How Do You Tell an Employee They Aren’t Ready for a Promotion?

As a leadership coach, I often emphasize that a core aspect of a manager’s role is to develop and grow their employees. Ideally, an employee should never be surprised by a promotion decision, whether it’s positive or negative. If an employee feels ready for a promotion but isn’t, it often indicates a gap in the manager’s guidance and development efforts. This article is designed to help managers navigate this challenging scenario effectively, ensuring they are honest and supportive in their approach.

What are some reasons an employee isn’t ready for a promotion?

Before diving into the conversation, it’s essential to be clear about why the employee isn’t ready for a promotion. Here are eight common reasons an employee isn’t ready for a promotion:

1. Lack of Required Skills

Sometimes, an employee might not have developed the necessary skills, so they aren’t ready for a promotion.


How to Start the Conversation: “I’ve noticed you’re doing well in your current role, but the next level requires more advanced skills in [specific area]. Let’s discuss how you can develop these.”

2. Insufficient Experience

Certain positions demand specific experience that the employee might not possess yet. An employee isn’t ready for a promotion when they don’t have sufficient experience for the role.

Starting Point: “Your progress has been impressive, but the next role typically requires more experience in [specific area]. Let’s explore ways for you to gain this experience.”


3. Need for Improved Performance

If an employee’s current performance doesn’t meet the expectations of their current role, they’re not ready for a promotion.

Conversation Opener: “I value your efforts, but there are some performance areas, like [specific examples], where I’d like to see some improvement before we consider a promotion.”

4. Limited Leadership Abilities

The absence of these skills can hinder an employee from getting promoted to roles that require leadership skills.


How to Address: “Leadership is a key aspect of the next role. I’ve observed some challenges in your leadership approach, particularly in [areas]. Let’s work on enhancing these skills.”

5. Poor Team Collaboration

If the next role involves significant teamwork and the employee struggles with this, they aren’t ready for a promotion.

Initiating Dialogue: “Collaboration is crucial in our team, and I’ve noticed some difficulties you’ve had in this area. Let’s discuss how we can improve this together.”


6. Inability to Handle Stress or Pressure

Higher roles often come with more pressure, and not everyone is ready for that jump. When an employee struggles to handle stress or pressure, they aren’t ready for a promotion.

Conversation Starter: “The next position involves high stress and pressure. I’ve seen you struggle with similar situations. How can we prepare you better for these challenges?”

7. Lack of Initiative or Creativity

Getting a promotion often requires a proactive approach and creative problem-solving skills. Employees who lack initiative or creativity aren’t ready for a promotion.


Talking Point: “Taking initiative and being creative is important for the next role. I feel there are opportunities for you to showcase more of these qualities.”

8. Not Aligning with Company Values or Culture

Sometimes, an employee might not yet fully embody the company’s core values or culture. An employee isn’t ready for a promotion when they can’t align with the organization’s values and culture.

Discussion Starter: “Our company values [specific values] highly, and your alignment with these is crucial for any advanced role. Let’s explore how you can demonstrate these values more consistently.”


How do you create a development plan to prepare an employee for a promotion?

After addressing why an employee isn’t ready for a promotion, supporting the employee’s growth is vital. Here are some tips for creating an effective development plan to prepare an employee for a promotion:

Set Clear Goals

Identify specific skills or areas of improvement crucial for the next role. These goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART goals).

Example: If an employee needs to improve their leadership skills, set a goal like, “Lead a small project team successfully within the next six months.”


Offer Resources and Support

Provide access to development opportunities such as training programs, workshops, online courses, or mentorship opportunities that can help them develop the necessary skills.

Example: Enroll them in a leadership training program or pair them with a mentor in a leadership position within your organization.

Regular Check-ins

Schedule consistent meetings, either weekly or bi-weekly, to discuss their progress, challenges, and feedback. This keeps the employee on track and shows your ongoing commitment to their development.


Example: During check-ins, review progress on specific goals, discuss any obstacles they face, and offer guidance on overcoming these challenges.

Encourage Self-Assessment

Motivate your employee to reflect on their own performance and development. Self-assessment helps them to become self-aware and take responsibility for their growth.

Example: Provide them with a self-assessment tool or questionnaire to evaluate their skills and progress toward the set goals.


Provide Constructive Feedback

Offer clear, specific feedback focused on behavior rather than personality. Feedback should be a balance of positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.

Example: “I appreciated how you handled the client’s issue last week, showing great problem-solving skills. However, improving your report-writing skills could further enhance your client communication.”

Recognize Improvements

Acknowledge and celebrate when they make progress or achieve milestones. This recognition can boost their morale and motivation.


Example: Publicly praise them in a team meeting for successfully leading a project or mastering a new skill.

Adjust Goals as Needed

Be flexible and willing to modify goals as the employee grows or as business needs evolve. This approach shows that you are attentive to their progress and the realities of the business environment.

Example: If they quickly achieve a set goal, establish a new, more challenging one, or adjust the timeline if they struggle due to unforeseen circumstances.


Encourage Networking and Exposure

Help them build a network within the company and in the broader industry. Networking can provide diverse perspectives, advice, and growth opportunities.

Example: Introduce them to key figures in the company or encourage them to attend industry networking events.

When implemented thoughtfully, Each of these steps can pave a clear path for your employee’s growth and help them prepare for a promotion. Remember, a development plan is not just a tool for improvement but also a manifestation of your commitment to your team’s success.


In conclusion, telling an employee they’re not ready for a promotion requires a thoughtful, supportive approach. By providing clear reasons, initiating honest conversations, and creating a structured development plan, you can turn a potentially demotivating situation into an opportunity for growth and learning.

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Jason Cortel is currently the Director of Global Workforce Management for a leading technology company. He has been in customer service, marketing, and sales services for over 20 years. In addition, he has extensive experience in offshore and nearshore outsourcing. Jason is an avid Star Trek fan and is on a mission to change the universe by helping people develop professionally. He is driven to help managers and leaders lead their teams better. Jason is also a veteran in creating talent and office cultures.

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