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I work for a big company. I had a terrible, degrading experience with my first manager. I moved to a new one. I am very happy with my new manager. He's awesome. We are discussing my career development plan, and he made it clear that my KPIs are not enough: there will be a leadership committee sitting together to review promotion documents. My manager made it clear that my previous boss will be part of that committee, and that he's a key stakeholder in determining whether my promotion will go ahead or not.

I physically and mentally suffered under my previous boss. I deeply despise him. And my new manager is saying I need to win over my old boss to get promoted.

I do not know how general this "committee" mechanism is.

My question is: if, in any company, your promotion is decided by a committee and is independent from your KPIs, should you leave? Or is this a common mechanism?

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  • Thanks, Joe - I mostly worked for startup, and there were no KPIs, just lots of work to do.
    – Monoandale
    Sep 17 '20 at 17:00
  • Not enough for an answer, but this sounds similar to how promotions were handled at the large company I used to work for. It is one of the reasons I left for a smaller company. Some of my friends who were more adept at navigating the bureaucracy politics have flourished there. It's up to you to figure out if that system works for your preferences or not.
    – Seth R
    Sep 17 '20 at 18:14
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My question is: if, in any company, your promotion is decided by a committee and is independent from your KPIs, should you leave? Or is this a common mechanism?

It's certainly common for promotion decisions to factor in more than just your KPIs - if anything deciding it purely on the KPI values would be the exception rather than the norm. Even well designed, well managed KPIs are nothing more than good indicators about an employee, they're valuable data when making this sort of decision but they aren't the whole story. So should you leave on that basis? No it's going to be a real slog to find somewhere that doesn't have something functionally similar, and really that's not your issue here - it's your relationship with your old manager that's inhibiting your chances here not the process itself.

Unfortunately it's also not particularly unusual for certain individuals to hold the ability to effectively blackball someone's promotion chances - whether because they have a final approval role or because they carry sufficient weight in any committee-based process. In an ideal world people wouldn't use individual grudges in that way - but it's not an ideal world.

The way I see it you have four options:

Try and repair the relationship

I know it's not an appealing thought given your feelings for your old manager - I don't even know if it's possible. But it sounds as though it's likely to be the most likely path to getting the promotion you seek.

Play the long game

Keep killing it on the KPIs and any other measures of your performance you can - do this long enough and eventually people are going to start seeing your previous manager blackballing you for what it is - a grudge. And if indulging that grudge is harming the business more than promoting you over their objections the business will make it happen whatever the previous manager wants.

Accept remaining at your current level

It's not great as options go - but it is a valid one. If you're otherwise happy where you are then just write the promotion off as something that wasn't to be and carry on as before.

Leave

If you're good enough for the promotion-level role at your current company then you're good enough for it elsewhere. Job hunt for roles at that level and when one comes along take it.

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  • I wouldn't even want to work at a place that decided them purely by KPIs- then it just becomes all about gamification. KPIs is lines of code? Let's be verbose. Checkins? Lots of small PRs. Features? I'm going to claim all the easy to do work. There is no metric that won't be gamed. I'd rather have it discussed and hope they make efforts to be fair than trust numbers. Worst case I can always find the next job. Sep 19 '20 at 6:32
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He is not saying your promotion is not dependant on your KPI, he said it is not enough.

I think it is a good process, you do not want to promote a brilliant jerk, KPIs can always be gamed so the fact there is an actual committee reviewing your promotion is the standard procedure.

In fact most of the companies I know do not use KPIs to decide if someone gets a promotion or not (which is bad from my point of view but it is just to point out that being promoted on KPIs only is not an industry standard, far from it).

If your promotion can be fully blocked by a single stakeholder (which unfortunately can happen) and if your good KPIs are disregarded then, of course, you should try to find another company because, unless you want to play the political game, or unless this stakeholder is removed, your advancement will be impossible.

This is also your manager's job to push for your promotion if he thinks you deserve it, so you can freely discuss it with him and ask him how you can win over your old boss.

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Most hiring decisions are made by a committee:

  • A widget person will evaluate whether you are good at making widgets
  • A HR person will evaluate if you could be a liability to the company
  • A bossy person will make a decision based on the feedback of the other two and their personal impression of you, whether you are worth spending the money you want

So you should not be surprised that being hired for a new job is "by committee".

The question is, your promotion, could that be described as "a new job"? Being promoted from "widget maker level 13" to "widget maker level 14" sounds like the same job, you just got better at it. Hardly worthy of a committee to reside over. Being promoted from "widget maker" to "widget maker manager" is a whole new job, more likely that you come under more scrutiny.

The more your previous and future job differ, the more likely it is that you will have to face another committee. Probably for good reasons, the same good reasons that compelled them to have one for new hires for a job anyway.

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I see you're in software so: In the software industry, promotion committees are common. Your manager doesn't have the budget/power to hand out promotions without careful consideration and sign off by lots of people. In my experience the committees were hidden. Managers wouldn't even mention that others were involved until after the decision was made.

You ask should you leave... I don't see a good reason for you to leave before the committee has made a decision. If you leave your job now, the next company is unlikely to promote you before 6 months. And more likely you're looking at a year or more. So if your promotion review is going to happen in the next month or 3, it's worth waiting.

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