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IM#4 🪜Promotions start earlier than you think

3 min read reading time

👋🏾 Hey People manager,

Ever had a situation where you didn't intend to manage someone badly but you did anyway?

I did.

I had a promotion conversation that made someone leave my team.

It started in a 1:1 meeting. They shared a huge document on the screen. It detailed every project they'd worked on in the last year. Every bit of positive feedback in Slack messages, GitHub comments, emails, public shoutouts.

"I've been working hard and doing a good job", they said, "I think I'm ready to go to the next job level."

That document was loooong, no fluff either. Packed with legit actual factuals. There was no doubt that this person was doing an epic job.

But, I had messed up.

I tried to explained in the kindest way I could, that a promotion isn't a reward for what you've done in your current role. You get promoted when you show that you've built the capability to handle things in your next role.

They fell silent.

With a big sigh, they turned away from the screen, shoulders slumped.

I'll always remember how deflated they looked, not only in that moment, but for days after that.

This person had had massive impact, worthy of a bonus. But they had only been working on tasks at their current job level. Nothing from the next level. I had not guided them towards a promotion, only to high impact. Those aren't always the same thing.

It was all my badd.

It didn't shock me when, a few weeks later the same person asked to move to a different team. Despite my best efforts to repair the relationship, they felt betrayed.

So I approved the transfer and they left.

Bad management can happen through not knowing. And many of us who fell into management without training just don't know what we don't know.

Don't fall into the same trap I did.

Here are 8 promotion conversations I wish I had had:

🔮 "What does the next 5 years of your career look like?"
Do they see a clear path ahead for themselves? You are both working for progress along a career path. Make sure you both know where that path leads.

🪜 "Here's how the promotion process works at this company..."
Have this conversation early in your time working together. Explain who's involved, what is required, and how decisions made.

⭐ "Getting promoted is not a reward."
Clarify that a promotion does not reward impact in your current role. Promotion recognises that you can (or have potential to) handle the next job level.

👍 "Let's get you working on skills for your next job level."
When you see consistent positive impact at their current level, introduce them to tasks and responsibilities from the next job level.

📁 "Let's prepare to submit your promotion case."
When the time is right, remind the promotee how the process works. Transparency builds trust in the process. People are wary of “black box” administrative processes. This’ll really matter if a promotion gets turned down.

🚦"Here's where things are in the process..."
The promotee will be anxious. Keep them updated as much as you can. Sometimes you don't know or can't say. Do what you can.

🔜 "I'm sorry it didn't work out. Here's feedback on what we still need to do..."
Setbacks happen. Don't badmouth the company or HR or whatever (even if you feel like it). Give concrete feedback on what they need to do and how you will support them.

🚀 "**Welcome to your new role, you might suck at your job for a while...****"
Congrats, you did it. Now let them know that it can take time to get good at a new job level. But with support you expect them to level up soon.

A job level promotion is not an event. It is a process that you as a people manager start months, or even years before you submit someone for promotion. Promotions start with you, and they start way earlier than you think.

If you don't know, now you know.

Thanks for reading this far.

Thanks for giving a damn about managing people well.

See you next week.


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