Let’s Talk About…Managing Employee Ambition

Q: We hired strong young staff for our international start-up. A sizeable group has now assembled to complain about lack of promotions! What can we do?

Start-ups are full of dynamic, clever young people, promised great opportunity at “a great time to get in”. They work hard. They see one or two quick junior-level promotions happen, out of operational necessity, but then hierarchical growth tends to slow for a period. This can frustrate.

Start-ups are naturally very operationally-focussed, and so People matters tend to lag behind – something like this has to happen before processes are put in place!

Firstly, take control of your organisational development. Align Business Strategy and People Strategy, discussing them alongside each other and summarising periodically for employees. If they understand the rhythm of the business, they begin to manage their own expectations.

Secondly, embed Performance Management processes. Engage with employees individually and proactively, to avoid dealing with surprise group dynamics.

Finally: Most people are reasonable, understanding that not everyone can move ‘upwards’. Ensure that you are offering some form of CV-building growth in return for peoples’ efforts. You have plenty of options: training, coaching or further education, for example. Perhaps departmental cross-training, for greater business understanding. Offer project involvement – in-team, cross-team, or international.

Work within your strategy and budget to design a solution that will start to resolve this group’s issues as soon as possible. But, without all of the above, this will probably happen again!


This Q&A was first published in Irish Tatler magazine.

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