When do you promote? In this Sunday’s “Corner Office” column in the New York Times, Adam Bryant interviewed Sharon Napier of Napier + Partners, a well-known ad agency in Rochester. Napier prefers to promote people only after they’ve been doing the bigger job for a while. “We always say when we promote somebody that we hope people say ‘It’s about time,’” she says.
At Tribe, I advocate the opposite approach. If you take someone who’s smart and energized and you promote them a little sooner than they’re really ready for the next job, they will rise to the occasion. This works especially well with the newest generation of employees, our Gen Y folks, who are often accused of thinking they’re ready for the CEO position the day they start with the company. They believe they’re capable of playing a leadership position from the get-go, and if they don’t get the opportunity to experience being stretched and challenged, they’ll get disengaged fast.
We always tell people they can be as big as they want to be at Tribe. But we also tell them they have to figure out the opportunity and grab it. Several years ago, we had an account manager leave unexpectedly, and while we were floundering around trying to figure out who to hire to replace her, another employee quietly started doing the account manager’s job. After a week or so, we finally noticed that she’d taken over the role and gave her the title. It took her about five minutes to move all her stuff into the account manager’s empty office, and none of us ever looked back. She quickly became one of the best account managers I’ve ever worked with.
A huge element of success is being able to see yourself as successful. My experience is that when people are wearing that larger title, they can see themselves filling that larger role. They own the title, and then they very naturally take ownership of the job. That’s what I want: for someone to claim the job and run with it.
Of course, this strategy depends on hiring talented people who can grow quickly. If you’ve got a slacker who’s been coasting for a while, a promotion may not be the best course of action. At Tribe, we hire quickly and fire quickly, and somehow that seems to keep the star talent here longer. If someone has been at Tribe long enough to have us talking about a promotion, they’re someone we’re invested in for the long term. Our role as the management team is to clear the way for them, so they can play larger and larger roles in building a successful company.