As we move into the time of the year when companies schedule their annual performance reviews, there will be discussions about promotions. In my work with hundreds of CEOs, one of the most common and disturbing trends in today's workforce is the attitude of entitlement. 

Both employers and employees perpetuate an attitude of entitlement. Employers want to demonstrate their loyalty, and often one of the most common ways to do this is to promote an employee that has been with the company for a long time. While well-meaning, this often results in activation of "The Peter Principle" in which companies promote employees to the highest levels of incompetence. 

This ultimately leads to termination, and initiates a painfully slow unraveling of an employee's confidence, engagement, and ability to perform. 

Employees perpetuate an attitude of entitlement, and often lead themselves into a corner that has no escape, by telling themselves, "I deserve a promotion." They allow their egos to drive their career advancement, as they are drawn to the idea of a higher-ranking title and a higher rung on the career ladder. 

The Fallout of Unwarranted Promotions

Promotions come with many significant changes that both employers and employees overlook until it's too late, and the organization has moved people around.

Two current clients are dealing with the fallout of promotions that should have never been granted and promises that should have never been made. We're working diligently to:

  • minimize/contain further damage,
  • shift the culture from high entitlement/low accountability to low entitlement/high accountability, and
  • save a valuable, loyal, long-term employee with vital institutional knowledge from walking out the door.  

Changes That Accompany Promotions

Promotions are not just about rewarding loyalty, and moving employees up a ladder. To set up everyone for success, employees must think about the following criteria prior to moving into a new role:

  • New job requirements
    Does the employee pass the "GWC Test?"  Do they Get it, Want it, and have the Capacity to do it? Employees should be required to interview for a new position, just like an outside candidate. This involves creating a competency-based job description that outlines required traits, skills, knowledge, and education levels. 
  • Integrating the demands of the new position into their personal life.
    It's likely that the new position will require additional travel or longer hours. Employees must consider this prior to accepting a promotion. 
  • Giving up responsibilities they really enjoy. 
    Promotions often involve movement from a hands-on practitioner role to a management/supervisory role that takes employees out of the trenches where they are doing what they love. 
  • Becoming trained in tasks and responsibilities they may not enjoy.
    Conversely, they will likely have to become knowledgeable in areas they may not have naturally pursued. This is common when companies promote rock-star sales employees to a sales leadership position. They move from being in the field responsible for themselves, to being in a corner office responsible for others.
  • Changing the dynamics of office friendships.
    This is one of the most surprising and difficult challenges that accompany promotions.

    At my first company Information Experts, I distinctly remember a conversation with an employee who started with us as a developer. He progressed through the company to ultimately lead his practice area as a Vice President.

    Along the way, he cultivated many good friendships. Prior to promoting him to VP, I shared with him that he was now going to be included in many sensitive, confidential conversations about his friends, and wouldn't be allowed to have the open discussions he previously had. Essentially, we were drawing a line in the sand for him. Was he willing to establish the boundary and change the dynamics of his friendships? This is a question only the employee can answer for themselves. 

Promoting Strategically and Effectively

  • Leading or engaging in initiatives outside of their traditional roles
  • Being coachable and open to feedback
  • Mentoring others
  • Delivering on what is expected of them and being known as someone reliable
  • Engaging in professional development and sharing this knowledge with others

Employers must think about career trajectories and organizational impact far in advance of the scheduled performance reviews, and present job descriptions prior to making any promotion promises.

Perhaps an employee is a good promotion candidate, but requires some coaching and training to step into the role. These steps must be executed in advance of the promotion so that business proceeds with minimal disruption, and employees are set up for success. 

Unsuccessful promotions leave a trail of disappointment, broken trust, and failed executions, When thoughtfully executed, however, they yield tremendous benefits for everyone involved, empower the company to attract & retain great talent, and propel continued growth.