Ah promotion season, how I love and hate you at the same time!
The weather in the UK might not have got the memo but it is officially Spring time and that can only mean one thing… no, not the blossoming of daffodils…I’m talking about job promotion announcements.
In the last week my LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook feeds have been flooded with people celebrating the good news of a promotion to Senior Manager or how they have finally made it to Associate; if you’re really lucky you may even have reached the hallowed realms of Vice President or Senior Vice President (yeah up yours political Vice Presidents, it turns out there is an even more senior role than yours that isn’t an actual President).
Admittedly this is a time of year that is unique to the world of professional services (i.e. lawyers, bankers and consultants). To everyone else not connected to these industries, the ones who usually have to wait for their boss to leave the company or pass away for them to get a promotion, they can only sit back and watch with awe/amusement at the announcements as they pop up more readily than the aforementioned daffodils.
Having set up my own business 2.5 years ago, I don’t have promotions to look forward to (or to dread) but I remember my years of waiting for the outcomes of performance reviews (or round tables as they are often called) to see if my promotion case had made it through.
Appreciating the fact that this may be a foreign concept, let me take a moment to explain. In the world of professional services, where no two people perform exactly the same work, people at the same level are judged collectively against benchmarks (and each other) once or twice a year.
This judgement involves a bunch of their seniors discussing them one by one and awarding them a rating (usually 1–5) which will ultimately determine if they get a pay rise, a bonus and whether they might be on track for promotion.
At the same time, those who have been given the nod that they are “ready for promotion” are asked to compile a “business case” that outlines why they should be promoted and these are assessed by the same panel of their seniors.
Unlike in regular companies, there aren’t a specified number of roles at each level, so as long as the professional services firm keeps growing then a percentage of people at each grade will get promoted each performance cycle and they can all hold the same title. This is how you get multiple people making Partner at the same time whereas in a traditional company you would only get one person being successful if they went for a job.
I’d love to say that these performance review sessions are smooth and bias free but the reality is that if you are a popular, extroverted person then you will invariably be assessed more kindly than if you are not a popular, introverted person. In a world where there is a lack of perfect knowledge and transparency, assessments are made on hearsay, opinion and general “gut feeling”. General marketing/schmoozing can be more impactful than genuine performance.
[As an aside, I always advise juniors to get up to speed with what is the senior-wide opinion of them (which can usually be summarised in 3 adjectives) as this will likely heavily shape their career whether they like it or not]
Anyway, I digress, where was I?
Ah yes, as I have indicated I have self-selected myself out of the internal performance assessment circus by nature of being a CEO of a private company (sure I still get assessed by clients but they vote through continuing to work with me or not) but the last week has been filled with catching up with people who are very much in that world so it does not mean that it has passed me by.
I’ve had coffees with former colleagues that just made it to Manager level; been taken for lunch by newly made Partners, drowned the sorrows with someone who had their case for Director turned down for the 4th time in a row and partied with another friend who had made it to Senior Manager albeit after three times longer than the rest of their peers.
For every success story announced with fanfare on social media, there are numerous people deeply disappointed for one reason or another.
In these environments, it can be incredibly tough to swallow your peers going up whilst you don’t, watching those that are known to be worse performers make the grade or to be able to hide the fact that your promotion case got rejected.
Even for those that do get promoted, the joy can be short-lived as they soon realise that all that glisters is not gold (the increase in pay is not what they were told it would be and/or the additional workload that comes with the new title is simply overwhelming).
The other psychological impact of achieving a promotion is that it can deflate you as you have conquered a goal and you soon realise that there is just another mountain to climb and the treadmill doesn’t stop so you better suit up quickly and kick on.
All in all, it is a very emotional time for all those involved so, with my EQ hat on, let me suggest that you keep an eye out for everyone in your network who works in a professional services firm; give them your time and your empathy this promotion season as you never know just how they might feel (good or bad).
Sure, it might not compare to other travesties happening in the world around us at the moment but that doesn’t mean it’s not still something to be aware of.
[I make it my point to put in my calendar when each of my clients has its promotion announcements as I realise it will bring a psychological spike and an impact on team performance (particularly FQ) whether they like it or not.]