Promoting People Done In The Worst Possible Way

Photo by Cam Adams on Unsplash

When you’re promoting someone inside your team, you would think that nothing can go wrong. It is such a happy move for everyone that there’s nothing to worry about. That can’t be more wrong. If you don’t make things clear from the beginning, the ambiguity can easily destroy all positive emotions around promotion and it can actually lead to people not willing to be promoted.

A little disclaimer at the beginning: like many things in my life, I learnt this the hard way. I made the promotion of someone that unclear and complicated that the person rather left the team. 

Fuck, I thought, I just promoted him and he’s running away? I gave him the position he wanted to get and still, he’s leaving. I must have done something really wrong. I screw pretty much everything up. 

If you want to do promoting someone right, start preparing for it even before the promotion itself. How do you choose that person? Why should you promote let’s say Julie and not someone else? 

How to lose your people in a second?

One of my friends left his company after 2 years when I thought she’s happy there.
Why did you decide to leave,” I asked.

You remember a few months ago they promoted Julie to be our team leader? I mean, she’s doing great, really trying hard. But she’s been in the company for only a few months longer than I am and I had led a team in my previous job. And they didn’t even ask if I’d be interested in that position. They just one day came and said – hey, Julie is your new team lead. I figured I don’t see any future for me there, there is no room for my development.

How easy is to lose the trust of people who’ve worked with us for 2 years.

Not because Julie, who was promoted as a new team leader, would be a bad person or wouldn’t deserve it. But because my friend – let’s call her Marie – and other people were not even given a fair chance. Nobody asked. But a manager said: Julie is the right person

So, how to do promoting people right?

1) If you have more potential internal candidates for the position, give them a fair chance.

Even if you prefer Julie, Marie and the others need to know they had a fair chance. Ask them if they are interested to apply for this position and if yes, explain what the process is and how you’re going to evaluate it. 

It is fair to say what your expectations are. If you think a team leader needs 3-year experience in the company and you’ve got only one person, say it. Say it to Marie, who is in your firm for 2 years only. And let her consider – and show – if she has something to compensate for the lack of experience.

The worst thing you can do is to just name a someone. You will make it hard for everyone. 


2) Before (!) choosing a person, clarify what the new position is about

You should let them know, what are the pros and cons of that position. What are the new responsibilities and expectations? Try to draft their new job description so they can imagine what’s ahead of them. 

Some people – like Marie – just want to become team leaders because they see it as the only way to progress in their career, but have 0 leadership skills. If you show her what the job is actually about, what skill-set is needed and that there might be other opportunities for her growth, she might reconsider aspiring for that position. And if she doesn’t, you at least have clear, fair criteria why she was not selected.

Especially in start-ups, people are promoted to roles they’ve never done before. They have no idea what is the job about. If you already do, it’s unfair to keep them in the dark.

Do not leave room for ambiguity and share the role’s details with them.


3) Don’t (pretend to) forget about the package

I’ve seen companies where it is a habit to promote people without changing their package. “Hey Julie, congratulations. You will do more work, have more responsibilities and feel more pressure. For the same salary, you’ve had.”

Sounds ridiculous, right? But it’s happening so often!

Change in the package is a natural part of the promotion. If you don’t speak about it, you are again leaving room for doubts and uncertainty

Julie will definitely be thinking about it. Even if you think she’s the most loyal and motivated person and she’d work for free. It will be in her mind. And she will either have to ask – which is super uncomfortable – or she will start the new role with a feeling that you owe her something. You don’t want any of this. 

You want Julie to start the new role happy and motivated – because it will be hard. You want her to be proud of herself and happy that she is part of the company which gave her such a chance. You don’t achieve such a feeling by making money questions unanswered. 

And if you – as some other bosses – think that Julie needs to first prove herself in the new role before getting a raise, you promoted her too early. You literally say: “I don’t trust you yet.” If you think she’s not the right one for the promotion, wait. Give her some “nurturing period” of 3-6 months before she is promoted. But once you decide to do it, do it all in.


4) Design a transition period to her new role

If you make an individual contributor lead a team, there is one certain way how to create chaos in the first weeks: throw them in the (new, deeper) water and let them swim (alone) from day one. 

Trying to do so with Julie, not only you are probably going to burn her down, but it will shake off everything around her. If she was an individual contributor, she needs to hand her work over to other colleagues. At the same time, she needs to start getting on board for her new role. 

Again, especially in start-ups, people are promoted to roles they’ve never done before. That means they need to learn it. There probably won’t be time to let them study an MBA but as a new team leader, you can give Julie a chance to learn how the leadership should be done in your company. To speak with her new team and create new relationships with them. To make sure her promotion is an evolution, not revolution.

Think of some transition plan, which can last 2-3 months and look something like this: 

  • 1st month she dedicates 25% of her time to onboarding into a new role, 75% to the old responsibilities;
  • 2nd month it goes 50% / 50%;
  • 3rd month she spends most of the time in a new role already and just making sure in 15-25% of the time that old responsibilities are taken care of and that everything was handed over.
Photo by Cam Adams on Unsplash

Don’t push your new leader off the cliff


5) Announce the promotion to the whole company, make it a big deal

I’ve already seen people promoted in silence. CEO promoted someone to her career’s first leadership position and just mentioned it between lines or not at all. 

Don’t be ashamed of promoting someone, make it a big deal. 

Because it probably is a big deal for your employee. Especially if it is the first promotion Julie gets, or the highest role in her career, it is a damn big deal for her! How do you think she will feel when you come and say “Hey, you’re promoted, bye”?

You want her to feel proud. Maybe a little bit grateful. Motivated. In love with the company (not with you – that’s a difference!). You want her to shine like a morning sun. You want her to buy a new handbag and show it to her friends if that’s what makes her happy. 

Make it a big deal. 

Announce it on the all-hands meeting or channel. Don’t forget to say “congratulations”! And “thank you, Julie”. For taking the new responsibility, for working that hard that we can now promote you to this role. You should be thankful to her, not vice-versa.

A little congratulations card or bouquet never harms. Every person will appreciate something else but small gestures make a big difference. 


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What do you think? Have you ever been promoted in a way you actually felt bad about it? Please leave a comment below.


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Lukas founded Jayid after helping 100s of businesses both in MENA and Europe with digital marketing and building regional offices for international companies. He's passionate about developing others and his vision is to unlock digital for every entrepreneur and business in the world.

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