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?

It could be because your company is promoting for the wrong reason. Double check 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

Workplace friendships happen, but they can sometimes cloud your judgement. People are more likely to hire someone they have more in common with—a decision influenced by similar-to-me bias. 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 aware of this unconscious bias. Always first look for skills before promoting, just as you would when filling any new position. Make sure you promote someone based on their performance and what they bring to the table, not based on what you think of them or who you would want to grab a beer with after work

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. One of the top reasons employees change jobs is because they see little to no opportunity for growth, development, and advancement within their current roles. 

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. Train managers to discuss employee goals and their professional interests often, not just during annual reviews. Your HR team can leverage stay interviews to understand if other factors are affecting employee happiness and causing employees to seek opportunities elsewhere. 

The 7 Biggest Promotion Mistakes


3. You need to fill the position quickly

So you needed that open position filled… yesterday. In today’s competitive hiring market, it seems promotions are happening faster and faster. Employee expectations are changing too. A recent survey from InsideOut Development revealed that more than 75 percent of Gen Z respondents believe they should be promoted in their first year and 32 percent believe they deserve a promotion within the first six months of working.

But promoting employees too early can backfire. A premature promotion can set an employee up for failure. Inexperience, lack of leadership training, and gaps in industry knowledge can cause new managers to become overwhelmed, work longer hours, and be more stressed. Wait until an employee has the skills and bandwidth for a new role before moving them to the next level. 

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

Jeff Haden of 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

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

A disengaged employee doesn't make for a good leader and productive contributor. 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.

Promotions aren't the only way to keep employees happy and engaged. Learning and development programs, passion projects, cross-departmental collaboration, and flexible scheduling might be all your employees need to spark motivation. While a promotion can help employees feel valued and appreciated, make sure you're promoting for the right reasons at the right time.

Need more help deciding if your employee is ready for the next step in their career? Read our "7 Biggest Promotion Mistakes" guide for even more commonly made mistakes to avoid.

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