Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Head’s Up – You’re About to be Promoted or Fired

When you work in talent management inside an organization, you often have advance information about which managers are going to be promoted and who’s about to be fired. Maintaining confidentiality is critical; as is being able to hold a poker face when people are speculating.

Unfortunately, people don’t always know why they were promoted or fired. There are times I’d love to be able to just spill the beans, and let the person know ahead of time, and tell them why. If I could, the script would probably be about the same for each scenario.

The Good News Script:

Congratulations, you’re going to be promoted next month! You sure deserve it. Here’s why:

- First of all, you’ve consistently achieved outstanding results, ¼ after ¼, year after year. Even in this tough economy, you’ve managed to hit or exceed the targets that were established for you. And not just recently – you’ve consistently demonstrated the ability to get results, in any situation you’ve been in.
- You’ve demonstrated the ability to learn and adapt. The last few years, you’ve been given a series of “stretch” developmental assignments. In each one, you quickly got up to speed, got results, and more importantly, developed new skills and incorporated those skills into your repertoire.
- You’ve got rock solid values, including ethics, integrity, credibility, and unwavering respect for others, no matter who they are. We did 360 interviews with your peers, coworkers, clients, and suppliers. Your scores were consistently high on each of these attributes from all stakeholders.
- You’re been committed to developing your people. Quite frankly, given the importance of your current role, we were reluctant to let you go. But you’ve done such a remarkable job developing a pipeline of talent, we have three outstanding candidates from your team to choose from.
- You are seen as a leader amongst your peers. You are the one they turn to for advice and look at to see how you react. They respect you and will have no problem working for you. You’ve demonstrated the ability to reach across functions and work collaboratively for the greater good of the organization.
- You’ve got outstanding “leadership presence”. The executive team respects you, you don’t back down, and are able to influence decisions at every level of the organization.
- You’ve created a motivating and inspiring environment throughout your organization. We’re wondering if there is something in your department’s water coolers. People seem to love their work, are always positive and upbeat, and you’ve got the highest employee engagement survey scores in the company.

Now, don’t forget to act surprised when you get the news.

The Bad News Script:

I’ve got some bad news for you – you’re going to get fired next month. Actually, we won’t tell anyone you’ve been fired – we’ll say you’re “leaving to pursue other opportunities” or “leaving to spend more time with your family”.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise to you, if you’ve been paying attention to the writing on the wall. Some of the clues you may have picked up on are:

- Your performance has been horrible. This has been going on for over two years now, and we don’t see it getting any better.
- You’ve been given every opportunity to be successful in this role. You’ve turned over your entire team (twice) and hand picked their replacements. You’ve been given management training and coaching (although you missed most of the sessions). You’ve shown no interest or ability to learn or change.
- While you used to get outstanding results, you’ve burned too many bridges to sustain those results. You’ve been described as arrogant, aloof, petty, self-centered, and defensive. People just can’t stand working with you.
- You’ve failed to build a team and have been a destructive force on your manager’s team. We’ve tried to do team building, and every time we do, the problems are all about you.
- You can’t be trusted. Last month’s ethics violation is a vivid example of this and the last straw.
- We’ve had more open door and HR issues come out of your department than any other. When HR has tried to work with you, you ignore their counsel.
- Every time we’ve tried to implement a change, you’re the last one to implement it. When it comes to change, the best we can expect from you is compliance (unless it’s your idea). More often than not, you’re a barrier.

As for your replacement, we are already conducting an external search. There’s certainly no one on your team who we would consider, given your team’s lousy performance and the lack of development you’ve given them. In fact, we’ll probably need to clean house and replace most of them thanks to your lack of leadership.
The good news is, being in this position has probably been killing you. It really will be a relief to move on and find something that you can be successful at. You may as well start looking now, and I wish you all the best.

OK, back to reality. I’ll never be able to have those advance conversations, nor would I really want to. However, I sure can spread the word on what it takes to get promoted or fired, before it happens to you!


Wally Bock said...

Clever post, Dan. What a neat way to make your points.

As I read, I remember what it was like in that month before, when you could feel the energy shift around a person who was going to be fired. It seemed like everyone knew but them and, sure enough, they were surprised when the day finally came.

Perhaps there should be a guardian angel, like Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life, that whispers your message in people's ears. Except this Clarence would be proactive and whisper warnings. On second thought, the person in trouble probably wouldn't listen to Clarence either.

Tanmay Vora said...

Dan - that's a very interesting way of conveying key messages related to performance and giving a head's up.

My observation though has been that people get an "internal heads-up" like these before anyone else tells them. Our gut is a powerful head's-up mechanism and a part of conversation you mentioned happens internally.

Most of the times, I could see a sparkle on face of a team member around the appraisal time who knows that he/she has done a good job.

Hats-off to you for bringing these internal conversation to the fore!

Marvin said...

Just found your blog this morning -- Count me as one of your regular readers -- I'll be implementing some of these ideas in my next self-leadership-review.

Michael D. Haberman, SPHR said...

This should be required reading for all managers in training.. well for all managers.

Unknown said...

Great post! I have a few more suggestions to offer that will lead to promotions:

Unknown said...

Hi Dan,

This was a great article - I can't wait to share it with the other leaders at my place of work. Very creative way to give pointers on success and failure. I actually have jumped the gun on disclosing a promotion before, and of course it ended up not materializing - now that is a tough mistake to learn from.
If you get around to it, I'd love to hear your script on what you would say to someone who went for a promotion and did not get the role. Sometimes it is the middle of the road performers that can be the most difficult to communicate with.


Anthony said...

What I like about the warnings for the firing is that it makes a point to explain that this is a long time coming. Surprise layoffs are a different animal, but most often firings are not rash decision--they're the result of extensive bad behavior. As was said above, most other people probably have some idea that your job is in jeopardy--so, you know, pay attention to how your performance is being viewed by your colleagues.

Kristen Simsek said...

I am currently a student in Dr. Simmons (UNR) MBA program. In our class we have been studying locus of control. I am wondering if those people who have an internal locus of control are more likely to get promoted than those who have an external locus. When reading your post I noticed that when you refered to individuals who received the good news script, many of the deserving reasons listed showed the internal locus. For example, "even in this tough economy, you've managed to hit or exceed the targets that were established for you." Is the economy really even a factor for someone with an internal locus? Probably not. They will succeed, because they will succeed. If outside factors affected performance (external locus) the individual would be delivered the bad news script (Not complying to the ideas of others). Although your bad news script does not really imply that all these factors can be attributed to personal responsibility of one's success it is almost crystal clear: Demonstrated the ability to learn and adapt, you are one people turn to for advice and look to see how you react, always positive and upbeat. The script of bad news shows that the recipient clearly does not take responsibility for their own success or failures: missing sessions with a management and training coach, self-centered and defensive, problems in team building centered around you, ignoring HR counsel. I realize that even for those of us who have an internal locus of control, there are circumstances and situations where we can let this escape us. Anyone care to share a situation where they realized they had let the external locus get the best of them?

Dan McCarthy said...

all -
My apologies for the delay in responding to your comments, I've been on the road and a little behind.

Wally, Tammy, Marvin, Michael, MSR, Anthony ... Thanks!

Nicole -
Good idea!

Kristen -
I'm not familar with the concept of locus of control, so I can't respond. I just drew upon my own experience and research on leadership potential and executive derailers for the post.

Anonymous said...

Great article-Succinct points,easy to read and retain.


Manish Mohan said...

Hi Dan
Great post. Your points for promotion and getting fired come across very clearly. I also believe there's a third script: the Status Quo script. While one may not get fired, there are reasons why one won't get promoted. I have tried to list these in a blog post, based on my experiences: Status Quo script. Would love to hear your thoughts too.

Dan McCarthy said...

Manish -
Thanks for sharing your own version.