When a Promotion Feels Like a Punishment

After working hard and delivering strong results, a friend of mine recently received a well-deserved promotion. He called to tell me about it and was excited about the opportunity. The President of the company conducted the promotion discussion, praising my friend’s accomplishments and bright future, which made the news that much more meaningful.

However, after a couple of weeks, the excitement began to wear off, and the additional responsibilities started feeling more like a punishment than a reward.

What happened?

Let me highlight some events of those two weeks:

  • Day one, after the promotion announcement, the new boss calls my friend at 8:00 a.m. to go through details about upcoming customer visits, upcoming conference calls, and general data-dump about issues happening with key customers. There was no rapport-building and no mention of support for learning about the new job.
  • My friend’s old boss was not involved in the decision about timing for the promotion and did not have a transition plan in place. Therefore, my friend needed to continue working in his previous role for a period of time.
  • During the calls and meetings related to the new job, my friend was peppered with questions about the resolution of those customer issues, without having adequate time or knowledge about the situation.
  • Training for the new role was minimal. He went on a plant tour and met new people with whom he would be working, but the new boss was not present and offered little direction for the learning objectives for these meetings.

Instead of feeling excited and engaged about this great opportunity, my friend was overwhelmed and frustrated.

Getting promoted is a big change. With any change, even if it’s a good change, there is a sense of loss. In this situation, leaving the current state meant leaving relationships with the old boss, team members, and customers. There is also a learning curve for new product knowledge, processes, boss and team relationships, and customer relationships.

Like with other organizational changes, managing an individual promotion requires a change plan.

Leaders making promotion decisions need to plan for what happens so that those promoted are set up for success. Here are a few recommendations:

  1. Create a transition plan – this is even more critical should the employee be moving to a new department with a new boss. Define what activities need transitioning to another person, and provide a timeline for completion of those activities. Set clear performance expectations if the promoted person straddles two roles for a period of time.
  2. Establish a training plan and monitor knowledge transfer – work with a representative from Learning & Development, if needed, to outline specific classes for the promoted person to attend. Make personal introductions to other team members and customers. Coordinate the scheduling of meetings and outline specific questions or topics to be covered in those meetings.
  3. Check-in frequently and provide support in the transition – be accessible, reach out and follow up after the promoted employee has attended training and introduction/transition meetings. Assess how they are feeling about what they learned, answer questions, and take additional follow-up actions based on the feedback. Remember, this person is new, so they often don’t know what they don’t know. Leaders can provide the right context and fill in gaps in understanding. Connecting regularly, (at least once a week), can help the new person from feeling overwhelmed. Acknowledge that it takes time to learn everything and be present to support their learning along the way.

Like with a new employee, the first 90 days of a promoted employee’s experience in their new role has a huge impact on their success and engagement. Leaders are responsible for making the most of promotion experiences for their team members.

It’s a time to celebrate someone’s hard work and a prime opportunity to build loyalty, commitment, and reap the rewards for the business.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.