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Linked – Tell Employees What It Takes to Get a Promotion

This headline seems obvious. If you have an employee who has set a goal of being promoted to the next level of your organization, you should be able to tell them what is required. Yet, in many companies, it’s not that easy. There could be several reasons for this, but these are the ones I’ve seen and heard in my years:

  1. There is no formal process. They can’t explain getting promoted because no identifiable career ladder exists for their people. What’s the next step in your career path? It may not exist because no one has bothered to create it. Most of the time, this flows down: You can’t get promoted because the person you report to can’t get promoted, and so on. I see this often in law firms. There’s nowhere to move up in the IT, eDiscovery, Records, paralegal, and other areas unless the person above you moves first.
  2. The rules change. I’ve worked in places where the steps to be promoted were somewhat well-defined, only to watch them get twisted to fit a situation that management wanted to avoid. Most of the time, this has to do with titles and money, especially when bringing in someone with a title that didn’t fit their work. Nothing frustrates employees intending to get promoted like watching someone come in with the title they’ve been working hard to get but not meet any of the requirements they are working hard to meet. Worse yet, I’ve also seen situations where the roles were defined, only to discover that I was already meeting the requirements for a higher-level position and blocked from continuing that work to avoid promotion.
  3. The dreaded “Do the next job” requirement. If you work anywhere in tech, you’ve seen this. You can get that promotion by doing the next job while not getting paid for that job. Putting aside the possible wage theft involved (you get a level of work you’re not paying for.), it’s also likely impossible for an employee to meet that standard. They already have a job that they need to do. The “next” job might belong to someone who isn’t delegating it. Or, best of all, the next job might be managing people who don’t currently report to you. Good luck with all that.

That last one Sharlyn addresses in the article below, pointing out the obvious: If you’re a manager who wants to be promoted, you won’t get there without having a replacement ready.

One other important point is that not everyone wants to be promoted:

So, managers need to talk with employees about the future. This conversation can start during one-on-one meetings. It doesn’t have to wait for the annual performance review. Find out if the employee even wants a promotion. Some employees don’t and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean they won’t work hard and produce quality. Some employees do want a promotion and the manager needs to explain what it takes – both the technical requirements and the non-technical ones.

When we look at the requirements, especially the non-technical ones, we can often decide it isn’t for us. (That “do the next job” requirement, for example, would mean working a ton of extra hours to make sure your job is also getting done.) Whether it be travel requirements, after-hours requirements, location requirements, or something as simple as not wanting to manage, we all come to the workplace with our ideas about the relationship with paid work. Talking about these things is important because you want to know where someone is before deciding for them.

I would have to think long and hard about being a manager. I’m not sure it would fit with the life I want to have outside of work. I’ve also seen so many people “fail up” into management that I’ve become jaded about the whole process. This would be vital information if you plan on designing my career path.

It pays to know something about the people who work for you and what they want. If you don’t know what satisfies them with their careers, you’ll often replace them when they leave.


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