Stop being afraid to do the right thing, rethink the obvious thing:


I recently had to tell an employee that she was not getting a promotion that she wanted, and frankly, deserved. She is an amazing employee and the position above her became vacant, of which she is largely qualified for.

The conversation started by explaining why the position above hers was not about to be filled by her, and why the seemingly obvious move of her advancement was not optimal for her or the company. Instead, a clear path of advancement in a different direction fit better for both her and our office.

Despite knowing that this would be a great thing for her in the long run, telling her that she was not getting something that seemed obvious was stressful for both of us. I’ve had to hire, fire, console and reprimand, but it was nerve racking to hold back something that seemed a good fit from a deserving and capable employee.

However, having a clear path towards a better fit was not something that just happened, it takes research and work from management. This work should never be shirked regardless of how positive or easy we think the information will be. Here is a quick checklist that helps me come into these meetings with a clear head:

Do I have a good grasp of what the employee really wants for their future?

If not, I have been falling down on the job at some level in my effectiveness, and for not only their needs but also ours as a team.


Have I investigated other options like lateral moves or training for a better fit?

In this case, I had and it was a good ending. Not having this tool and entering the room is like trying to fix my bike without wrenches.


Even for great employees, examine together what can be better.

For anyone that has ever gone through a review with me, one consistency they find is that I will always bring up a negative in the review. I’m not trying to be negative, just point one out. Often it’s as subtle as interactions with another co-worker or a lack of using project management software to keep people informed. Sometimes it’s more. The point is that highlighting some of the negatives keeps both parties grounded in the moment, and I have always found that acknowledging imperfections strengthens the arguments about all of the good aspects of their contributions.

There are other things I like to do for reviews, but one is listen. Send me a comment about what you find helpful when reviewing employees. Or better yet, send me things that you hated your employer doing in a review.

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