It started with a quick twitter exchange with @juntajoe. He suggested that employees should evolve in their positions to a higher level, before such a promotion is given by their supervisors. Essentially, step up to a bigger role in the company and then it will be granted. In theory it’s sound and I agree that individuals should always self-improve. But there’s a serious logical consequence in that theory.
This attitude can reduce the responsibility from the management to coach, to encourage, to engage ‘peons’ to get better. A good manager can quickly identify and shape useful skills in a resource. Relying (or assuming) that a resource will ‘step up’ takes the power from this relationship and shifts it to the employee. And an average employee, these days, is rarely as interested in growth – without incentive. We are after all, reward-driven.
I think the theory needs to be more balanced, and not employee-driven. Three reasons: 1. At worst, a non-engaged employee will still do his/her job, will still live up to what’s required. Not impressive but from bottom line- satisfactory. 2. At best, a driven employee will show initiative, get involved with bigger projects, suggest improvements to processes and so on. In tiered teams this behaviour is often discouraged – the reality is nobody likes a “junior” stepping on anyone’s toes. A manager’s quick assessment and involvement is critical in this case. 3. It’s in manager’s best interests to promote from within and engage juniors to more challenging roles – formally. It shows all team members that there’s a clear path of growth and it’s related to performance and talent.
So it’s got to be a two-way process. An employee shows initiative, it’s quickly noticed and addressed (with more challenges, more formal evaluation) and soon enough rewarded with a promotion or a role change.
Way too often the employee either stagnates doing the same thing because the manager is comfortable with getting the same performance from the same person; or, an employee regularly steps up, but it’s systematically ignored or worse, dismissed as ‘trying too hard’. Both scenarios might look good on paper and balance budgets but they offer no growth and can even cause burnout.
So the next time you see someone in your team make an extra effort, and step beyond their role, don’t wait 10 months for year-end review. Have a chat, go past each other’s comfort zone of ‘job’ and ‘budget’ and consider coaching that person for a bigger role. Deep inside you know that you both will benefit from this exercise. It takes one to step up but it takes two to promote.