Q – I’ve been managing a team for two years now and every time I try to give someone a promotion it’s like pulling teeth. Between my boss, the HR team and finance, it couldn’t be more difficult to get my people the raises and promotions they deserve. Do you have any tips to make promoting staff members easier?
A – When it comes to the ease with which you can promote an employee, I’ve had the pleasure of working at companies at every point on the spectrum. The best companies in the world take great pride in developing and recognizing their people. They proactively seek out opportunities to advance employees. They find joy in seeing their staff members achieve success. The worst companies take the complete opposite approach. They actively look for reasons not to promote people, not to give salary increases, unless they have no other choice. These companies have a fundamentally different (and misguided) mindset. Whether they admit it or not, they seem to feel – to the extent a company can feel – that employees are lucky to work for them. That in some way they’re doing people a favor by employing them vs. benefiting from talented people choosing to work for the company. The worst companies think defensively about employees. They think in terms of resource retention as a cost of doing business, instead of believing in talent development as a competitive differentiator.
Hopefully you’re lucky enough to find yourself at a company that is always looking for reasons to advance the careers of the people on the team. I’ve had the pleasure of working at a few companies like this and it’s something to cherish. It’s extremely motivating to know that your manager and the company genuinely want you to do well, earn more money and develop your career.
Conversely there’s nothing quite as deflating than to know your manager thinks of you as a capital resource. Something to be maximized while minimizing investment. In some ways, I actually hope this concept is foreign to you and that you’ve already become uninterested in this note. As managers I hope you’ve never experienced the frustration that comes from having to sell your soul every time you want to get an employee a salary increase or god forbid a promotion. It can be incredibly vexing in some organizations. It’s really hard to look a team member in the eye and have to defend the rationale of the business for not advancing a high performing employee. If you do know what I’m talking about, and you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to scrape and claw for every promotion you do, don’t give up hope just yet. There are still a few things you can do as a manager to help your team members. Here are some tactics I use to make promoting employees as easy as possible.
At many companies you can’t just walk into your boss’s office or the HR department and tell them you want to promote someone. Well I guess you can, but you probably can’t expect a positive and immediate outcome from it. There are processes to follow. There are other employees to consider. There are job levels to understand and market comparatives to factor. It seems the larger the company gets, the less the manager herself can actually control the promotion or salary increase process for her team. And I totally get why this is the case. For this reason, I recommend approaching the promotion of a team member like an integrated campaign rather than a point in time event.
When I say “campaign”, what I really mean is you need to do much more than just submit paper work and hope for the best. You need to build a multi-part strategy and plan to guarantee a positive outcome. There are people to influence, business cases to build, performance to measure and projects to promote. If you want to do right by your team member, you need to get proactive in campaigning for their promotion.
One mistake some new managers make is they start the process of campaigning for promotions too late in the game. I’ve seen several cases end sadly when the high performing employee doesn’t get promoted quickly enough and ends up leaving for a better opportunity at another company. You can’t wait until you think your employee is getting antsy before you start actively managing their promotion. You need to get in front of this stuff. Your attitude as a manager should be to accelerate the development of team members, not to reluctantly give them a raise when you find out they’re looking for work elsewhere. I actually have a pretty good idea of all the promotions I’d like to do a full year ahead of time and I start actively campaigning for individual promotions at least three months in advance.
Once I’ve identified the staff members I’d like to promote, I actively create opportunities for them to showcase their work to key influencers in the organization. Typically, a showcase opportunity is targeted at my boss and other senior executives. I recommend having the employee present a plan or strategy or key deliverable as a means of showcasing their great work and potential. More often than not, your boss probably doesn’t know the people on your team very well, so it helps to create these showcase opportunities so she can see the high performance behaviors for herself. I’ll normally set up these showcases just before I make my intentions known that I’d like to promote the team member. That way, when the request crosses the boss’s desk, the team member is fresh in her mind.
As much as I think it’s also the responsibility of the employee to create visibility for himself, a good manager is also the best advocate for her team members. For this reason, I think the showcase is something you do together. I will set up the opportunity and even help the employee prepare the content to increase the probability of success.
Similar to the showcase, getting your team member to teach something to the team or others in the company is another great way to build support and momentum for a promotion. Organizations want to invest in leaders and one of the best qualities in a leader is the ability to coach and mentor other people. When I’ve identified someone I would like to promote, I’ll encourage them to hold a lunch and learn or educate the team on a best practice or a new process. The content can be just about anything. The more important thing is that the staff member is seen to be taking the initiative to lead others in the company and actively improve the transfer of knowledge throughout the organization. Creating an opportunity for the promotion candidate to teach others is a really easy and effective way to create support.
At many companies, promotions and salary increases are determined by several people. It’s rare a manager has full autonomy over this process because it has an impact on the entire company. Salary ranges, levels, seniority – all these things come into play which means a bunch of people are going to need to weigh in before its done. When I know I want to promote someone, I make a list of all the people who will have influence in the process e.g. HR, Finance, my Boss, co-workers, and I make a point of talking to all of them about it well in advance of the actual promotion time. If they are fully supportive – great. If they have reservations – I now have the opportunity to address them long before any committee is formed or decision is made.
It’s a bit sad that as managers we so rarely have the ability to promote people and increase salaries all on our own. I think this is one of the reasons so many of you are attracted to start ups. But the reality is, in a larger organization, you need be strategic and proactive in order to advance your employees. And as much as it feels like it shouldn’t be this hard – sadly it is. As a manager you have a responsibility to help develop your employees as much as you possibly can. It also feels amazing to see your people get promoted and receive salary increases so it’s worth going through a little pain to make it happen. I hope these tactics will help you as you try to do right by your people.