The Pluses and Perils of Promoting From Within: A Retailer’s Guide

Promoting managers from within the ranks of your sales staff can be an enticing prospect. After all, your best salespeople, presumably, have proved to be trustworthy and hardworking—and they already know the ins and outs of your operation.

But promoting from within is not without its potential pitfalls, say retail experts. Not the least of which is the possibility that other staff members may feel resentful about being overlooked, or jealous of their recently advanced colleague. And new leaders are required to move from working shoulder-to-shoulder with their teammates to supervising them—which comes with its own set of challenges.

Sales trainer Carlos Quintero, founder of Sales Effectiveness Inc., says the benefits of promoting employees from within are numerous, including the fact that they’re already familiar with the working habits and personalities of the store’s staffers. But, he adds, once someone is cherry-picked for a supervisory role, “there can be some level of jealousy and resentment.”

What’s the best way to curtail negativity before it starts brewing? Inform the entire staff of the promotion in a clear and concise manner, says Quintero. “Be candid on why you selected someone—say, ‘It’s always challenging to make a decision on who is going to play any role. All of you are capable, but I made the decision to go with Emma.’?”

Next, outline clear expectations for everyone, including your new manager. “If you establish those values upfront—as the leader who made the decision—then you give [your manager] a great chance to be successful,” says Quintero.

Veteran sales trainer Shane Decker suggests having one-on-one conversations with workers who are having trouble adjusting to the new hierarchy. “If someone is jealous, pull them aside and talk to them about it,” he says.

Of course, the success of any new manager lies squarely in the quality of training he or she receives. Remember: Sales and management are two very different skills, so your new leader undoubtedly will need support.

“Most salespeople who are really good in sales are good at romancing products, but they aren’t good at delegating and are horrible at holding people accountable,” notes Decker. “An awesome boss is a great motivator, makes sure everyone works toward one common goal together, and doesn’t have people going different directions.”

Sending new managers to a sales academy, or bringing in an expert to work with them, is ideal. Quintero says you also can require your new leader to read articles and books that dovetail with your preferred leadership style.

Kelly Newton, owner of Newton’s Jewelers in Fort Smith, Ark., has promoted people from within in the past, and agrees that great managers “don’t have to be great salespeople. That they are honest is the primary concern, and they have to connect with people.”

The right attitude boils down to approachability and job effectiveness. When Quintero was charged with leading a team of mostly older peers, for example, he took “a more servant-leader role,” he recalls, and “put the onus on them to advise me on what’s important to them. I listened intently.”