December 2023

  • Welcome to 2024!

    The last week of December is one of my favourite times of the year. For me, it’s often spent with family and close friends, enjoying big meals, and lots of time to relax. Work usually crawls to a standstill. There’s something special about everything feeling a little bit slower; less traffic, less email, less of the typical daily routine. There’s a symbolic feeling with it being the last week of the year, like the closing of a chapter. It often serves as a good time for reflection and looking ahead to 2024. As one chapter closes another one begins. Regardless if 2023 was your best year yet or if it was a tough year, there’s an opportunity to look forward and start anew.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of New Years Resolutions, which generally feel a bit rigid to me. I am, however, a big fan of jotting down some reflections from the past year, and some priorities or things I’d like to focus on next year, the next three years, and the next ten years. I never spend too much time on this or overthink it too much; I’ll typically sit down for ~30 minutes and jot down the key themes that come to mind. I’ll also flip through my calendar, which helps serve as a reminder for the bigger milestones and events from the past year. I’ve been doing this since 2019 and it’s fun to look back and re-read what’s been written as time goes on. It’s amazing how much of my behavior and actions have loosely followed the themes of what I’ve written.

    I also love the first week of January. It’s a bit like that first week following Labour-day weekend. Everyone is back in action, the pace of work and life picks up. People get back into their routine. There’s a bit of a buzz going around. There’s a bit of overwhelm and chaos.

    However you spent the end of 2023, I hope you found at least a few moments of joy. Cheers to 2024… hopefully the best year yet.

  • Promotions (2/2)

    So how do you decide when to promote someone? A debate you’ll often hear is how much of the promotion-role level (i.e., the next level) skill and competency should a candidate be demonstrating in their current role before they receive a promotion (i.e., should they essentially already be DOING the next role to earn the promotion?).

    The reality is nuanced because skills and competencies follow a more continuous path, whereas promotions represent step-function changes. (see image below).

    My belief is you want someone to demonstrate mastery of ~80%+ of the required skills and competency in their existing role, and to have begun to demonstrate basic evidence of the skills and competencies required to succeed in the next role level. Another way to think about it is I like to have an 80%+ confidence level that if someone is being promoted, they will succeed in their new role. The more junior the role level, the more comfort I might have in someone being a bit more of a ‘stretch’ candidate (i.e., for a junior promotion with a relatively limited impact to the overall organization, I might accept a bit more ‘stretch’ in that promotion). Some ‘stretch’ is natural as there should be some portion of additional responsibility that you’re asking someone to perform, which will put them outside their comfort zone.

    Another reason I like this visual is it’s a reminder that expectations for someone day 1 after their promotion should be different than for someone who’s been in that role for several months or years; it’s unreasonable to expect someone to demonstrate full mastery of their new role immediately post-promotion as they will need to continue climbing the skills and competencies curve even once they’ve received the new title.

    I’ll add that promotion decisions tend to be fairly nuanced, and I find this to be a helpful framework but not a hard and fast rule. Depending on the role, scope of responsibility, expectations, performance history of the candidate, etc. etc., it may make sense to flex your judgement.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Promotions (1/2)

    Promotion decisions often receive far too little consideration given how critical they are to the culture of an organization. I strongly believe promotions are the single biggest culturally re-enforcing action you can take. Much more so than anything you say, the action of promoting someone tells the organization, “this person exemplifies the behaviors that we as an organization respect and celebrate.” Promotions send a message to the organization that says: this person is a role model of our culture (even if it’s not the culture you want!). The more senior the promotion, the truer this is; promoting someone to VP sends a much stronger cultural message than promoting someone to Team Lead, and accordingly, the consequences are higher (i.e., if you make a mistake promoting someone as a first-time manager, it will be far less culturally damaging than mistakenly promoting someone to VP).

    Despite their importance, promotions regularly happen for the wrong reasons. Here is a list of bad reasons to promote someone, which can be all too tempting:

    • Retention. There’s someone on the team who’s great. But you don’t think they are bought in. You’ve heard they are looking for roles elsewhere. To try and retain them, you give them a promotion. By itself, a promotion alone is unlikely to solve a lack of engagement, nor should it be the driving factor for why you promote someone.
    • Compensation. You promote someone to push them into a higher salary band so that you can pay them more. Mission accomplished in getting them additional pay; however, if they aren’t a good fit for the new role they’ve been promoted into, that is all the organization will see and experience.
    • Tenure. They’ve been doing the job for a long time, and they want demonstrated career growth. So you promote them. If they aren’t capable and deserving of that promotion, it will be obvious to the organization.
    • Because you promised it to them. This is probably the most damaging of all. If you commit a promotion to someone based on a timeline, to satisfy that individual’s desire, you are putting yourself in a very difficult situation. Promotions need to be earned, not given. When given, the team will know.
    • Because you have no one else. I have a lot of empathy for this one. Sometimes you have a missing role you desperately need filled, which can make it tempting to prematurely promote someone into a position. Unfortunately, this can have the unintended consequence of setting them up for failure.

    Promotions should exclusively be awarded to individuals who are high or top performers in their current role, are eager to progress their career and take on an additional or new scope of responsibilities, and are a role model for your company’s core values. When done well, promotions can be hugely rewarding to your team and positively enhance overall culture.

    A major watch out for more junior leaders is making poor promotion decisions. It can be really hard to deny a promotion to someone who isn’t deserving of one but believes strongly they are. That’s why, for the sake of the broader culture, it’s important at an organizational level to ensure these are treated as critical decisions.

    *This doesn’t quite account for firms that operate on an “up or out” promotion framework (e.g., certain investment/consulting/banking firms) but the principles generally still apply.