When you’re ready to step up but your company won’t allow you

What happens if you’re great at your role and should be promoted, but your obvious replacement is reticent to step up? And your company is letting them get away with it? 

The problem here is double-ended: your replacement isn’t stepping up, and your bosses aren’t seeing them as a valid replacement. You need to carry out the following steps in order. You need to grow their (1) will and (2) skill to step into your shoes, and (3) get your bosses to accept them as a decent successor to you. 

Growing their will

You need to point out to them the benefits of doing your role – both the extrinsic factors (salary, more autonomy, better health insurance…whatever it is) and the intrinsic ones (how great the job itself is). This will be easier if you have been a positive force in your role, and is a good reminder why we shouldn’t moan about work too much and too publicly! 

Growing their skill

Now they’re enthusiastic about doing the role, they’ll have skin in the game to grow their skillset. Use shadowing, task swapping, delegation and training to grow their knowledge and ability. Tap into the HR budget if you can. Help them to network at your level so they start to see themselves as a peer to your peers and vice versa.

Introduce them as your successor

Now you need to get your boss to accept them as a replacement because they have the skill and enthusiasm. If your bosses are looking for an exact replica of you, you will need to manage their expectations as it’s rarely realistic. It’s OK if they focus on slightly different areas and do it slightly differently. 

If it’s still not working…

If you can’t manage to do all three of these, then it’s not going to work and you need a different approach. It’s always a problem when your career fate becomes entangled with someone else’s – especially when they are not living up to expectations. You will need to advocate for finding a replacement from elsewhere, and make it clear that you really don’t want to be held back by this. You may want to subtly refer to the fact that they are likely to lose you altogether if there isn’t any movement. This is a bold hand to play, but it’s likely that you will want to look elsewhere if you are going to be stuck where you are in the hierarchy for many more years, so it feels like by then, it would be the right time to play it. 

What I’ve suggested isn’t a short-term fix and will need time and effort. However, if successful, you will have improved the career prospects of your replacement, improved your own career, and helped your company to keep two great people (you and your successor) within the company. 

Three resources on team management:

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