Contractor Tips

September 2023

Promotions are Made from the Bottom Up

When you hear the CEO of a company tell an employee, “I do not have the power to promote you,” you might smirk and wonder why a leader would make such a ludicrous statement. You might also think he is undermining his authority. That is understandable. However, that is exactly what I told an employee who asked me for a promotion recently.

I wanted him to know I am utilizing my authority to empower the teams to be involved in the promotion decisions of their co-workers. I do not think it was what he expected to hear.

Based on his suspicious reaction, I suspect he assumed I was being sly to conclude the conversation quickly. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I saw this as a valuable opportunity to equip him with the necessary tools that would benefit him long-term.

I let him know my policy has always been to hire and promote for attitude, and train for results.

I explained that he would not like the outcome if I promoted him. He persisted and told me what an excellent job he was doing and how well-suited he is for a leadership role. What he did not realize was that his opinion of his performance did not align with that of his crew.

I had already heard from them, and they were emphatic that because of the poor attitude he displayed on the job, they did not want him as their leader. There was significant distrust by the crew and an overall lack of respect and appreciation shown by this employee. When I shared their feedback, he was immediately angry and began refuting the crew’s input by casting blame on them.

The attitude and disrespect he displayed in my office were all the evidence I needed to confirm the accuracy of his co-worker’s opinions. I told him that his biggest issues were blaming his co-workers for his shortcomings and the lack of accountability for his own actions. When I asked him if he would like some advice on how to improve, he settled down and asked what he needed to do to earn a promotion.

I explained our company policy for promotions and how they come from the bottom up, not from the top down. This practice allows us to learn about the value of a promotion from the perspective of our workforce. I also gave him additional insight into his co-workers’ opinions of his leadership ability and how they were adamant that they would not follow his direction. A couple of them said they would quit if they had to report to him. I told him powerful feedback like that was something I simply could not afford to overlook.

Again, it was not what he wanted to hear, and I could see the anger resurfacing as he pushed on that his co-workers were whiners and not telling me the truth. I let him know that if I were to promote him, it would be in vain, and if he did not do well in his new role (as all the evidence indicated he would not), I would be forced to demote him. And because it is hard on the ego to go backwards professionally, he would end up leaving the company. Ultimately, I would be promoting him out of a job.

That message seemed to resonate with him. He asked what he needed to do to change his trajectory. I gave him four pieces of advice:

  1. Show respect. Learn to treat others the way they want to be treated, not just the way you want to be treated. You must recognize the difference. Expectations vary from person to person, so make sure everyone on the team knows that you value the skills and experience they bring to the table. When you do this, your crew will relay the message to upper management that you are the person for a leadership position.
  2. Input from your team matters. Collaboration can take a good idea and make it great. If you want to earn the trust and respect of your co-workers, they must know they are being heard.
  3. Work ethic. Nobody likes to work alongside a slacker. Establish a reputation for being the person who is willing to go above and beyond to get the job done. Make it your priority to do more than you are currently being paid to do, and you will naturally rise to the top.
  4. Professional development. This is an absolute must for career growth. There are many ways to do this.
    1. Self-improvement books are my favorite. You can also read books on leadership, effective communication, skill advancement, and productivity improvement, just to name a few. Also, study other leaders—whether that is reading a book, watching them on the job, or having a meaningful conversation.
    2. Find a mentor. Look for someone who has been where you are and understands where you want to go. This person should be someone you respect and who is willing to give you honest feedback.
    3. This is a great way to expand your knowledge and improve your communication skills. Look for workshops, conventions, seminars, and even career-related social media groups.

All too often, employees trying to work their way up the professional ladder look to management to recognize their efforts and reward them with a promotion. We have shifted away from this methodology. Corporately, we have found remarkable success in fostering the bottom-up management style, and we are not alone. Ernst & Young, IBM, and Google, just to name some examples, have implemented elements of that management style.

Some of the advantages we have found include:

  • Better communication. Our decisions are based on facts derived from coworkers. That means employees understand we value their opinions. As a result, they feel empowered to be involved and perform well because they have a stake in the company.
  • We encourage every member of our team on all levels to bring ideas to the table. This sparks productivity and builds trust across departments.
  • Increased morale. Employees not only want to be heard, but they also want to know their opinions have value. Valuing their feedback fosters a supportive environment where employees thrive and grow. High morale also means low turnover.

I would love to tell you that this employee took my advice to heart and earned the promotion he so desperately wanted. Sadly, that is not the case. He did make a concerted effort and I was optimistic that he would rise to a leadership level. However, the changes proved temporary and after only a few weeks, he reverted to his former ways, and he is no longer part of our company. You just cannot win them all. However, the overall situation helped to reinforce my confidence in the effectiveness of the bottom-up approach.

About the Author

Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Buckeye Construction and Restoration, 3 PLS Labor Services, Malta Dynamics Fall Protection and Safety Company, and EZG Manufacturing.

To view the products and equipment his companies created to make job sites safer and more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com.

To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email dlang@watertownenterprises.com, or call 740-749-3512.