Using Questions to Unpack the ‘Why’ Behind an Employee’s Desire for a Promotion

Excerpted and adapted from “Promotions Are So Yesterday: Redefine Career Development. Help Employees Thrive” by Julie Winkle Giulioni

Retention of top talent – always important to business success – has become an increasingly vital priority. Today’s continuing ‘great reshuffle’ sees employees in all sectors contemplating and making the choice to take their skills, gifts, and passions elsewhere. And one of the primary reasons they leave is career development (or lack of it.)

Exit interviews are packed full of dissatisfaction with the opportunities that are (or aren’t) available. Disappointment with career paths. Displeasure with the lack of movement and mobility. Discontent with the lack of transparency about who’s getting promoted and why. And all of this points to a fundamental disconnect that’s fueling the problem.

Career development is being confused with positions and promotions.

Positions historically were the currency of growth and advancement. But this approach is no longer valid for so many reasons. The typical hierarchical pyramid narrows and limits opportunities to move up. There has been a thinning among the ranks of midlevel managers, leaving fewer levels to which to ascend. Fundamental changes have altered the workplace and how work gets done. People are living longer, working longer, and occupying boxes on the org chart for longer. In most organizations, there are simply not enough new positions to accommodate everyone who might want traditional growth. No wonder so many employees believe that career development isn’t happening.

For too long, careers have been measured against major markers, points in time, and the artificial yardstick of new positions or titles. Managers—frequently with little control over promotional decisions—do what they can to help prepare others for new roles, but in many cases feel as powerless as their employees. But beyond, between, and besides the upward climb toward promotions and positions, there are many other ways that employees want to grow.

Contemporary development is a journey that evolves through countless (frequently small) moments that come together over time to create rich and multidimensional careers—and rich and multidimensional human beings. But this means expanding the definition of career and finding meaningful ways to help people grow in the here and now.

Leaders must challenge the old ‘career development = position’ mindset by using requests for promotions as a chance to converse, explore, learn more, and help employees evolve their understanding and expectations. You can do this by asking questions that dive beyond the surface to illuminate what employees really want—and uncover important cues about alternative ways to meet their needs. The next time an employee expresses interest in a promotion or particularly position, try asking questions like:

  • What exactly is it about that role that interests you most?
  • What part of it do you look forward to doing most?
  • Which responsibilities do you believe will be the most interesting?
  • Which responsibilities might be the most challenging?
  • What will you need to be able to do to be highly effective in the role?
  • Where might there be gaps between where you are today and what would be expected of you in that role?

These questions tease out the nature of the work and skills required from the role itself. They slow people down and inspire reflection in order to think beneath the surface and beyond their habitual desires to keep moving up. They offer you, as the manager, opportunities to meet an employee’s deeper needs even in the absence of the promotion they may be seeking. And they help you redefine career development so employees and organizations can thrive.

Note from Bob:  Julie’s new book “Promotions Are SO Yesterday” releases today!  Julie is so correct that while most staff are not looking to “Move Up,” all are wanting to “Grow and Be Developed!”  What you will love about “Promotions Are SO Yesterday”  is that it is filled with “Actionable” wisdom that you can immediately put into use – i.e. “Questions” you can immediately start asking your staff to discover exactly how they would like to be developed!  You can order “Promotions Are SO Yesterday”  today by clicking HERE

Julie is also offering a bonus chapter, “Developing Multidimensional Careers: Your Coaching Role” which you can download @

Julie Winkle Giulioni


Throughout her career, Julie Winkle Giulioni has championed workplace growth and development. She operates on the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to reach their potential. And she works with organizations and leaders who want to make that happen.

Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, translated into seven languages, and Promotions Are So Yesterday: Redefine Career Development. Help Employees Thrive.

In addition to writing and speaking on workplace and development issues, Julie leads DesignArounds, a firm that creates and offers training to organizations worldwide. DesignArounds has earned praise and awards from Human Resource Executive Magazine’s Top Ten Training Products, New York Film Festival, Brandon Hall, and Global HR Excellence Council.


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