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An engineer is demanding a promotion but I don’t think they’re ready – what can I do?

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I recently attended the LeadDEV London 2024 conference. One of the break-time activites was small-group discussions focused on handling a situation where an employee is upset about not receiving a promotion they believed they deserved. Here’s the approach my group came up with.

Let’s start with the set-up. The assumptions were fairly loose, to allow the approach that was created to apply to a wider variety of situations. For simplicity, we assumed this occured during a 1:1 catch up and that we had the power to give the promotion the engineer desired.

The very first and, we felt, most important thing to do was to establish trust. This meant giving the engineer the time and space to speak, actively listening, and empathising with their point of view.

Gather the data in order to do right by them and give them the best possible information.

It is also important that the meeting sticks to the facts. If the situation has come as a surprise, then be honest and tell your report that you are not prepared for the discussion and need time to gather the data in order to do right by them and give them the best possible information. Then schedule the meeting for another time.

Ask the employee for their point of view and be open to the possibility that you have made a mistake. This gives them a chance to present their case.

Consider the requirements for promotion against what your report has said and the other evidence you have gathered. Perhaps they have demonstrated the necessary skills, but need to do so consistently over time.

Be clear about your decision, the rationale behind it, and what the employee needs to do to reach the next step. Work together to create a development plan, set SMART goals or OKRs, and ensure regular check ups are scheduled. It is important that this plan is created collaboratively in order to gain commitment from both parties.

If you got into this situation, something went wrong much earlier!

We also recognised that if you found yourself in this situation, something went wrong much earlier! Regular catch-ups and appraisals with quality goal setting and review should ensure that the employee knows what is expected of them, whether they are currently at that standard, and what they need to do to progress.

What would your approach look like?


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