Are You Promoting for the Right Reasons?


Promotions are an upgrade for everyone in your organization—when done right. They’re excellent employee encouragement, the kind that really makes people stick around. They’re also a symbol of upward mobility to all workers. Finally, they save you money on an external hire, both in hiring costs and salary (external hires are paid about 18-20% more than internal workers for the same job).

So, why is it that four out of 10 newly promoted managers and executives fail within the first 18 months of their new positions?

Namely just released its new eBook, The 7 Biggest Promotion Mistakes. Below, we cover the first mistake to avoid: promoting for the wrong reason. Doublecheck your decision-making against these five reasons that should never be the only ones when planning an employee’s next step forward.

1. The employee is a friend.

21 percent of employers say they are more likely to hire someone they have more in common with. You’re human, so workplace friends may be top of mind when a new departmental position does open up. But are they really the right fit?

Be conscious of this unconscious bias. Always first look for skills before promoting, just as you would when filling any new position.

2. They’re likely to quit otherwise.

If an employee has one foot out the door, we all know there are larger issues at play that a raise and more job responsibilities aren’t likely to fix. What’s tricky is that high performers do need opportunities for career development. Anne Fisher of Fortune points to Deloitte’s Talent 2020 study: 42% of job changers said they leave for opportunities to develop and use more of their skills elsewhere.

What you you need to avoid is using a promotion as a last-ditch bargaining chip. Instead, start talking career path early on with your high performers.


3. You need to fill the position quickly.

So you needed that Director of Accounting position filled… yesterday. In today’s competitive environment, it seems promotions are happening faster and faster.  “With executives promoted to the board much faster now,” says Steve Newhall, Managing Partner at Korn Ferry in their Succession Matters survey, “there is far less time for junior executives to become ‘ready now’ than at any time in the past.”

Don’t promote before employees even have a chance to mesh with the company culture. Two-thirds of survey respondents to Korn Ferry’s survey said a lack of dispositions for company culture contributed to failed promotions. Wait and see how an employee takes to the company first—it’s something only time can tell.

4. They’ve worked at the company for a long time.

Jeff Haden, contributing editor for Inc., doesn’t call promoting on seniority a bad idea. He says it’s a terrible solution.

Promoting the most senior employee is a simple solve that shortens the decision-making process on your end, he says. But, you also completely avoid telling other employees why they may not have been selected for the role. That’s a recipe for resentment.

Again, skills need to be front and center. Why shouldn’t the more recently hired, eager up-and-comer snag a new role if their work output is better? His or her promotion can encourage all employees to step up their game.

5. They seem bored in their current position.

Like the likely-to-quit employee, the disengaged employee is a larger company issue. A promotion is likely a bandaid solution. Worst of all, disengagement can continue in the employee’s more important role.

Korn Ferry’s research found that learning agility and leadership traits were among the most important traits to spot in regards to promotional potential. You won’t find either of those in the disengaged. If your best talent is bored, a chat is in order. If their energy does turn around, then maybe they will soon be the internal leader you’re looking for.

Promoting for the wrong reason is just one of seven common mistakes companies make every day.  

Topics: Talent, Performance Management

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