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Why most employees are expendable vs. promotable? A VP speaks out.

Are you promotable?

Are you Promotable or Expendable at your job?

Ninety percent of employees feel they are promotable. In reality, from a manager’s standpoint, 90 percent of employees fall into category number 2 and 3 listed below.

  1. Promotable: Employee is ready to be promoted or has the potential to be promoted.
  2. Treading water: The employee is getting the job done but not moving the company forward or backward. Not hurting anyone and at the same time, not helping anyone.
  3. Expendable: This employee is someone who would be the first to go in the case of a downsizing.

FWIW, this is an unconscious effort on the part of the employee. Most employees don’t realize what it takes to be promoted. They aren’t consciously treading water or trying to hurt the department’s efforts. These employees usually think they are doing very well and their manager will just take care of them. 

Which category do you think you are in? Today’s post answers this question. More importantly, we explain how to put yourself solidly into category 1.

Hercules said the following of men going into battle:

Out of every one-hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.

Am I saying that out of 100 employees only 10 are productive and promotable? Not necessarily. Look for candidates who already share the existing company values, have proven track records of success and this ratio can be flipped upside down. Hire skill sets that will support the long-term growth of the company while keeping the culture top of mind and this ratio can be turned in the company’s favor. Hire willy-nilly and the result is a mismatch of personalities and a clash with company culture and goals.

Biz Dev Savage

I work with a VP that I have known for years. He is a savage. Last year to the date he broke his neck in a mountain biking accident. The shit was serious. To put this in perspective, he made the cover of the hospital magazine for his miraculous recovery. Yes, he is back in the office with responsibility for additional departments and additional revenue. On the one year anniversary, he went back to the same trail he performed his endo and made that trail his bitch. You would never know it looking at him or hanging out with him but he is 50 plus years old. Don’t tell me we don’t hire for diversity.

Expendable at work

Our boy, back in the saddle on his one year anniversary of the accident

The reason for the above is that this guy has the right mentality towards life. He is about moving the needle and a constant learner. He faced his challenges and demons when life threw him a curve ball. In his case, the pitcher intentionally threw a fastball high inside.

The Mantra

He is responsible for three departments within our company and his mantra when working with employees both early and late in their careers: 

Are you promotable or expendable?

So, how do you know if you are promotable or expendable? Take the below test and check yourself before you wreck yourself:

Are you the only one in your department that has specific knowledge on a product or service?

If you answered “Yes”, then you are more expendable than promotable. Most would think that if you are the only person that has specific knowledge then we are valuable, but managers do not want anyone with this mentality.

Hoarders aren’t promoted

We will not be promoted if we are the only one in the department that is a hoarder of specific knowledge. If we want to be promoted, we need to figure out a way to train our replacement so there is continuity when we leave. Managers don’t even want to promote a person within the department who has a monopoly on policy or procedure. It’s not about the procedure, it is about the mentality. It’s very difficult to promote someone when their job cannot be covered. There are legitimate cases where only one person has the knowledge. What will put the expendable target on this employees back is if they don’t want to train up a replacement. The attitude of hoarding knowledge makes us expendable. A department is a tribe and tribes share.

Even though you don’t have the title, are you able to influence others and change behavior? Can you change the negative dynamic into a positive dynamic?

A potential manager doesn’t need a title to influence others around them. They have the confidence to motivate people to move forward. Managers do not motivate through fear or rely on their title to motivate. Confidence is an innate quality that can be acquired and learned. Confidence is not cockiness.

When a new idea is thrown into the pot, are you supportive or a negative?

If the company needs to make a hard decision, are we able to get on board with the company train? If you are positive 90% of the time, this isn’t enough to be promotable.

Here is why. Anyone can shoot down an idea. Companies don’t need to pay extra for employees to shoot down an idea. They can get this for free. Heck, they can get a two for the price of one when it comes to negative attitudes. Anyone can manage through good times. But we pay managers to manage in tough times. Tough times are the last 10%. Tough times are when the chips are down. When everyone has given up can you bring everyone back?

Do you have a pile of work waiting for you when you come back from vacation?

If you do, this is one of 3 signs;1. No one knows how to do your job or 2. No one wants to help you out while you are gone. 3. Both, number 1 and number 2. All three of these options are a liability to the company.

If you are like most employees, you have identified a time or two where you were able to answer in the positive to all 4 bullets. But one or two instances a promotable employee does not make. The above is a lifestyle, an ingrained mentality, and a heartbeat. If you can think of an instance or two where we were not able to answer in the positive, then we are probably not promotable and here is why.

Tarnished Reputation

We can do all the good in the world, but one negative instance can tarnish our reputation. There is an expectation that we are going to be positive. We are being paid a salary. No one is being paid to have a negative attitude or horde the knowledge.

Working in HR, I am asked to have one on one conversations with employees on tough topics. These are the conversations I am paid to have. Anyone can tell an employee they are receiving a raise or promotion. A monkey can hand out a bonus. That is employee relations 101. But how we handle ourselves when faced with the toughest problems is what makes us valuable.

Force Multiplier is promotable

If you are still reading and questioning whether or not you should train others up, think about being a force multiplier. This is the most valuable asset a manager can have. If you are making other employees bigger, better, stronger or faster, this is someone who will be promoted.

See you at the after party,



See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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