Handling an average-performing employee who wants a promotion

Christian McCarrick

Engineering Leader at Facebook



"A few years ago, I hired somebody who wanted to be hired at a higher level. However, I felt he was not quite ready for that level. He was hired at the lower level with the perception that he could advance but I tried to work with him to ramp him up quite fast. I gave him room for initiative, while also giving him tasks that were linked with the expectations of a leadership position. He was underperforming and constantly finding excuses, such as 'Nobody's helping me', yet he was not reaching out to anyone."

Actions taken

"A few months went by. By the time he asked about a possible promotion we had formalized our engineer ladder and salary grid. With that document, it was quite easy for me to tell him 'This is where you are, this is what you do well, and this is where you could improve'. By doing this I could clearly show him that he was paid fairly for his position and could show him how he needed to improve to be promoted. He didn't like the concreteness of the grid but I couldn't promote him at the time so we agreed on coaching to get him there. Unfortunately, it didn't help and he ended up leaving."

Lessons learned

"The key message here is that when not promoting someone (or not agreeing to a salary raise), having concrete explanations of the reasons behind it helps a lot. When both parties know the expectations and have agreed on them early on, it's much easier to discuss why they will not be promoted. Our grid and ladder was published for everyone and the majority of engineers appreciated the transparency. It actually triggered a lot of advancement, as people knew what was expected of them to advance. I strongly believe you should not inflate somebody's title or salary, because:

  • It gives your employees an incentive to work harder.
  • As an employee, an inflated position salary or position tends to limit your options for moving forward, as people tend not to want to downgrade.
  • As an employee, it reduces your legitimacy if you are not at your proper position."

Useful links

  • Good blog post on Enginering Structure: http://dresscode.renttherunway.com/blog/ladder
  • Link to sample ladder: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1k4sO6pyCl*YYnf0PAXSBcX776rNcTjSOqDxZ5SDty-4/edit

Be notified about next articles from Christian McCarrick

Christian McCarrick

Engineering Leader at Facebook

CommunicationCareer ProgressionSalary GuidesIndividual Contributor Roles

Connect and Learn with the Best Eng Leaders

We will send you a weekly newsletter with new mentors, circles, peer groups, content, webinars,bounties and free events.


HomeCircles1-on-1 MentorshipBountiesBecome a mentor

© 2024 Plato. All rights reserved

LoginSign up