VIDEO: Green to Yellow: The Promotion

By Sean Abbas on April 21, 2014

Question:  I have a person who was a great employee, so I promoted them to a new position that was a big step up for them.  Every time this employee gets challenged and uncomfortable in their new role, they retreat back to their old job and the stuff they were good at. 

The whole company is suffering because this employee isn’t producing.  I need to get this person on the right track or make a change.  How should I communicate with him?

Promoting someone is a great feeling and one of the rewarding things we get to do as managers.  We congratulate the person on a job well done and offer them a bump up from their current position in many exciting ways.

Unfortunately, there is a big mistake most managers first have to learn the hard way (myself included).  When we promote a great employee, we don’t communicate the most important message they need to hear – that as of today, they are no longer meeting expectations.


The job description of the employee we promoted often completely changes.  The employee has yet to produce any results in their new role.  They need to be challenged and encouraged to learn new things and be given support to develop these skills.

If you promoted the person and have not had this conversation, do not ignore the problem because it won’t go away on its own.  Do not move down a path that leads to termination and a painful situation for everyone involved.

First, sit down and have this conversation with the employee.  Often you can get things back on the right track.  Try framing it like this:


#1  Remind Them Why They Were Promoted

They were awesome in their old role.  They were solid with the organization’s core values and they were producing outstanding results in their job.  They were then and still are an important part of the team.


#2  A Promotion Moves Anyone to the Yellow

Draw the Threads graph or pull it up in the Threads software.  Visually show the employee how every person that’s promoted starts in the Upper Left Yellow box on the day they are promoted, including them.

Review the key results you need from their new role and challenge them to make it happen.


#3  You Have Confidence They Will Get There

Let the employee know how important their results are to the company and to their team.  People are counting on them and you have confidence they will develop the skills they need.


#4  Ask “How Can We Help You?”

Often times people who have a history of being great at their job, don’t naturally ask for help in a new role because they feel like they are expected to know.  Ask the person, “What do you need from us?  What are you uncomfortable with and how can we help you build those skills?”


#5  Recognize Their Improvement

As they begin to show improvement on the things they were struggling with, make sure to let them know you have noticed.  Encourage them to keep making progress.


Take Action

Leaders who communicate this message when making a promotion protect their company culture from an unexpected trap.  They build loyalty with the future leaders of their organization and set them on a path for continued success.

If you are currently in this situation, it’s not too late.  Sit down with the person, have this conversation and get one of your best employees back on the right track.



Video Transcript

About 6 months ago, I was doing some manager training for a company that does contract manufacturing here in Iowa. The owner of the company brought up an issue/topic to me regarding an employee and how to communicate differently using Threads.  It’s one I think might be helpful to some of you.

The issue in particular was an employee who has been outstanding in terms of living the organization’s values and in terms of producing results that were required for their position.  The person was a cost estimator and mainly worked on the inside, servicing outside customers.

The employee was being promoted to the job of sales manager, and this is the interesting part… the owner said this employee, who had been outstanding, after this promotion was really no longer meeting his expectations.  The owner talked to him a few times and he never really drilled down to what the problem was, but the things that he noticed were pretty familiar to me.

The owner noticed that the employee tended to revert back to his old job whenever he was pressured with something new.  If it was a new skill he needed to be learning or if it was managing employees or managing the sales process and helping other people, the employee was uncomfortable with that.  He tended to move back to doing what he was comfortable with, which is cost estimating.

The owner was considering terminating this employee. He said the guy is just not doing what I need him to do.

So I asked the owner this question, “When you offered the promotion to the employee, you talked to him about what the expectations were.  But when it came to Threads, were the new expectations clearly defined on the graph?  And when you gave him the promotion, did you let him know that now he was in the upper left-hand quadrant of the graph?”

The owner said, “No, why would I do that?  The employee is great.”

I said, “There is a key reason why you do that. First of all, the employee who is in the upper right-hand green box doing this job is now being promoted to a brand new job.  When you’re promoted to the new job, you haven’t gone through the process of producing the results that are required.”

Think about it.  A sales manager has to be helping support other employees.  They have to be managing the sales process, coordinating effort from marketing on messaging and get valuable content to customers.

Those are the things you really wanted him to do and maybe those are part of the job description, but we never really put that in front of them.

We never said on day one that “You have been a fantastic employee in the past.  I am expecting that you are going to do great in the future, but today as you start this new job you are in the upper left-hand quadrant.”

“We are really comfortable with your values, but you have a lot of work to do to be meeting our expectations and to be contributing positively to our culture when it comes to results.”

And the owner looked at me with a kind of puzzled look on his face and he said, “You know, I really haven’t considered that before.”  I said, “Why don’t you try talking to him in those terms, try bringing that up to him.”

So, I followed up with the owner about three weeks later, he said he had talked to the employee and that he had brought this up to him.  The employee said there were several things in those areas that he was uncomfortable with.  He said he had a difficult time communicating with employees and trying to help motivate them.

He said he was really good at parts of the job, but that some of those personal skills he maybe was not as good at.  When he gets uncomfortable he tends to steer himself into activities that he is comfortable with.

So, the owner said “What can I do to help you get that training?  What kinds of things can I do to help you?”  He coordinated with human resources and they looked for some different kinds of training in terms of leadership, in terms of communication.  They started the person down a different path.

Most importantly, the owner told him on that day where he was on the Threads graph.  He said you are in this yellow quadrant and these are the steps you need to begin to take to start moving your way towards the green quadrant and contributing positively to our culture.  The owner said it wasn’t a negative conversation.  He said this new manager understood and accepted what he had to say and understood the importance of it.

As the employee went about his day he began focusing on those key objectives that he needed to be doing for this new position. The owner said, like in most cases, the conversation wasn’t as difficult as he thought.  The process the owner was going to go down with could end in termination and that was the absolutely the wrong decision.

Nothing more than a half hour conversation presented in a slightly different way was something that saved an excellent long-term employee and prevented a very expensive situation for the company.

People say these things are tough and they are difficult to do.  What I always try to do is make the case, the case for doing this, is that the people in your organization are looking at you. The people that were working for this new manager, looking for his leadership, weren’t getting it.

When they see that this leadership is not coming, eventually they will look to you, to the person who can make the change, or who can help coach this employee.  If you think it is just going to happen on its own or the situation may fix itself, you probably know that isn’t the case either.

So, be confident.  Understand that you are communicating differently with Threads and give it a try.  I think you will be really satisfied with the results.