"Let's promote him!"
This is unfortunately a very common response by leaders when they have a great performer within their company. He's been with the company "long enough," and now the leaders find themselves wondering what they're going to do so he doesn't leave the company.
What are some signs that making the person a manager might be a bad idea?
1. The person is not good at managing. Sure he or she's great at what they are doing right now, but does that mean they'll rock at managing other people?
2. Your company is just too young or too small. Within flat organizations, you'll find limited available management and leadership roles. At larger firms, you'll find more opportunities for advancement, but it could take years for the person to get there.
3. The person just doesn't want to manage. Recent research is finding fewer people who have leadership aspirations.
So what can a company do to recognize the work the employee is doing, without handing out a promotion?
Talk about a career path
You may not be able to promote now or even in the next year, but make an effort to show your employees the opportunities that exist in the company today and what might exist in the future. Explain the expectations of those leadership roles, as well as the experience needed to step into the role. By taking those areas, help create a career path to lay out what the employee needs to do to get there and how you as the company will support along the way.
Say thank you
Gratitude is a powerful yet rarely used tool to help recognize high-performing employees. Research has shown a more than 50% increase in productivity when people were thanked by somebody who has some degree of oversight over your organization but less frequent interaction with the person. Getting 50% more from someone by saying two words is an amazing ROI for all parties.
Create opportunities to empower
High achievers need to be challenged. Find opportunities for these employees to be exposed to new projects or training. Involve your best leaders and mentors to share their own expertise and give the employees a chance to learn from your best.
Help them outside of work
Don't limit your efforts inside your company. Support what they do after hours. If they love travel, look to give them more PTO or pay for their next trip. If they have a family, allow for a more flexible schedule or sponsor their kid's soccer team. Encourage your employees to enjoy their work—outside of work.
A promotion doesn't have to be the only option to recognize a high-performing employee. Creating a path, providing challenges, and supporting them along the way can have a bigger impact in helping the employee get to the destination they, and you, desire.