Source: The First Day After a Promotion


Today we concentrate on what Julia should do on her first day after the announcement of her promotion.

There is a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V that brilliantly captures the tensions that leaders like Julia Martinez face at the moment they are promoted to new roles. Henry has spent much of his youth hanging around with disreputable characters, in particular Falstaff and his cronies. Now his father has died and he is crowned King. In the coronation scene, he walks past Falstaff and essentially ignores him. This signifies the seismic shift Henry makes in the play from dissolute youth to one of the great Kings of England. His role, and hence his relationships, have to change dramatically.


This is not to say, of course, that Julia Martinez should in any way ignore her former-peers-now-direct-reports. Rather, it highlights the importance of rites of passage in symbolizing the shifts that newly promoted leaders make. And it has immediate implications for what Julia needs to do on Day One: first symbolism, then substance.
In an ideal world, the stage for Julia’s promotion would have been set by her boss, Robert Collins. He would have called the team together to announce his decision to promote Julia, and would have met privately with Andy to communicate the reasons why he made his decision. This would have laid the groundwork for Julia to transition smoothly into her new role.
Unfortunately, it didn’t unfold this way, so Julia has to write the script for and direct her own promotion scene. This should include calling together her team for a short meeting that constitutes a public acknowledgement by everyone that a shift has occurred. It should be short, because its function is mostly symbolic. She should carefully craft a short script around a few key messages: that she is looking forward to working with the team to chart a course forward for the organization, that she values their contributions, and that she is looking forward to meeting with each of them individually (if possible, she should already have begun the process of setting up those meetings).
The cafeteria scene mentioned at the end of the scenario is also rich with symbolic import. She comes to eat lunch on the day of the announcement of her promotion and is immediately confronted with a choice of whether to sit with her old peers or new peers. In the real situation, the person decided to go her office, which is definitely the wrong answer. The right answer depends in part on the culture of her organization and the implications for what the “right behavior” looks like in this situation. But it probably involves one of two options. Either she should (1) go first to her old peers/new team and say something about looking forward to meeting with them to chart a course forward and then go sit with her new peers or (2) she should stop by the table with her new peers to say that she is looking forward to working with them and will reach out to set up meetings with them individually, and then go to sit with her old peers/new team and begin to engage them in their views of the business situation.
Regardless, Julia must strive to handle the situation with grace. Ideally, her actions will look relaxed, and not convey a sense that anything really big is at stake. It is, but she doesn’t want to appear like she thinks it is.
Do you agree with this assessment about what Julia should do on her first day? If not, what do you think she should do differently?