This post is for people who want to be promoted. If you don’t want to be promoted, stop reading now.
A gap analysis is a tool that you and your manager can use to come to aligned expectations on what it’s going to take for you to be promoted to the next level. I’ve walked several employees through this process in the past few weeks (and I need to walk through the rest). While it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share it. I’m going to walk you through what a gap analysis is (in a career development/promotion context), how to use it, what it’s good for, and what it’s not.
Rather than just describe the process in my usual somnambulant prose, I thought I’d create a dialogue that’s pretty close to the actual conversations I’ve had with team members who were keen to get promoted and had the bias for action to bring up the topic with me. The manager in this story is yours truly. The heroine is Sara, a rising star on the team who is on a trajectory to get to the next level, but not there yet.
INT. OFFICE - DAY
Sara enters Ian’s office for a 1:1 meeting. This isn’t one of their regular bi-weekly 1:1’s. It’s a one-off meeting she requested yesterday.
Ian: Hey Sara, how’s it going?
Sara: Thanks for making some time. I’ve been on the team six months now. I feel like I’ve been delivering a lot and wanted to talk to you about getting to the next level. I’m wondering how long do you think it will be before I get promoted and what I need to do to make sure that happens?
Ian: You have been delivering a lot since joining the team — thank you. It’s a great topic to discuss and I’m sorry we haven’t spent more time discussing before now. Here’s the process I like to use. It’s called a gap analysis.
Ian stands up and walks to the whiteboard. The whiteboard is immaculately clean because he’s not really a whiteboard kind of guy. He draws a table on the whiteboard while he continues explaining.
Ian: A gap analysis is a tool you and I can use to see how much progress you’ve made towards getting to the next level, where the gaps are, and what you can do to close the gaps. At Acme Company, we have objective guidelines for each job family, and a list of competencies for each level in that job family. Have you seen the guidelines for the Product Manager job family?
Sara: Yes, I have them.
Ian: Great! You want to get to level 7, so the first step is to list all of the L7 Product Manager competencies here. The next step is for you to do a self-assessment of whether you think you’ve already met that competency, either since joining our team or on your previous team. Just mark it Green, Yellow, or Red. Green means you’ve got it covered. You’ve already demonstrated the competency. Yellow means you’ve got some of it. You’ve sort of got it covered, but probably not all of it. Red means you really haven’t done this yet.
Sara is alert (as usual), taking notes on her laptop. She’s surprised that the conversation is going somewhere, because her last manager only gave her platitudes when it came to career development discussions, never anything concrete. She eventually stopped bringing it up and just switched teams.
Ian: Okay, next go through each competency that you’ve marked Green or Yellow and add details in the Evidence column for why you feel you’re Green or Yellow. Name specific projects and say how your work on those projects demonstrated the competency. Make sense?
Sara: Yep, how much should I write?
Ian: Not a lot - just enough to make your case. A few sentences on each is fine. How long do you think you’ll need to go through and do that self assessment.
Sara: Not long, I should have that done by Friday.
Ian: Great! When you’re done, email it to me. Then I’ll go through and do my assessment. I’ll mark each competency Green, Yellow, or Red as well based on how I evaluate the competency. Where your status and mine are different, I’ll add notes on why. Then we’ll meet and go over each of the competencies. For the ones that we both mark Green, we’re good. You’ve already got those covered. For the ones where you’ve marked Green and I’ve marked Yellow or Red (or you’ve marked Yellow and I’ve marked Red), we’ll talk through why our assessments differed. That discussion should give you a better sense for what Green means.
Sara: Do all of them have to be Green for me to get promoted?
Ian: Good question. Not all of them have to be Green, but most of them do with maybe a few Yellows or an odd Red. Sometimes the competency isn’t really relevant for a specific product manager role, in which case Red is okay. The goal is that when we promote someone to an L7 Product Manager role that we have confidence that they can succeed in any L7 PM role in the company. The competencies are how we calibrate objectively.
Sara: Okay, what happens afterwards if there are ones that are Yellow or Red?
Ian: That’s where we make an action plan. For items that are Yellow, we talk about the difference between Yellow and Green and look through the projects that you’re already working on. Hopefully there are projects that should turn those competencies Green just by completing them, or at least by giving a little extra focus to one aspect of them. For competencies that are Red, we might have to get a little more creative. We’ll talk about upcoming projects that might fit the bill. If there’s nothing that looks like it will, we’ll talk about ways to extend existing work or potential new projects you could kick off that would help you close that gap. At the end of the process, you’ll have a plan.
Sara: How long do you think it will take before I can complete all of that and get promoted?
Ian: It depends. We have to go through the process and see what the gaps and the action plan looks like. The action plan determines the timeframe. The good news is you accomplished a lot on your previous team. That work should close a few of the gaps. Your work on the X and Y projects on our team should close a few more.
Sara: Okay, thanks! This is a lot more concrete than I expected. I’ll email you my part by Friday.
Sara closes her laptop and stands up. Ian stands up.
Ian: Great. Once I get that I’ll schedule some time for next week to go over my assessment.
Sara: Sounds good, bye.
That’s the first part of the gap analysis process. The follow-up discussion depends on the specific competencies. If anyone wants a follow-up post on how those conversations or development of action plans go, LMK.
Here’s why I like the gap analysis process:
- It can be initiated by the employee or the manager.
- Employees and managers are both part of the process. Engagement by one leads to engagement by the other.
- It prompts frank conversations and the discussion helps both people align on definition of the gaps, what it takes to close the gap, and action plans for each gap.
- It is an objective way to reset (sometimes) unrealistic expectations by the employee on how fast they can be promoted.
- It is concrete and actionable.
If your company doesn’t have objective guidelines for each job family and level, you can still use the process. It just requires some extra work by the manager to list out the competencies they feel the job requires at the next level.
Give it a try and let me know how it works out. When you get promoted, you may be tempted to thank your boss for promoting you, but what should really be happening is your boss should be thanking you, because promotions are a lagging indicator of performance and hard work.