Best Practices to Improve Your Promotion Process

Promotions are always an emotional topic… for employees and managers alike. At PeopleResults, we’ve had clients ask for our support developing a consistent process, criteria and to address challenging leadership behaviors which come to light along the way.

In researching the subject, it becomes clear that different companies approach the promotion process in vastly different ways. And promotions have an out-sized impact on company culture.

On one end of the spectrum falls a very paternalistic approach where leadership tells employees when it’s time and they’ve been deemed “ready”. This can be formulaic. The individual is expected to spend 2-3 years at each level and then they move up – sometimes without regard to their performance in role or current business conditions. This drives a very hierarchical culture where employees tend to feel entitled to promotions.

Many companies are trying to move away from this type of an approach. This may have worked in the past, but is not the direction they want to be going now. It is not the method most effective for Millenials or Generation Z. It does not foster agility or innovation.

On the other end of the spectrum is a very progressive approach where employees initiate the process. They must make the case for their promotion and explain to their leadership why they’re ready and how the business will benefit from their increased contribution. This approach is more common in a culture characterized by entrepreneurial spirit and a more flat organizational structure. Employees perceive promotions to be more of a reward for high performance in this type of an environment.

This approach may be “a bridge too far” for your organization, but it may be closer to the direction you want to be heading. It may help your organization get better at managing through ambiguity and adapting to changing business conditions with your talent.

Best Practices

Current best practices related to promotions include:

  • Base eligibility for promotions on sustained levels of high performance by both the individual and the company. Typically this is a period of 2-3 years for the individual, but it can be less when the situation merits it. And when the company is not doing well, or the business climate is not favorable, limit the number of promotions.
  • Couple a promotion with a title change, an increase in salary, and an increase in responsibility. Believe it or not, that has not always been the case. Some companies have (and perhaps still do) use promotion as a means of recognition by changing an individual’s title without increasing their responsibilities or contribution to the business.
  • Clearly define and communicate the process and criteria for promotions to foster transparency and minimize confusion. The corollary to this level of transparency related to promotions is a clearly communicated and widely understood internal job posting process.

What do the engagement survey scores say on the questions related to promotions at your company? Do you have work to do to increase transparency in the process and ensure consistency in application of criteria?

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1