Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Ask The Expert: Underperforming and Trying to Climb the Ladder

We've got some great questions for the "Ask The Expert" series so far, so please keep them coming. If you have a question, you can contact Jennifer or myself under our "Contact Us" tab on the top of the page. We look forward to hearing your questions (and getting you answers!). This one comes from an anonymous source who says "this is sort of an emergency--can I get a response by Wednesday???" Well we're a day early, anonymous, and here is what Jennifer had to say:

Question from Anonymous

What do you do with an employee who requests more responsibility/promotion but you feel that they aren't going to do any better than the job they are currently preforming?

Answer from Jennifer

Wow, the situation you’ve described is a delicate one.  On the one hand, you want to celebrate the initiative that the employee has taken in requesting additional duties and responsibilities.  On the other, it appears that the employee currently has some performance deficiencies that need to be enhanced first before promotions can be discussed.

Thank the employee for taking the initiative to approach you, and explore why he / she chose to do so at this time.  In that exploration, you may find out the root cause, such as too many years in the same job, a desire to earn more money, pressure from home to have a job with a “better” title, or taking a cue from a friend who recently did the same.  That root cause can inform your response. 

If that exploration does not yield any actionable information, however, you will need to take a different approach.  Find out before your meeting with the employee your organization’s policy on promotions.  Can they happen at any time during the year, or only when annual performance appraisals are being conducted?  Does an incumbent need to be in the job a certain amount of time, such as one or two years, before being considered for a promotion?  Your employer’s policy may hold the answer you seek for the conversation.

If neither of these approaches work, however, you’ll have to be honest and upfront about why a promotion isn’t a possibility at this time.  For example, if work output is a consideration, explicitly outlining for the employee the necessary promotional criteria will be helpful: “John, I appreciate your interest in and enthusiasm regarding growth opportunities here at Company XYZ!  All our employees in position X [produce Y widgets per hour / successfully manage at least Z client engagements / have employee turnover below A%].  We need to help you develop your skills in this area.  Let’s jointly identify some specific goals for you to accomplish and training opportunities to take advantage of in the next 6 months to get you on a potential track for promotional consideration.”  The position’s job description may also have promotional criteria included which can help in this discussion.

You know the employee and the organizational culture best – what I’ve described here may be effective, or may need some wordsmithing to make the situation an eventual win-win for all.   Also remember that you must watch your language to not include any promotional job guarantees.  If the employee misconstrues what you say, they may think an oral contract was created during the meeting, which creates a different set of issues to deal with down the road!

Good luck!  Please let us know how the conversation goes.

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