This is typically a tough conversation. Your team member has grown in their performance, but in your eyes, you know they aren’t yet ready for a more senior role. When we create a list of hurdles to jump and clear, we inadvertently create a checklist for promotion. Now we are stuck explaining what else our team member needs to do, to get that next position.
This checklist approach creates a false set of expectations and reinforces a fixed mindset. When we reinforce this fixed mindset in our direct reports, their worth gets connected to their ability to succeed. They see the list as a set of deficits that need to be fixed or overcome. The belief is that if they do that, then they have value and should be recognized by gaining the new position. This cycle not only prevents them from effectively developing into the next level, it prevents them from being fully engaged in their current role.
The first aspect, of setting realistic expectations, is that no matter how large the organization, there are fewer roles above then below. As a leader, your job is to develop all your team members to grow within their roles, so that they are challenged and engaged in the current role. As well, you also want to know their aspirations, and work with them to help them achieve those without making promises or providing a checklist to attain the next level.
When you help your team members take a growth mindset view about development and advancement, they can see the process in a more realistic light. You are able to balance your feedback on ineffective habits that can hold them back, with a view to new habits that will help them grow, not only in the current position, but to prepare for any future role.
The idea of comfort zones helps set those realistic expectations. When our team members are in their comfort zone, they are operating in their 2nd nature – automatic thinking and processing based on past learning, with a “This is just like me, I got it” mindset. The next level is the stretch zone, where they are consciously trying on new behaviors to perform at a higher level. The behaviors and actions are very purposeful, but not yet habits. The final area is the stress zone, where the required behaviors are beyond a stretch, and your team members are not able to effectively perform. If the next role they want is putting them in the stress zone, they are not ready. Two thirds of the activities and responsibilities in the new role should be in or near the comfort zone, and about one third in the stretch zone. Only then have they truly developed enough for the next position level.
As you set realistic expectations, you are Connecting the Dots for your team members to understand how they need to engage and grow within their current role. This is the most effective way for them to prepare for their next role.