To Promote or Not to Promote?

We can all agree that one of the keys to a business’s growth is attracting and retaining the right talent. In a 2015 SHRM survey, 33% of respondents chose “better career advancement opportunities” as the reason for seeking employment elsewhere. That’s why creating an engaging and nurturing work environment for employees is a top priority for HR professionals (and for us at Namely!).  

There are many levers that can elevate employee experience, and career growth is one of the most powerful. As one of the key decision-makers, you’re up against some pretty steep expectations: 40% of Millennials expect a promotion every one or two years. But tenure is not reason enough to advance an employee.

Of course, promotions can be a surefire way to show employees you value them. But how do you know if it’s the right move? You have to evaluate the need both for the growth of the business and for the individual. Below are four key questions to help you reflect on whether it’s the right time to make a promotion.

Does the role currently exist?

First, decide whether there is a business need for the promotion. If there is an open position, the business need has already been established. You have an approved set of responsibilities and a sense of budget, which will streamline conversations with the people manager and the employee. If you’re creating a new role, you’ll need to work closely with the people manager to define the scope and create a business case for the additional headcount.

Keep in mind that for a younger company, the need for new roles might be rapid, with frequent internal promotions and movement. But as a company grows, employees may need to stay in their roles longer to stabilize their team, and new roles may not be readily available.   

Whatever the case, being upfront about the business need is truly a win-win: it will clarify expectations for the employee and the people manager, and it will ensure that opening any new roles will add value to the company.

Is the employee the right fit for the role?

Once you have a confirmed job description, consider whether the employee is the best person to take on these responsibilities. There’s always a balance between having an employee grow into a role and promoting someone before he or she is ready.

If there’s going to be a steep learning curve in the new role, can you and the manager allot the time needed to enable a smooth transition? Especially for those that are jumping from a individual contributor to people manager role, the move can be a difficult one. Managing direct reports requires a new set of skills, knowledge, and training.

And sometimes, you have to make the hard choice to pass over an internal candidate for an external hire, because the experience level just isn’t there yet. Premature promotions can be discouraging for the employee if they end up performing poorly. Make sure you’re setting everyone up for success when analyzing the demands of the new role.

How will this promotion impact the team?

A promotion into a new role can leave workload gaps on the current team. Perhaps the company’s needs have changed and a backfill isn’t necessary. But chances are you may need to find a replacement, so the timing of that process should be taken into account. If you need to formally delay the promotion until a backfill can be found, communicate this to the employee to be clear on the transition period.

Also consider the shifting dynamic when someone is promoted to a people manager of his or her current peers. The new reporting dynamic can be initially uncomfortable, so be sure to provide support and coaching for the new manager, as well as the direct reports.

Is the promotion the right development opportunity?

It’s okay not to promote a well-performing employee. But the employee must understand why it’s not the right time and what he can do in his current role to become qualified in the future. Ongoing performance feedback is critical, and employees are willing to listen: in a 2015 study, 65% of employees said they wanted more feedback. Continuous pulse checks keep everyone aligned on expectations, timing, and business needs.

Further, learning and development initiatives can provide another channel for professional growth. Consider various training options that would supplement your employees’ skills and knowledge. You can also send employees to industry conferences or offer assistance for continued education. The investment will prepare talent for future roles as they become available.

Having a pulse on your talent

Managers should always be in tune with their employees’ progress, which means knowing when the employees are meeting job expectations and when they are ready for a new challenge. Understand what the employee is really looking for—such as wanting to manage people or learn new skills—so that you can tailor a plan and realistic timeline that keeps everyone satisfied and motivated.

Yes, promotions are a very visible and tangible way to encourage growth, but the 2015 SHRM survey also found that 42% of employees rated professional development as very important to their job satisfaction. More often than not, what employees really want to see is an investment in their career — no matter which route you choose to take there.