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Handling an average-performing employee who wants a promotion

Underperformance
Handling Promotion
Salary / Work Conditions
Career Path
Managing Expectations

6 December, 2017

Christian describes how he handled an average-performing employee who wanted to be promoted.

Problem

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


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