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July 31, 2012
The Fauxmotion: Best Intentions, Bad Outcomes
There are moments every manager dreads.

In one, you’re short-staffed, your team is managing a heavy workload, and one of your employees is threatening to leave given the other offer he’s just received. He’ll stay if you give him the promotion he’s been demanding. You can’t afford to lose him. Reluctantly, desperately, you agree to promote him.

Or perhaps you have a team member who’s in your office once every two weeks, citing how long she’s been in her role. How others are rising up the ladder with less experience. How unfair that is, and how she is going to start looking elsewhere. Her constant badgering must be a sign she’s a go-getter, right? She’s a solid performer, but not quite ready yet. You don’t want to lose her, so you promote her.

In both cases, half-hearted congratulations are in order: You may have just awarded the employee with a Fauxmotion.

The Fauxmotion is an elevation in title that occurs when someone is promoted before they have displayed all the skills necessary to handle the next level of responsibility. It’s also seen in situations where an employee is given an elevated title, yet their responsibilities remain the same.

And then there are the times when a manager extends a job title that is absolutely deserved, yet doesn’t take the critical step of expanding the job spec and establishing new goals for the employee.

The results of a Fauxmotion are simple and can move in only two directions: positive or negative. On the plus side, the employee can prove her value by rising to the new role, meeting new objectives, developing her career path, and reinforcing the Manager’s decision to promote her. She may even display a strong loyalty to the manager and company that provided her this growth, creating a company advocate and reducing the organization’s turnover.

The negatives are, not surprisingly, a bit bleaker, which is why the Fauxmotion can be a risky proposition:
  • Setting up for failure. If the employee is not prepared for the next level, you are putting him at risk to fail. If he fails, the team may fail around him, with you being ultimately responsible for that failure. If he is overwhelmed and frustrated, it’s likely you’ll lose him as an employee — whether it is his choice or yours — or others in the process.
  • Career stagnation. If the title doesn’t align to new and more challenging responsibilities, your employee will not be growing. She may have a fancy new title, but that will not do much for her when you face succession planning or need her to rise to another level quickly.
  • Doubling your workload. If your employee isn’t ready to do more, you’re going to need to do it. It’s ultimately your responsibility for a team to run effectively and efficiently, and if someone is lacking the ability to do so, that slack will need to be carried, either by you or even possibly by the rest of the team.
  • Setting a bad precedent. If you’ve countered one employee with a promotion, be prepared to consider it for others. Establishing a rule that rewards threatening behavior with undeserved recognition can either spread or worse, create a team of resentful employees that lend to increasingly bad morale.
  • Reinforcing an entitled mentality. A good deal of senior managers tend to mock the “We’re All Winners” mentality that has surfaced over the past decades, yet in extending the Fauxmotion, they’re simply fortifying it. Fact is, we’re not all winners: some employees don’t deserve a title they haven’t earned. Avoid encouraging a culture where elevation is demanded rather than merited.
Circumventing the Fauxmotion can be simple: 
  • Be smart. Know an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Consider client, coworker, and manager feedback to aid your assessment, but ultimately know clearly whether a person is prepared for the next level, and if not, what she needs to learn to get there.
  • Be honest. Constant, clear performance feedback is critical to an employee’s success. An employee must know his strengths as well as areas for improvement in order to grow. Your employee can’t make it to the next level without your support and approval. That begins with constant honesty. Continuous feedback can also help in limiting the hectic rush to counter an employee you’d wrongly thought to be a happy one.
  • Create and adhere to plans. If she’s not quite ready, get her ready. If she needs to gain more client contact to be promoted, give her that opportunity. If she’s newly promoted, communicate a clear job description to ensure sure she knows exactly what her new role will entail and discuss the steps she might take to get there. Help her create plans of action if necessary. Check in and hold her accountable.
A strong leader goes beyond managing situations to nurturing employees. When faced with the possibility of the Fauxmotion, a leader ensures that an employee is on a career path that will empower them to succeed versus opting for a quick fix. Never risk doing more harm than good to an employee’s career.

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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