5 Signs That Your Team Member Wants a Promotion (as told by Star Trek)
Test and Monitor | Posted August 21, 2013

At one point in the classic Star Trek episode, "Mirror, Mirror," Mirror Chekov waylays Captain Kirk. As he points his phaser at James T. Awesome, he says, "So you die, Captain, and we all move up in rank."

I’m not just telling you this just because I like peppering articles with Star Trek references. I’m telling you this because it's a warning: At some point, any assistant with a shred of ambition will want to get out from under the underling position.

A good manager needs to be constantly on the lookout for signals of ambition, lest their subordinates move on to a job where a career path doesn't have a stop sign… or they may look to Mirror Chekov as an example.

Here's how you can tell that your protégée, assistant, team member, or red shirt is looking to move up in rank. Or maybe just get a different shirt.

Taking on more responsibility

The Signs

One day, you sit down at your computer, ready to write that report you've been putting off. Only your sensation of dread turns into one of glee when you discover your assistant has done it for you.

Your day freed up, you take a look at your calendar and see a project due next week. But you dig a little deeper and see, surprise, she has done that too.

At the next meeting, she volunteers for the most thankless of tasks. With a smile.

What It Means

Maybe your assistant likes working hard for no extra money. Maybe she’s funny that way. But it's more likely that she is taking on this extra responsibility as a way to get noticed without having to wear a posterboard that reads, "Will work for advancement."

Look at this as the employee’s way of saying she wants to be an even more valuable member of your team than she already is. Or else she could become a valuable member of someone else's team.

What You Should Do

Talk to her and let her know you've noticed the extra effort and you appreciate it. (That's what a good manager, or a good Starfleet officer, would do.) Ask the team member for thoughts about the team and future directions. Offer to assign the assistant more work, perhaps a project, to see how she does with it, then structure her extra effort where it's most valuable. The employees who hint they want more work should perk up at the opportunity to show what they can do in a more official way. And this way, you can more closely gauge their performance.

However, make sure your people are not becoming workaholics. Without managerial focus, that extra effort can cause your bright bulbs to burn out. When you talk with them, remember to encourage them while at the same time dissuading them from overexerting themselves; that extra effort today may cost you dearly in performance later otherwise.

Becoming more valuable to the company

The Signs

One of your individual contributors has been asking a lot of questions about your company's proprietary software lately. That's because he is teaching himself how to develop new features for it. Although it's not in his job description and nowhere near his list of responsibilities, he is taking it upon himself to learn. And whaddya know? Your company just happens to need more people who understand this proprietary software, because new hires predictably know nothing about it.

It's the Star Trek equivalent of an ensign in Communications taking it upon herself to learn to speak Kzinti.

Your minion could choose any one of a number of ways to increase his skill set. But he chose this one, because it's what the company wants and needs.

What It Means

Are you giving your people the opportunity to grow their skills, with guidance into where and how they should? Because when your people start teaching themselves skills not directly related to their job, it's an indicator that they want to develop their careers.

The good news is, the team member is probably not after your job. The bad news is, he is likely to start looking elsewhere in the company, if he hasn’t started already.

What You Should Do

Take a look at your employee's skillset and his apparent interests. Consider how you might deploy them more effectively to give him more of what he wants. And while you're at it, you can roll your agenda forward too. Quite often, the employee is more than happy to support your goals.

Keep in mind that mobility can be good for both the individual and the organization. It stops people becoming complacent, and injection of new perspectives can spur innovation. Perhaps your report is actually a good candidate to move to a different team. If so, investigate if that's actually a possibility—and perhaps you can get fresh blood in return.

Good companies encourage this kind of sideways career path, because lateral transfers are better than employees leaving the company in discontent. If your company doesn't have a policy on transfers, considering taking it upon yourself to create these policies.


Your protégée may be looking to branch out because he is not getting the support he needs from you. It may be time for a sit-down to determine expectations.

Working weekends

The Signs

No one likes working weekends. (Unless they're a workaholic, see above.) Many employees tolerate it, particularly when they need to concentrate on their work; others put up with it because their deadline isn't looming so much as stalking.

What It Means

If your operative spends the weekend marking off items on her office to-do list, consider why she would sacrifice time better spent with friends, family, and non-cafeteria food. It could mean she's trying to impress to the company that she's a go-getter.

What You Should Do

Sometimes employees work off-hours not only to get in extra effort, but also to work without distraction. Offices can be rife with interruptions and loud conversations from every corner, which impacts productivity. Everyone handles these distractions differently, so if you suspect this might be a problem, ask your report about it.

Consider possible solutions, such as moving her to a different shift or letting your star contributors work from home (on a short- or long-term basis). If she cares enough to work the weekend when nobody else is around, it's a no-brainer she has the discipline to get the job done out of the office.

Plus, working from home may give them the chance to catch up on their technical journals, like Scotty, below:


Working weekends may not just be a way for your employee to curry favor. It might mean one of your projects is in trouble and you don't realize it. Putting in extra hours can be one of the first signs of project distress. If deadlines are pressing, and you're the project leader, make sure your own management is aware that there may be workload issues.

Once in a while, you can meet an aggressive deadline with a weekend crunch or a few long nights, especially as a team-building effort. But do that sparingly, and as a volunteer effort. And then buy pizza. Lots of pizza.

Mentoring new employees

The Signs

Your assistant has been busy lately. He isn’t just doing his job; he also is helping the new hire with hers. In addition to showing her the workings of the office coffee machine (obviously the most important part of the job), he has been answering the little questions that crop up every day, as well as the bigger questions such as procedures.

And when the new hire slips up, your assistant never once asks her for her agonizer.

Comfortably guiding a new employee and making her feel welcome in your group is one of many ways that your assistant plays well with others. And that's something any decent corporate culture needs more of.

What it Means

Your employee isn't just thinking about his job. He is thinking about the people around him and their jobs. That's a great instinct, and it's one of the hallmarks of a potential team lead.

What You Should Do

Training mentors isn't just a signal that your assistant wants more responsibility; it's a signal that they can handle more responsibility. So give it to him. Make the unofficial mentoring an official role, so the effort is recognized. This also gives you the opportunity to make your own suggestions on how to train and mentor staff. If your company has an official mentoring program, hook your report up with it. Because as we all know, good mentors help retain talent.

Asking straight out

The Signs

Why go for subtlety when your report can ask you straight out for a promotion? So that's what they do.

What It Means

Of course, it's how she says it that should get your attention: She describes major victories (she wore a red shirt and lived to tell the tale) and minor triumphs (that red shirt hides the blood stains). She says she feels she is a valued member of your team, but wants more than that. A promotion would do nicely.

What You Should Do

Whatever you do, don't ignore the request or brush it off. That's a surefire way to direct your team member to put in a transfer to another department (or another ship). Not everyone has the authority to give their assistants the promotions they deserve, and some companies can’t divvy out raises even to the worthy. But acknowledging your assistant's efforts with a promotion signals that you're confident in his abilities.

Hopefully the conversation happened either during a regular performance evaluation (which is exactly where this kind of subject is supposed to get raised) or because you've been reading the rest of this article and asked your employee outright first. If your company doesn't have evaluations, you should introduce them. (You can do it informally, even if there's no formal process.)

While there may not be a way to promote someone—he might not be a fit for whatever positions are available in your organization, or you just don't need another team lead right now—consider other ways to promote people other than in the organization chart. For example, making someone a project lead can be a great way to reward ambition, and it's also a good means to evaluate employees for a genuine promotion if one becomes available. It also lets you partly satisfy the request sooner and buy some time to look for a better answer. Not everyone is a project lead though, so look to give the ambitious assistant more responsibility in some other way, such as additional roles, mentoring, or any of the other solutions in this article.

And in a few years, when she has become captain of her own ship, your team member will remember your kindness and be more than happy to hire you as her red shirt.

(Thanks to E.V.)

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