Career Coaching Tips for Managers: Dealing with Disappointed Employees

In our career coaching programs for managers in Singapore and the Asia Pacific region, most agree that they need to support the career development of their employees. But as they have career planning conversations, one of the biggest challenges they faced are remarks like these from their employees:

“When can I be promoted?” 
“Why am I not promoted?”

These are the most feared questions from managers. They typically come from employees who are self-confident, eager for success and want progression now. They tend to be younger employees and are not shy to initiate these career conversations. Asking for feedback from managers is a norm. They actively compare themselves with their peers and if they are not promoted as quickly, they ask if not confront managers about it.

The key is to manage such questions is, to be honest, manage their expectations and channel their energy for challenge constructively. Here are some quick tips:

  1. Tell them the truth, promotions do not depend only on performance.

    • Do they know how they are perceived by their career audience? Career audience is people who have a formal or informal influence over their career. The staff might think they are good, but how do others perceive them? Do they have any blindspot?
    • Do they know the expectations for the higher level job? Promotion is not just based on performance. The truth is people are generally promoted after they demonstrate their capability for bigger roles. Give them the hard truth on their higher level capabilities.
    • Opportunities go to people who are prepared, so help them prepare themselves by focusing on learning.
  2. Find out what their longer-term career aspirations are and help them to be strategic.

    • Understand what is their long-term direction. Sometimes we are torn between what is deemed as successful and rapid ascent versus taking time to develop depth and experience. The way to get to the top is to move sideways, just like a CEO needs broad and varied functional experience. This means lateral moves, rather than helicopter ascent.
    • Moving up too quickly or specializing too fast could limit their flexibility to move into other roles in the future. In the context of today’s rapid change where one could have a few careers in a lifetime, having broad base skills and experience, especially in the early part of one’s career, helps one to have versatility.
  3. Reframe the conversation

    • From being about promotions to being about experiences and skills needed for future roles. The promotion is an outcome of many factors. Some people are just at the right place at the right time. So rather than be angst about what is beyond our control, invest in ourselves, our skills.
    • Ask them what skills will up their game? What is it, that if they master, will bring their capability to another level?
  4. Find out what is beneath this desire

    • Needless to say, many people like to be promoted. But go beneath our assumptions, and ask, “What does the promotion mean to you?” or “What does the promotion give you?”
    • Is it need for more money to pay the mortgage? Is it ego need – to be perceived as good? Is it a desire for more challenge?
    • Perhaps there are other ways to meet this need? For example, recognition and involvement in special projects could meet their ego and challenge needs?

These are different approaches to redirect a potentially stressful conversation to a productive one. Don’t wait till your staff asks, take a proactive approach and initiate these conversations. Believe me, it will be far easier than dealing with disappointment or disillusion from a perceived missed promotion.


Hope this is helpful. Love to hear your experience or questions on this issue, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

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