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I am asking this question in behalf of a friend. Let's call him Fred. The scenario is in a large profitable US corporation.

Here is the situation:

  • Fred has a history of several years of good dependable work with his team and recently completed the design for a major project which he accomplished almost alone with no supervision from his manager and very limited help from some team-members. This working arrangement was not of his choosing, rather, he had very little feedback from management and no resources to help him so decided to do as much as he could on his own.
  • Fred's manager has occasionally praised his work and once even mentioned that Fred's design was "the best one he had seen in the history of the company."
  • During the annual review period when promotions and raises are determined, Fred received a lukewarm review and did not receive a promotion even though he had discussed this previously with his manager who said a promotion would come in the near future.
  • The manager spends very little time in the office and Fred's impression is that he does not want to ask his senior management for promotion approvals to minimize the footprint of his team and maintain his position with minimum risk of scrutiny.
  • When Fred showed his disappointment for not receiving a promotion he asked his manager for the criteria used to assess his eligibility. His manager replied that he didn't know and that there was nothing he could do to change the decision because it was determined by HR (which Fred isn't sure he believes). Upon asking other people in the company about the requirements for advancement, he found that he already easily meets all of them.
  • Fred doesn't want to approach his manager's manager because he knows they are good friends and fears he will not be heard and possibly even retaliated against for escalating the chain of command.

Questions:

  • Is it better to continue to confront his manager about his lack of effort in promoting him? Or should he go directly to HR to receive a formal reason?
  • If Fred goes to HR and the HR people decide to investigate further, can they force Fred's manager to promote him if they determine he meets the criteria?
  • Can Fred's manager do anything to retaliate against such an investigation?
  • In this case does promotion mean change in title or change in duties? A company can eventually have all of their developers be Sr Dev but a company wouldn't be able to have all of their developers be team leads. It could easily be that while Fred meets the minimum requirements for becoming a lead but there may be more qualified candidates. – Myles Sep 23 '16 at 21:00
  • @Myles In this case, the promotion means a change in title, duties and a substantial pay raise. No other team-members have been promoted which leads him to believe that somehow his team isn't being "allowed" to promote anybody. Possible? – Daniel V Sep 23 '16 at 21:22
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    In many cases the best, or the only, way to get promoted is to change jobs. – Sam Varshavchik Sep 23 '16 at 23:34
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    This happened to me more than once, it looks like he is too valuable where he is, best way forwards is to apply elsewhere. – Kilisi Sep 24 '16 at 8:52
  • @SamVarshavchik this is my advice to Fred, but he actually likes where he works and what he does; just not his direct managers. I am wondering what others have successfully tried in similar situations without having to leave the company – Daniel V Sep 26 '16 at 8:04
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When Fred showed his disappointment for not receiving a promotion he asked his manager for the criteria used to assess his eligibility. His manager replied that he didn't know ...

Right there, without any question, Fred's manager made himself irrelevant to this conversation. Going to the next level up the chain is quite appropriate, now.

His manager replied that he didn't know and that there was nothing he could do to change the decision because it was determined by HR (which Fred isn't sure he believes).

Again, Fred's manager points out that he is irrelevant. Also, any company that has HR making promotion decisions is doomed. They may DENY promotions based on things they've discovered, but HR should never be deciding who DOES get promoted.

Fred should go to the next level up and state quite clearly, "I was told that I was being considered for promotion, which I am very interested in. I believe I have far exceeded expectations, and demonstrated that I am capable of much more than I am being tasked with, now. If I am not meeting expectations, or am not demonstrating that I am a worthy candidate for promotion, can you please give me the specific areas I need to work on to change this perception?"

Fred shouldn't worry about his direct manager. Fred should be in this for Fred, not for his manager.

  • I like most of the answer but his manager is not irrelevant. – paparazzo Sep 23 '16 at 21:36
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    @Wesley The problem with escalating to his manager's manager is that they seem to be buddies. What would happen if the senior manager tells Fred's manager about the escalation? Is it required to keep confidentiality for these kind of things? What other options are there for escalation? – Daniel V Sep 23 '16 at 22:15
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    @DanielV Since the manager has chosen to "opt out" as Wesley points out, it could work to give him a friendly heads-up before taking it up another level. It could pay to even CC him in the email, should your friend choose to do that. – rath Sep 23 '16 at 22:34
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The best design he had seen in the history of the company. And a lukewarm review are not consistent.

One he needs to work on areas that he is perceived to be deficient.

A manager that has told you a promotion was in the near future but does not know the criteria is just not fair. A manager will submit you for promotion or not. HR may get involved and deny - there may have been just way too many promotions submitted. It does not sound like the manager even submitted him for a promotion. I would have asked "Did you even recommend me for promotion?"

At this point

  • One wait for another review
    Not attractive
  • Escalate
    I would go to your boss again and tell him as you know very disappointed at not getting a promotion. I think it is fair to as to ask for the criteria to get promoted. Do you think that is a reasonable request? If you get a no then you need to go to his boss or HR.

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