Good employees fear rejection from their managers more than anything. When it comes to that raise, or an extra day off, or the idea they have, they want to hear “yes.”
Not surprisingly, most of us hate even more to be the “rejector.”
One of the more uncomfortable situations managers find themselves in is denying a promotion to an employee who’s applied for a higher position. Since the employee has shown an interest in improving his or her status, which also shows an interest in the company, it’s doubly hard to deny the request – even if there are good reasons for doing so.
You know the employee isn’t going to take it well. So, it takes some deft handling to deliver it.
Try these steps when turning down a current employee for a promotion.
1) When the Employee Asks, Take the Meeting
Do this even if you don’t think it’s a good fit from the start. The employee has gone out on a limb and dared to ask for more work and responsibility, or even just a change of pace.
So to reject the approach outright sends a demoralizing message. Be sure to have a complete and full discussion.
Avail yourself to what the employee might bring to the table. People rarely will ask for a position they don’t feel they’re qualified for. The employee may know something you don’t!
2) Don’t Get Too Hung Up on Prior Work History
This sounds counterintuitive, but it helps you keep a more open mind about the employee’s proposal – and the concrete reasons you’ve decided against it.
If the employee is your direct report, he or she might remember mistakes made in the past, and get the impression that this clouded your judgment in deciding not to grant the promotion.
Stress to the employee that you approached the request with something of a clean slate. Let them know you considered what he or she contributed to your team in the past and focus on the strong points.
This reassures your employee that you considered them fairly when compared to other applicants.
3) When the Rejection Comes, Do That in a Meeting, Too
When considering internal candidates, you don’t want the news that they didn’t get the promotion to come via an impersonal email, says Alison Green, a writer for Bizjournals.com.
Set aside a brief face-to-face to explain why the employee didn’t get the job.
4) Give the Employee Honest Feedback
This isn’t the time to gloss over why the employee didn’t qualify for the job. The employee expects an answer, so be frank as to why he or she fell short. “Tell [the employee] where she was strong, but why she ultimately didn’t beat out the other person,” says Green. “This will help her see what could make her a stronger candidate in the future.”
If the answer came down to “you were qualified, but the other person was just a stronger match for the role,” it’s fine to say that too but be specific about the ways the other person was better matched, so it sounds sincere.
5) Reinforce What the Employee Is Doing Well
This not only softens the blow, it also points out to the employee that he or she is valued at the current position.
If you’re the employee’s direct manager, express what he or she means to your team – and be specific about why and what they do well. Offer to talk about other ways you can work with the employee that would prime them for future professional growth.
If you’re not the employee’s direct manager but were nevertheless the one who made the decision, gather some feedback from the employee’s manager and team members on the positive difference he or she makes.
6) Keep Up the Encouragement
Probably the last thing the employee will want to hear is, “While you didn’t get this promotion, there could be others!” But you still must emphasize that’s the case.
Depending on how long the employee has been at the company, there could be other opportunities you can point out that the employee may not have been aware of.
Stress that this setback shouldn’t keep the employee from continuing to improve – and work to turn that “we’re sorry” into “you got the job!”
What’s the real point of cushioning the blow when rejecting an employee for a promotion?
If you value the employee’s efforts and contributions, you obviously don’t want them to leave. Be clear that the rejection doesn’t mean all roads to higher levels are stopped, and encourage them to try again.
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