Managing Promotion Expectations

Ning Song

Senior Engineering Manager at Procore



"It was performance review time, and on top of that, my company wanted to roll out a new set of leveling guidelines and job titles. Previously, our leveling was fairly inconsistent and organic, so having some standards and guidelines we would all adhere to was badly needed. Realignments like this are usually contentious, so I was aware some likely won't be happy with their new level."

Turns out two individuals on my team expressed strong resentment, and felt they should be at a higher level than what I was proposing based on their performance and peer feedback. Personally, I tend to be more conservative in these situations - you want individuals to demonstrate some of the skills and competencies needed for the next level over a period of time so you're confident they can succeed in that new role. You also want to be fair to everyone else so you don't breed additional questions and cause new problems within the team that the leveling guide is supposed to solve in the first place.

At the same time, you have to contend with other overriding concerns:

  • "These guidelines are new, so the individual didn't know all the expectations beforehand - are you holding that against him/her?"
  • "You could respond that the same standard applies to everyone, but it's still after the fact. Is that fair, and is that enough to satisfy the individual?"
  • "Will this cause mistrust and resentment in the working relationship between manager and direct report down the line?"

One individual also said he felt held back by his current title - that he couldn't achieve the things he wanted and establish a stronger track record/reputation within the company due to the seniority level attached to that title.

Actions taken

The first thing I wanted to clarify was which part were they unsatisfied with - the job title/level or their compensation, or both. When they told me it was the job title/level, it allowed me to focus on just that aspect. While trying to answer the above questions over a week's time, additional ones came up:

  • "What would be the reaction within the team? Would people question if the title was deserving? And if so, do I have the answers to manage that effectively."
  • "Is there a flight risk if the individual doesn't get the title they asked for?"
  • "What do I lose by agreeing to the new title - some leverage? Maybe some respect as well?"

I reached out to some former colleagues and managers to get their perspectives, and the consensus was to be fair, but also be practical. Ultimately, I decided to give the individuals the levels they asked for.

Lessons learned

Situations like these are never easy, and you usually have to resolve them case by case. Ultimately I had to make some trade-offs, but the main deciding factor was ensuring the strong trust between manager and direct report. That's reinforced by:

  • "Recognizing the value of the individual's contributions within the team and the company"
  • "Having trust in the individual's capabilities to perform at that next level"

It was also important for me to set clear expectations going forward and that the skills and competencies for the next level are now expected at the next performance review, and not merely aspirational.

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Ning Song

Senior Engineering Manager at Procore

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionIndividual Contributor RolesLeadership RolesTeam & Project Management

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