What it looks like initially: Frank has been a long-time reliable stewardship officer. He grew into the role from an assistant capacity and has been mentored closely and proactively by Linda, his manager. Linda has continued to grow him as her second in command, providing opportunities to manage their staff, take on new projects, and supporting him through some major life events over the past 10 years. Feeling guilty that hers would be the next logical role for him to assume she decides to redefine his position and give him a promotion that increases his management load and responsibility for working with faculty liaisons and the gifts and records team.
Cut to 24 months later; Frank is struggling to keep up. He doesn’t want to be a leader in the organization and is now feeling too much stress having to manage more staff members. He doesn’t like to manage up and is very uncomfortable in the liaison aspects of the new role. On top of that the work he once loved – connecting donors and students – is now a minimal part of his job.
Where it goes wrong: Frank likely stays for as long as he can out of obligation to his relationship with Linda. However, not wanting or being ready for the new role has left him both frustrated and overwhelmed. He starts underperforming and under or over-managing his team. Linda finds herself having to deal with performance issues that she had previously never thought possible with Frank.
How people usually leave: Frank will either find a new job in a smaller, less stressful organization or eventually be fired for underperformance.
What you can do about it: Growing staff is important; growing team members with their goals in mind is pivotal. To avoid a situation like Frank’s, an organization has to work with and train managers to make sure they are prepared to advocate for their teams in the right way, namely:
- Treating career conversations as a two-way exchange. A manager might be seeing a great future from his/her employee, but they must make changes and decisions with that individual’s own needs and goals in mind.
- Refusing to accept only one path as “growth.” There’s more to growing as a professional than just increasing salary ranges and title seniority. For some employees, growth can come in the form of new projects, more autonomy, or increased collaboration. Moreover, in development, an individual’s best next step might be to make a lateral or even a demotional move so they can gain a critical skill/experience they need for their ultimate career goal. Tying your organization’s approach to career development to only include title and salary increases prevents more meaningful, flexible growth being an option for your employees.
- Identify and work with employees struggling in new positions. The time to train someone for their new role is prior to them inhabiting it. Before new responsibilities are added to an employee’s portfolio there should be a concentrated effort to make sure that they are exposed to and practiced in the elements required by the new role.
What it looks like initially: Michael was hired because he had amazing potential. While his experience in fundraising was limited he came on board with 10+ years of sales experience and wowed everyone during the interview process. He was subsequently hired as a major gift officer. During the hiring process multiple people, including his boss, mentioned that they expected him to be a director of development within a year.
Cut to 24 months later; Michael has proven to be a performer but no promotion has happened. Red tape and bureaucracy make it difficult to promote someone so soon after hire – a reality no one initially relayed to the employee. On top of this – Michael has started to see a nice return on his outreach and is competitive with his peer development officers, all while earning $20k+ less than them. He has also seen his peers turnover for big titles and salaries outside of the org. He brings up his expected promotion yet again, finally provoking his manager to push it through and elevate his salary and title to be equal with his peers.
Where it goes wrong: Michael has effectively spent a full year+ fighting for a promotion he was promised at hire. When it finally does happen there is no rush of gratefulness or satisfaction by the employee at the recognition he receives in a promotion. The benefit the organization gets from promoting him is far outweighed by the decreased engagement caused by the frustration he has faced. The strenuous process has furthermore left him with serious doubt as to the career potential of staying at the organization long-term. He also doesn’t trust what he hears from leadership as much; if they weren’t honest with him at the hire, what else could they be hiding?
How people usually leave: Michael will get his promotion and likely try to make the best of it. His next job, however, will be multiple steps up and out of the organization. The promotion experience has taught him that growth is achieved by leaving not staying. Instead of trying to find a way to grow internally he will apply elsewhere when he’s ready for more rather than approach his manager.
What you can do about it: These delayed promotions happen particularly often when hiring individuals with transferable skills and resumes. There are things we can do on the talent management side to lessen their impact:
- Don’t make promises at the hire that you cannot keep. If your organization’s HR process and approvals don’t allow for rapid promotions then you must admit that and focus on “selling” the other benefits of working at your organization to your candidate of choice.
- Establish clear timelines and expectations for new hires over years not months. Development officer work in particular is subject to its ups and downs and someone new to the industry does not have a full understanding of the numerous factors in performance. In this example, Michael might have been focused on documenting estate commitments or might have been visiting and soliciting dollars close to the equivalent of other DOs in his first year, but is actually simply closing gifts cultivated by his predecessor. This makes the numbers look good but actually is a weak long-term strategy and might legitimately prevent him from moving up a level for some time. Without a clear timeline of long-term milestones and expectations, however, it is unfair to ask Michael to understand why he’s not getting a promotion when his numbers look good.
- If you do hire with a promise of an early promotion: approach the hiring and early promotion process as the equivalent of a probation period. Instead of an annual review use the one-year anniversary as a measure of performance and confirmation of the position change. Work with HR to codify this process early and confirm with them before you make an initial offer.
- Immediately and concretely define the role’s access to leadership and influence in decision-making.
- Project workload and core responsibilities for this position three years from now. If you cannot articulate what the role will eventually become then it is an empty promotion.
- Build a succession plan for Jackie’s previous responsibilities and former unit. A multi-month transition to the new role in which Jackie is given the opportunity to handoff her core responsibilities while taking on a new challenge eases the pain of a transition and maintains her confidence in her abilities during pressure points of the new position.
What it looks like initially: Alan is promoted to a new role at your organization that involves him moving from being a direct report to a peer of Bonnie. He joins the same management team and has taken on a load of direct reports that were stretching Bonnie too thin. Bonnie and Alan now both report into the VP.
Where it goes wrong: While the what of the new relationship and org chart have been made clear the how of their working together is never addressed. As a result the individuals involved still maintain the power dynamic of the previous relationship. Bonnie still largely makes or influences decisions related to the team Alan manages. As someone new to a leadership role – Alan may not know how to represent his interests at the new management level, is given limited autonomy, and feels excluded from decision-making. He may even feel like a junior or secondary member of the management team to which he was promoted.
How people usually leave: Attrition in these circumstances usually comes in one of two ways: an escalated personality conflict between Alan and Bonnie that requires the VP to intervene or Alan withdrawing from decision-making and leadership conversations, resulting in unrealized expectations or underperformance and eventual severance (either voluntarily or involuntarily).
What you can do about it: Anytime the management or leadership team changes there should be a proactive evaluation and establishment of decision-making norms and autonomy expectations. This process has to be lead by the head (in this case the Vice President or Chief Development Officer equivalent) and involve both focused discussion amongst the new leaders as well as one-on-one sessions between the VP and his/her direct reports.
Another helpful practice is to provide outreach and resources to any newly promoted individual rising to a new level be it a manager or a leader. Ensure that they have a professional mentor and consider investing in a 3-6 month leadership coach for him/her.
An alternative to this scenario that is seen more frequently on a lower level in the organizational chart is where someone is promoted from a peer to a manager of a close colleague. Without deliberate attention and conversation about new expectations and behavior the result ends up being the same.
Note: The book “Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice” is a great resource on understanding the new expectations and presence required when an employee’s promotion places them on a new decision-making level.
This is second of a six-part series on promotions leading to attrition. Read Part I here.
What it looks like initially: John is a middle to strong performer and has just hit his sweet spot with his portfolio. The team has struggled with turnover in the past and is just now settling into a consistent rhythm. All of a sudden leadership is blindsided because John has come to them with another offer. In a desperate attempt to retain John, HR manages to push through a last-minute raise and title bump.
Where it goes wrong: No one in the organization believes this is a normal,merited promotion. Individuals with similar tenure and performance will start asking where their promotions are and their engagement and performance will fall. Seeking outside offers as the way to grow will become more likely to be accepted as the norm by other team members. Additionally, John, who may have been driven to seek the offer for rational reasons, will now be held to an impossible standard. Leadership will judge him more harshly in comparison to others and consistently expect him to “prove” he was worth retaining.
- Work with your HR or organization administration to allow for retention offers that can happen without a viable or documented counter offer. Let your retention strategy be proactive based on performance and potential, and assume that all DOs are getting recruiting calls regularly.
- Create clear expectations and milestones that indicate readiness for the next level. Follow through with those team members who deliver on those expectations.
Part of talent management success in an industry like development is the acceptance that fundraiser turnover will happen and, instead of trying to build an impossible program that retains DOs indefinitely, the creation of a program that maximizes the time you do have with fundraisers.
It sounds counter-intuitive, right? Promotions are one of the greatest tools we have to reward and retain our performers. However, without a talent-forward strategy, promoting individuals can actually result in increasing the chances that they or others will leave your organization. In fundraising, where the ramp-up of performance requires 3-5 years of tenure, this means that our patterns for promotion of fundraisers can cut off their potential and impact on fundraising results. Over the next few days we will cover six scenarios in which promoting an individual actually harms your chances of retaining them.
The Unprepared Manager
What it looks like initially: Jane has been a fantastic performer, in this case a top fundraiser. In order to retain her you promote her to a manager role with new responsibilities, a fancy title, and a pay bump.
Where it goes wrong: Jane has never managed before and because her status as a major gift fundraiser was already high her new role has a high level of visibility and influence. By default people tend to spend more time where they are comfortable, and Jane adheres to this standard and spends all of her time on what she knows: fundraising. Her team gets neglected and Jane finds herself underperforming for the first time in her career, something she does not handle well.
How people usually leave: Pretty soon Jane’s team’s frustrations become too high and they find other opportunities. An alternative scenario would see Jane herself leaving because she no longer wants to be a manager and sees no way to trace her steps back towards being an individual contributor once again.
What we can do about it: One thing we cannot afford to do is stop promoting people to become managers out of fear that they’re not ready for it. Our best performers want to keep growing and it is our duty in talent management to facilitate that growth. To avoid this scenario organizations should:
- Offer Career Alternatives to Management: Your best fundraisers may not be good management material. In turn, knowing the cost of the time they spend in the office, the last thing your development shop may want is to take a high-producing fundraiser off the road. We need to be better about offering fundraisers increased portfolio and strategic planning responsibility without tacking on management as a contingency for success.
- Build and Test Management Skills Ahead of a Promotion: Much of what you use as a manager can be cultivated prior to formally being responsible for the supervision of others. With a little creativity we can build out pilot programs and structures in which a rising fundraiser can investigate what management is truly like prior to taking on a role in which supervision is critical to their professional success. The University of Washington, for example, has built a fantastic model in which more senior fundraisers are asked to take on a “technical lead” with junior DOs prior to formal supervisory roles. This helps grow the senior fundraiser, coaches newer development officers in good fundraising practice, and prevents someone from taking on a management job only to realize that they have no interest in being a manager.
- Acknowledge and Have Strategy for the Skill Gap: Anytime someone has been promoted there will be a learning curve before they are successful. New managers and their teams are particularly susceptible during the first 6 months in the role. Help a new manager better define her style, read the needs of the leadership team, and connect with her team through formal training, coaching, and mentorship built into the promotion.