask Tom mailbag:


Okay, the workshop opened my eyes. I now understand why one of my managers is failing. I promoted them to a position that is beyond their capability. Training hasn’t worked, coaching hasn’t worked. How do you demote someone who has been overpromoted?


First, you have to realize who made the mistake. And it’s NOT the person who was placed in the role beyond their capability. It’s the manager. My guess, it’s you.

The biggest mistake most managers make is underestimating the Level of Work in the role. One reason is that most managers don’t sit down and think about what is really required in terms of Time Span capability.

That said, your question is how to fix it. First, you have to take responsibility for the underperformance. Own up to your mistake.

This inevitable conversation will be difficult. Difficult to talk about, difficult for the other person to accept. Effective completion of work is tied into our self-concept and our emotions. It feels good when we are effective. It feels bad when we are not effective.

The focus of the conversation has to be on the work. Focus on the work, not the person. The underperformance does not make them a bad person, it simply reveals capability related to the Level of Work in the role.

Discuss specifically about how the two of you intend to re-design the role so that the task assignments are within the demonstrated Applied Capability of the team member.

Embedded in your question is the unspoken issues of job title and compensation. Don’t mince words. Your job titles should be consistent across your organization and indicate Level of Work. Failure to maintain consistency causes confusion of expectations for everyone. Compensation may have to be readjusted if you, as the Manager, have made a gross error in judgment. For the most part, I find compensation errors are minor. You might be a pay band off, and if that’s they case, suck it up. A person’s capability increases over time. Eventually they should catch up. You may have to defer a raise period or two while that happens, but remember, you made the mistake.

Let us know how this turns out.

2 thoughts on “Over Promoted

  1. Michael Cardus

    Tom this happens unfortunately too often and your response is spot on.
    Working with a company that promoted a great stratum I to a stratum II position, they really liked her and she said she was ready for the challenge. This same thing happened, when the manager contacted me to “coach” this new stratum II manager she said “…she just can’t see the forest from the trees, she is getting too detailed and the management team is getting frustrated at her lack of planning.” Like you wrote I recomended demotion and transference of job responsibilities to another manager, they keep her pay at the the current level with no pay increase for 2 to 3 years. She was not happy at first, then eventually became successful and thrived in her new role.

  2. Jim

    I, too, believe that underperformance by a manager is more of an indication of a selection problem. Currently, I am trying to manage an inherited situation with two underperforming managers who are obviously not in the correct role. I have identified this and kicked it up the chain to the managers who made the original selections. Unfortunately, no one wants to take responsibility so I am stuck with the coaching, mentoring, developing task- these are elements of my job that I thoroughly enjoy, but feel these managers are merely set up to fail. I do believe they need to be taken down a strata and grown from there, they are causing a team disruption and are limiting the quality of the outcomes. All that said, please help me with some insight on how to better manage this situation. This is only one of many disfunctions of the account I am managing (lack of leadership, work organization, accountability).



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