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Never Promote Top Performers!

Why Promoting Top Performers Might Not Always Work

In the world of sales, the allure of promoting top performers to managerial positions has long been a conventional strategy. The logic seems sound: elevate your best salesperson to a leadership role, and they will surely inspire the team to greater success. However, recent research and anecdotal evidence suggest that this approach may not always yield the desired results. In fact, it could lead to significant challenges for both the individual and the organization.

The Peter Principle

Promoting top performers into managerial roles often results in what experts call the "Peter Principle" - the idea that people are promoted based on their current performance, rather than their ability to perform in the new role. As Laurence J. Peter famously stated, 

"In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence." 

This phenomenon can be particularly pronounced in sales organizations, where the skills and mindset required for success in sales differ significantly from those needed for effective leadership.

Sales Success ≠ Leadership Ability

One of the primary pitfalls of promoting top salespeople to managerial positions is the assumption that sales success translates directly to leadership ability. While exceptional sales skills are undoubtedly valuable, managing a team requires an entirely different skill set, including communication, conflict resolution, strategic planning, and personnel development. Without proper training and support, even the most talented salesperson may struggle to excel in a managerial role.

Get Burned Twice

Furthermore, promoting top performers to managerial positions can create resentment and disengagement among other team members. Research conducted by Harvard Business Review found that employees often perceive promotions based solely on performance metrics as unfair, leading to decreased morale and productivity. Also, top salespeople may struggle to adapt to their new role as a manager, leading to frustration and disillusionment for both the individual and their team. The sales organization gets burned twice; once by losing the revenue the former top performer used to generate and twice by having team performance suffer based on the above.

What Can Organizations Do Instead? 

The Player/Coach model model is often implemented in smaller sales teams or start-ups where resources may be limited, and there is a need for hands-on leadership. It allows the manager to lead by example, demonstrating effective sales techniques, overcoming challenges, and achieving sales targets alongside their team members.

Larger companies should focus on identifying individuals with the potential for effective leadership and providing them with the necessary training and support to succeed in their new roles, rather than promoting top performers into managerial positions by default. This may involve implementing leadership development programs, mentorship initiatives, and ongoing feedback mechanisms to help future leaders grow and thrive.

In conclusion, while promoting top performers into managerial positions may seem like a logical strategy, it can often lead to unintended consequences for both the individual and the organization. By rethinking traditional promotion strategies and investing in leadership development, companies can cultivate a pipeline of effective leaders who are equipped to drive success and inspire their teams to achieve greatness.


- Peter, Laurence J., and Raymond Hull. The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. HarperCollins, 1969.

- "Don't Let Top Performers Burn Out Your Team." Harvard Business Review, hbr.org,

Never Promote Top Performers!