How to deal with overambituous employees

A hungry, driven employee is every manager’s dream. But when you have a direct report whose ambition and desire are greater than his ability or experience, managing expectations isn’t easy. How should you handle someone who is constantly asking for a promotion, raise, or responsibility for which they aren’t yet ready?

▪️Be transparent
You should have frequent, explicit conversations about reasonable promotion trajectories and pay with your team. Be up front about organizational constraints. Explain that you have a limited budget and only so much leeway when it comes to titles.

These discussions should take place in both one-on-one and group settings so that people understand you’re not feeding them a line; you’re giving everyone the same lay of the land. It’s important to talk openly about how career paths can diverge. Sharing your personal professional experiences can be helpful.

When a bright, talented employee is eager to move up but isn’t quite equipped to do so, one of the most powerful things you can say is, “‘I believe in you’ if you genuinely mean it, of course,” Employees are always wondering, How valued am I?” and your vote of confidence is critical. But after you acknowledge the contributions the person has made, you must quickly get to the bad news. Say, ‘”You’re not ready today. This next level has a different set of criteria and skills. But let’s talk about how you’re going to get there.’” Your tone and demeanor should be positive, even if there is initial frustration and disappointment on the receiving end because you’re not telling the employee what they want to hear.

The next step is coaching. Help your employee understand what knowledge, skills, and experience they need to learn before a promotion or raise is possible — and let them know you’re there to help them succeed. “Your message is, ‘If you have your eye on that job, here’s exactly what you need to do.’”