Manager is refusing to do anything about my promotion even though he verbally acknowledged he'd promote me 4 months ago

Hi dear Elpha members!

I have a question about how to deal with a manager who has been dragging his foot about my promotion.


So I'm a relatively early employee at a very fast growing startup (I joined at around series B in March '21 when they were ~90 employees and now we're 1000+ a little over a year later). An average workday is 12 hrs with no breaks and it routinely goes up to 13-15. Nobody puts a gun to your head but you just end up working those hours with the amount of features we're shipping. So 1 year here honestly feels like 3 human years at an average company.

I joined as the first PM hire after the head of product to build from the ground up/productize what came to be the largest revenue generator for the company. When I joined, my title was just "Product Manager" (I didn't think to negotiate title at the time because I was coming from a rather flat organization).

I have a lot of stakeholders and overall, they love working with me. I have consistently exceeded expectations and even got a glowing performance review in December. After the performance reviews, I asked about a promotion, no clear response. Then we basically didn't sync at all for another three months because he was so busy. In March at around my one year work anniversary, I asked again and he said he'd promote me and made it seem like it was imminnent but contingent upon me not messing up a few key releases. Since then, I've released all those big features, onboarded another senior PM to my team and basically continued to perform.

Between March and now, I've been asking him about it in every one on one meeting we have, and he still hasn't provided me a clear timeline or reasoning for why it hasnt happened so far. I have straight up asked and he still wasn't able to produce a proper answer.

I tend to share meeting agendas with him the day before so as part of those agendas, I've even mentioned how disappointed and resentful I was feeling. Some of these notes weren't even read (admitted by him) and the rest he interpreted as me "strong arming him" to give me a promotion now.

Our company is super behind on people/HR, it's just not their priority. Also no PMs have been promoted so far, even though well-performing members of other teams have been promoted, but this is irrelevant, since he already acknowledged I deserve the promo.

One time I had an argument with the CEO where I opposed what he wanted to do, we did it in the end anyway, but I turned out to be right and we are now considering un-doing that feature. Im worried if this is somehow related to it, or there's other politics behind it. I'm in the opinion that the head of product is a great IC, but not an effective manager in general, several other PMs I'm close to feel similarly. I also don't trust that he's really sticking his neck out for me and pushing for this.

I just cannot understand what is holding him back, but I cannot get an answer from him. I am considering going to the CEO directly and asking him (CEO does know me personally bc we worked directly on several projects). Do you think it's a bad idea to go to him? I feel stuck and don't know what to do.

I also don't know how to provide the feedback that he's basically useless as a manager (he's good if you go to him for advice for a product problem, but useless otherwise).

I would normally just quit but:

I love my job and my team members and the product we built is my baby. I really wanna see it through

I work remotely from a country where the economy is doing poorly and there aren't a lot of job opportunities

I'd be walking away from a significant amount of stock options if I were to leave.

So the chances of me finding another high-growth global remote OK job as a PM seems slim. I've started looking around but I haven't come across anything exciting yet.

Thank u in advance to anyone who provides advice/feedback <3

Your manager wouldn't appreciate you going over his head, but at this point, if he verbalized it and doesn't want to give it, you have no choice. "[Name] verbalized a promotion for me, which would include x,y,z, on [x date]. I have brought it up in everyone 1:1, as noted each time. What can I take off of his plate to make sure this promotion is put in writing in the next week? [optional hint about 'other opportunities' dropped in here]"You have to phrase it as "How can I help", because the workforce doesn't like "He lied.".
I had a similar situation many years ago when I was told / promised I would get a promotion after 6 months of joining a consultancy as I had taken a slight demotion due to my former firm being smaller. At the six month point my line manager, a board director, didn’t organise an appraisal with me and after asking repeatedly, it only happened after one year. Like you I had a glowing 360 degree appraisal at which point she said we would wait another few months. I asked straight out why that was when I had such positive feedback and she didn’t know what to say. I then went to another (female) board director and told her about the whole situation. She brought it to the attention of the MD and I was promoted immediately.So I would say yes, bring it to the attention of your CEO but focus on the positive reviews you have had from colleagues etc not how you feel about your LM’s behaviour. However do mention how he agreed to promote you verbally. Basically stick to the facts - I hope you are successful!
I hate to say this, but your manager is not going to promote you. They’ve blocked listening to you. I would definitely go over their head. If you do, however, have some documentation of the promise you were given. Either build a timeline like you did for us, or provide emails/texts. The higher up is going to automatically side with your manager - because managers stick together - unless you make a clear case for your promotion. Approach them in a prepared fashion.
My manager doesn't enjoy the fuss involved in promoting people. We have one lady here who has been promised a promotion for months - he just doesn't want to deal with HR and the whole process. So it's not always malice, it can simply be avoidance of nuisance. It might be good to ask if there's anything you can do to help the promotion process go through (like writing your own recommendation).
I worry that your manager may have made you a promise that may not be supported by your CEO or somewhere like HR because it's off cycle from your last review. I'd try having one more extremely frank conversation with your manager to try to get to the bottom of what's going on. If that fails, I'd try speaking to whatever HR you have rather than going directly to the CEO. I think the reality is that if your Head of Product isn't taking active steps on their own initiative this is unlikely to end in your favor. Even if you somehow manage to force the promotion, you stand a good chance of alienating your boss.
Hi @Cordelia220, sounds like a tough thing to navigate -- I agree that speaking up but in the right way is key. If you'd like to practice what to say, how to say it, etc, I'd be happy to coach you on this and support you in handling these convos. I'm Rachel, a Career Coach, and my profile shows how to get in touch with me :)