Reader Question: We’re in a freeze for hiring and promotions. Is there anything I can do for my team?

We asked, and you answered. We received an email from John G, who explained that he normally has conversations with his team about promotions. But nothing about this year has been normal, right?

“My question is on the subject matter of promotions, what specific topics should I be talking about now as their manager, and what topics now should I be encouraging them to talk about?”

First, let’s give a shout out to John, who’s already thinking about his team’s future. So often, we see management just saying, “Keep your head down.” or “Just focus on your work.” Not very inspiring and certainly not at all motivating in these times of constant change. If you hear something similar from your manager, it’s usually because they, like John, don’t know what’s going to happen. In leadership, there’s an expectation for your manager to have all the answers. Sometimes we don’t. And with how 2020 is unfolding, I’d be surprised if anyone did.

So back to answering the question both for John and for you. I think there are several things you can do. Which of them you should do depends on your situation. Each of your circumstances is different. Career advice should never be “one-size-fits-all.” Your career isn’t a pre-determined path; it’s an adventure and boy what an adventure we’re all having.

Question 1: Let’s look at where you are and where you want to be.

Like looking at the future of a business plan, doing a gap analysis of each person’s current situation is always a good first step. Now I’ll warn you. The answer shouldn’t be “I want to be promoted by next year.” That’s just a result of each person’s change. What I’m looking for here is an answer to, “How do I want to change between now and next year?”

Question 2: How will that change provide value to you, the team, and the organization?

Asking this question ticks several boxes.

  • For the individual You’re helping them uncover a growth opportunity. We all talk about wanting to “grow” at a company. “Growth” doesn’t just mean “get a title change.” Note – if growth does only mean a title change, then it’s time to have a very different conversation.
  • For the team – Helping the individual see that their actions should provide value to the larger group is a great way to help them understand that promotions are rarely a one-person decision.
  • For the organization – This focus is for both of you. I believe that when you’re asking for a promotion or working towards one, it’s your job to build the case. So often, I see tenure and productivity as the only measures of value. While they’re important metrics, they’re only a part of the picture. As you get more senior in an organization, the perceived value of how you think becomes more critical than what you do. I’m a big fan of teaching this lesson early and often.

These two questions should start a healthy and productive conversation about the individual’s future.

Now John didn’t ask what he could do for his team, but I have another idea to share with you. A plan that John (I hope) will implement and something you can do yourselves.

Bonus Questions: Who in the organization do you need to get to know better to help you become your future you? And/Or what part of the organization would it be useful for you to learn more about?

Is there an opportunity for the individual to get to know someone better? John, I’m sure you know all sorts of interesting people in your organization. Can you ask them to spend some time with some of the individuals on your team?

Have you thought about doing a “part-time job swap” program in your organization? Imagine one or two of your team members spent a couple of hours each week with another group learning their job and vice versa?

Give your team, and yourself, the opportunity to learn something new, build organizational empathy and strengthen relationships during this period. Is it harder as we’re all remote? Yes. Totally. But the people who are future thinking today will get the opportunities tomorrow when all the freezes start to lift.

John – thanks for your question and good luck with your team! They’re lucky to have you.


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