Promotion Is Not a Birthday Gift

This week people in Microsoft are getting their annual review results: how much annual bonus and stock award they are getting, how much is the merit increase, are they getting a promotion or not.

Here is a true story that I've just heard today. A friend of mine, Sam[1], has told his manager on this Monday that he is leaving Microsoft to join another tech company in the region. At the same time, his manager delivered the annual review result to him. Surprisingly, he has got a promotion. Although Sam believed he deserved and qualified for a promotion since early this year, for various valid reasons he thought his chance would be slim this time. So he started to prepare for interviews a few months back, talked to a few companies and got the offer. The new job pays significantly higher than what he gets in Microsoft. So the promotion probably won't change anything. No much loss to Sam.

But it's a loss to his manager and Microsoft:

  1. The promo is kind of wasted[2]. It could have been given to someone else.

  2. Microsoft has lost a good engineer and there is a cost to replace him.

This is the reason why I never give my team members surprise when it comes to promotion. Promotion is not a birthday gift. "No surprise" is my rule of thumb in people management and other business scenarios. Not even a good surprise like promotion. I always told my people very early that I am getting him/her a promo. Then I keep him/her updated. A typical timeline looks like this:

  • May 1: "I've written a promo for you. Please take a look and let me know what I have missed"

  • May 15: "I have submitted the promo justification"

  • May 29: "I have presented it in the calibration meeting and there wasn't much push back"

  • June 10: "The promo seems to be a done deal"

  • June 16: "The promo is OK at VP level"

  • July 5: "I haven't heard any change to your promo"

  • ...

  • Aug 15: "Here is your annual review result. Congratulations on your promo!"

If Sam knew he's getting the promo back in May/June, he would likely not start looking outside, hence would not get this offer that no way Microsoft can match and would stay in Microsoft. Microsoft would have kept this talent.

[1] The name is made up.
[2] This statement is overly simplified. Do not misinterpret.