Promises, Promises, Promises

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I remember watching episodes of “Sex in the City” years ago and always wondering why Carrie, who was an intelligent, strong and independent woman, allowed herself to be played by Mr. Big? Sure he was attractive, fun and charismatic, but he just kept stringing her along. Carrie wanted a commitment, he wanted no strings attached.

I would think to myself, “I would never let that happen to me!”

But it’s not only in romantic relationships that we can be strung along.

Are You Stringing Along Your Employees?

Making promises (advancement, more responsibility, growth, development and salary) that will never come to fruition or that you’re sure you can never pull off is not a way to motivate or retain staff. The action is akin to Lucy holding the ball for Charlie Brown and then yanking it away just as he’s about to kick it. This fake promise approach to employee motivation and morale is a dangerous one and can often backfire, leaving the employee distrustful of you as a leader.

Advancementthe action of advancing the state of being advanced:

a: promotion or elevation to a higher rank or position b: progression to a higher stage of development.

Early on in my career I was promised advancement but I was asked to be patient. There weren’t a lot of details because things needed to be “put into place” before my advancement could happen.

So, like Carrie Bradshaw, I waited, and waited, and waited… and it NEVER HAPPENED. However, the promises went on for months.

And then one day I decided that I needed to STOP waiting and decide what I was in control of.  I promised myself after that experience that I would never let the Mr. Bigs or Lucys of the world trick me.

I also decided to never use this tactic with my own staff members. I believe in empowering and developing staff with the goal of advancing, whether that means within or outside of the organization.

An Alternative Approach

  • Ask the following questions:
    • What is the employees long term plan?
    • What do they hope their current position is a stepping stone towards?
    • What is in their control?
    • Who is their support network?
    • The WHY? Why are they are not working work towards their long-term plan?

Making false promises can cause your employees to lose faith in you as a leader. This often leaves them feeling very negative about their work environment and many times, they end up leaving for another institution or for another industry all together.

You are not responsible for advancing all of your employees. You are simply responsible for providing guidance and an honest and supportive environment where they can thrive.

Debra Y. Griffith 
Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College 
Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

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