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For context, I work in an organization that's completely pro-bono, so no pay is involved; all volunteer. I'm in the equivalent of the C-Suite for our org. We have meetings with the suite every week.

An employee applied for two roles but didn't get the role she wanted. Instead, she received a role that has more responsibility and power than her previous position, but it's still not the "C-Suite" level position that she wanted (so they wouldn't be part of our weekly meetings). She told us that she thought that both roles were "C-Suite" level and has now candidly confided in me that she will most likely leave if her role isn't made into a C-Suite level. Her mistaking both roles for being "C-Suite" was not entirely her fault since it was ambiguous; our mistake and we have apologized. I'm her friend so she is honest with me, and from my conversations with her her reasoning is that she feels that she has done a lot for the organization these past two years and wants to be recognized with a C-Suite level position; the other role is not enough. She has done a lot, but there are no free positions for her. What can we do to keep her?

I've thought about creating a new position, but a) I'm not sure what we could do and b) I wonder if the "C-Suite" would get bloated if we always added positions when there were high performing people but not enough positions.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jun 9 '20 at 18:01
  • As a point of clarification, given how the role assigned was ambiguously defined is it within your power (as per organization charter/constitution) to clarify it into a C-Suite position? – Myles Jun 10 '20 at 17:57
  • @Myles I'd have to vote within a group of 3 others – Tom Willards Jun 11 '20 at 4:27
  • Sounds like all she wants is a title that starts with "C". Is there a reason why you can't offer that? – workerjoe Jun 11 '20 at 12:51
  • I am a bit disturbed, that the non- C suite position has more power and responsibility; somehow I cannot imagine this. – lalala Jun 11 '20 at 15:49
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Figure out the exact motivations for this person

There are many benefits that a C-Suite position might have over a non C-Suite one and most of those can be detached from the job itself.

  • It could be recognition.

  • It could be resume impact.

  • It could be the influence they require to do their job with external people.

  • It could just be something to brag about to friends.

  • It could be wanting to actually sit in the room and be part of those meetings.

One easy solution to all of these except the last one is title inflation. Banks and insurance companies are full of people who want promotions, need external influence, and are egotistical (I worked for one at one point).

At my bank, you could be a Manager, a Senior Manager, and even a Director or Vice President (and I worked at a bank that did not assign the VP title to every third person like some do) without overseeing anyone. A Managing Director might have just 6-8 people under them of these various ranks. My Dad worked for a brokerage where you earned a title like Vice President in 18 months and the Senior in front of it once you hit some transactions benchmark. They oversaw nothing. They had no staff. But they were willing to stay for a title increase instead of shopping around.

I once pitched some executives at a large insurance company and at the start of the pitch, the panel of judges introduced themselves. There were several Chief Executive Officers and Chief Operations Officers on the panel. They give the CEO/COO title to people who were fundamentally department heads or division heads. A search on LinkedIn gave me over 500 results for people with that kind of title and company.

Few people really care about being in the room as long as they get recognized. Meetings are boring once you are in them. It just makes you feel irrelevant to not be in them.

If she can live without being part of the meetings, the solution is simple. Inflate her title.

Make her a "Senior VP of X Operations" or something like that. Make it seem like she runs a million dollar department and has a staff of 20.

If she actually wants in on the meeting, I would promote her and let her in. That is something not many people would actually want, so I expect you would not need to give it away all that frequently.

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    Especially because the organization is about volunteering, the answer becomes even truer. There is no money incentive. And just smiles are almost never a good motivator. +1 – virolino Jun 9 '20 at 5:31
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    The good thing of volunteer organizations is that the VP of X rarely needs a budget to expand their department. She can recruit 20 more volunteers for her department. And if she recruits 50, she can be Senior VP of X. – MSalters Jun 9 '20 at 12:15
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    I would change your 5th bullet point to sound less passive. I think someone who wants to be in the meetings would be someone that wants to have a greater impact on the organization and its greater goals. Otherwise I definitely agree with the high level part of your answer which is that it depends on the individual's motivation to volunteer. As long as I'm nit picking...maybe a little bit too much about titles at a bank but c'est la vie. – Dean MacGregor Jun 9 '20 at 12:42
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    Since she got the title she was after, but became angry when she discovered that the title didn't give her access to the meetings where the enterprise is actually run, I think it's very likely that the last bullet point is her true motivation. Some highly talented people simply cannot tolerate being excluded from top-level planning, no matter how well the top level planners support their subordinates. – tbrookside Jun 9 '20 at 13:37
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    I've worked for an organization that had a president who was somewhere around 3rd or 4th in the chain of command. Upvoted for the title inflation description alone. Silly, isn't it – bytepusher Jun 10 '20 at 0:31
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If she wants into the "C-Suite," then the only thing that really matters is whether or not she deserves to be there. Would she truly add value to the "C-Suite," or is this just an ego thing?

If she does deserve to be there and will add value, then get her in to the room. If she doesn't, then promote her to the level where she best fits, and she either stays or leaves.

Like others have mentioned, this is about motivations. There's only so much you can do to satisfy her motivations, and if you have done that, what she does is out of your hands.

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It seems to me that she mostly cares about having a seat at the table. Could you make an exception to accommodate her, regardless of the "C-Suite" status?

Either way, it would be good to have a conversation with her about her motivations.

I would also encourage you and the other "C-Suite" members to think about how to set clear expectations to avoid such blunders going forward.

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Going back to the reasons and motivations:

Is she there to learn whatever "C-suite" do?

One of the most important things volunteer gets for her free time is experience she would have problems to get elsewhere. So if she's there to learn... Let's call it C, for simplicity. So if she's there to learn C, did everything she could to get to learn C, she's good enough to do C in your organization (and from your post it looks like it), and yet you still do not let her to do and learn C, you are not going to keep her. In such situation she is worth quite a lot, but you are worthless for her purpose of learning C.

If, when she started doing free work for that organization, she was told that she will eventually do C if she is good enough, and now it is not happening, then organization abused her trust for two years.

So how to solve this?

  1. Make sure new volunteers do not have any reason to expect promotion you might not be able to give them.
  2. "Clarifying" that new responsibilities will not be rewarded as volunteer believed they will be only after she agreed won't do, apology or not. She should be able to get back to original position.
  3. If she is there to learn C, and you really need her in your organization, you need to stop asking "how to keep her?" and start asking "how to get her a place in C-suite?"

So, to get her a place in C-suite you need to either move her role up and increase number of people in it, or ask someone to step down. Both solutions are not without risks, of course. Only you and your organization know which risks are worth keeping her, and which are big enough you'd rather let her go.

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You can also set a path forward for this person and a plan to get to the "C-Suite". Perhaps they're taking this very much as "no and forever", whereas it can be "yes, but X/Y/Z need to happen". In any case, even if you relented and did make her "C-Suite" or equivalent, if the other members knew of the process all along, they might get upset that the rules were bent or changed because she was applying pressure for the promo. It's a lose-lose then.

It's worth also examining what "C-Suite" means. You say that she has done a lot, but is that enough to qualify? Like are there other requirements like tenure, or certain kinds of experience, etc? It's perhaps worth it to re-examine these things, and make them more clear, so further down the line issues like this don't happen again.

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Have you bothered to look up the definition of "employee"? Language matters. She is not an employee. You have a club. She wants to be in the club and you've told her no. Cool kids in the club, not-so-cool kids out of the club. Sounds like she is wising up to either being taken advantage of or promises made and broken. Given that people ask questions in a light most favorable to their own position one can be fairly certain that she's looking to leave for reasons not related to "title". Perhaps you should reflect a little more on your role in this and what's really going on. You probably already know the answer but are here looking for validation or a clever way to avoid shooting her straight.

If she's the problem, let her know. But given that you don't specify why she doesn't qualify for a made-up title in a non-paying organization, I'm going to go with my original assessment that you have a club and don't want her in it. Again, look up the definition of "employee". Why would you refer to someone with that word who you are not paying?

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