A Brief Guide to a Drama-Free Promotion


December 17, 2020  |  John Wiese


Workplace culture is a dynamic, complex aspect of your organizational health, and many factors come into play when building a healthy culture. While many of these factors are mutable, some are constant: transparency and communication to name a couple. When making an organizational change such as a new hire, a layoff or a promotion, it is crucial to communicate those changes with transparency and honesty.

Promotions are an exciting part of corporate culture. For many people, the prospect of climbing the ladder and moving forward in their career is a main motivational driver. It is also important for workplace culture, because it keeps workflows fresh, by occasionally shifting the chain of command, you invite opportunities to diversify your workforce, particularly at the executive level. This may seem obvious, but promotions and internal job postings allow for employees who started in entry level to elevate their careers. A recent study from Lean In and McKinsey Co., Women in the Workplace, reported that black women are far less likely to be promoted, and consequently are more likely to downshift their careers or leave the workforce entirely. Keeping the chain of command diverse is good for both workplace culture and retention. With this in mind, it’s important to be both fair with promotions, and transparent as to why certain employees are promoted.

How to Announce a Promotion

When announcing a promotion, it’s important to ask “Who needs to know?” Communicating the promotion to too many people can be unnecessary and even cause drama. It’s most important that everyone on the promotee’s team know about the change. Clearly communicate how roles and responsibilities have changed, and be very clear about the affect the promotion has on the chain of command. If you’re elevating a member of your product team to a managerial role, alerting your marketing team of the promotion may just be a reminder that someone did not get the promotion they were expecting, and lead to a loss of motivation.

When announcing a promotion to the necessary employees, consider sending an email along these lines:

To whom it may concern,

I am pleased to announce that we are promoting [full name] from the position of [past role] to that of [new role]. This change will go into effect on [date].

This change may not come as a surprise to some of you, [name’s] performance over the past [time] has been exemplary, and their contributions to the team have been invaluable. Their contributions to [X project] and their time spent executing [Y duties], have proven that they are the best person to step into [new role].

As such, [name] will take up the responsibility of [list any and all additional responsibilities]. And any questions or concerns regarding those projects should be directed to [name].

If you have any questions about how this change will affect your working relationship, or any questions about this new chain of command, please direct them to me or your HR representative. I will also communicate how this change might affect your job duties in our upcoming 1 on 1s.

So please join me in congratulating [name], and have a great day.

An email or instant message like this checks off a number of boxes. It communicates the amount of time the employee has been in their role, it explains why the employee deserves the promotion, and it delivers an high level overview of any changes the promotion will bring for the rest of the team.

The promotion announcement should not end here. If the change affects the chain of command, the team leader should explicitly communicate with the employees under the promoted individual that they will be reporting to that person. This conversation should be done in a one on one setting, then again in a group setting with the newly promoted employee. This is a crucial step in the promotion process as it will set the tone for the future workflow, and eliminate any ambiguity.

Avoiding Promotion Drama

There are a number of reasons why promotions should be based on solid, empirical evidence. Using pre prescribed standards to pick an employee will help you avoid workplace drama, and pick the best person for the job. Having supporting data, objective insights, and clear reasons why one employee was chosen over another is a best practice for mitigating unconscious bias, and ensuring that the chain of command remains diverse.

A poorly communicated promotion can easily bring undue drama to your team. If multiple employees in the same role are hoping for the same promotion, you may have some extra communicating to do. It should come as no surprise that one employee may be upset about not receiving the job, so a clear and honest like of communication may be necessary. Tell that employee how the decision was made, being explicit about the criteria used to make the call.

This is exactly why you need data driven evidence for these kinds of decisions. Saying something like “It was just clear that they deserved it.” or “They were more motivated than you, and they need it more.” is an HR dispute waiting to happen. Consider giving the exact reasons the other employee was promoted, then lay out an improvement plan, so those employees vying for a similar position can have something to work towards This will help both employee retention and your team dynamic.

Similarly, informing a competing team of an impending promotion for one individual can lead to some bad behavior. It can cause tribalism, damage relationships amongst team members, and lead to unhealthy and contentious competition. Here’s an example drawn from Emtrain’s in-course anonymous Question & Answer feature:

So which type of harassment is this? I had a coworker who was being considered for the same promotion as I. The coworker informed HR that I was sexually harassing them. This made me ineligible for a promotion while it was being investigated, so they got the promotion. They then left the company because they were unable to do the job, and the accusation was determined unfounded. I was not promoted, however, because of it. Would that be a hostile work environment?

While the question is one about the presence, or lack thereof, of harassment, the situation is worth noting. We do not know whether the initial harassment complaint was founded or not, but then possibility remains that it was a calculated effort in order to be the most eligible employee for the promotion. While we do not discourage informing employees of a possible promotion, we encourage you to avoid informing employees that they are competing for a promotion.

The key takeaway here is that fact based promotions, and clear communication are key. Clear reasons for decisions like these are one of the best ways to eliminate unconscious bias and cultivate diversity. Being transparent about why certain changes were made will help avoid drama and ensure a smooth transition into new chains of command and new workflows. For more tips on performance management, demo our interactive course: Coaching and Mentoring Training and explore our resource library for more useful insights.


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