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I’m Sorry I Can’t Give You That Promotion - How To Break Bad News To An Employee & Provide Professional Feedback

I don’t know how to tell an employee that she won’t be receiving an expected promotion.  “Greta” will willingly take on any task, but pays no attention to details.  We’ve had many discussions about the errors she makes, yet her work still hasn’t improved.

Greta worked here before, and she had the same problem then.  I only hired her back because she understands our policies and her recent references were good.  I specifically stated that this time she had to be more detail-oriented.

Greta took this job with the understanding that eventually she could become a manager.  Unfortunately, I have now concluded that she’s much too careless to be given more responsibility.  How can I break the news to her without sounding harsh?

Marie’s Answer

This dilemma contains two valuable lessons.  First, interviewers should never make predictions about promotions, salary increases, or any benefit which might be affected by changing circumstances.  When these possibilities don’t materialize, applicants inevitably view them as broken promises.

Second, when considering familiar candidates, managers must remember that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  Hiring someone with a problematic history usually means those problems will reappear.

Given Greta’s current track record, explaining why she won’t be promoted should not be difficult.  And simply reviewing the facts hardly qualifies as “harsh”.

For example: “Greta, when you were hired, we discussed the possibility of your becoming a manager.  At that time, I stressed that attention to detail would be very important.  As you know, you’ve been making a lot of errors in your current job, so I’m afraid that you can’t be considered for a management position.”

Greta will undoubtedly be disappointed.  But if she truly wanted that promotion, she would have put more effort into correcting her work.