Employee Promotion: Why Merit Beats Tenure Every Time
Promote on Merit
Promotion is a big topic, so I won’t cover it in detail other than to explain my belief that employees should be benchmarked for promotion against the Great Performance Profile. This minimises political and personal bias and helps to ensure promotion based on merit. The worst thing you can do is favour tenure over competence or potential.
Businesses can be as bad at making judgements on existing staff promotions as they are at recruiting new employees. Sometimes, the people that want to be promoted aren’t the ones that should be. The best managers need to be selfless, not self-serving; the best technicians don’t always make the best managers. Equally, just because someone is doing a great job doesn’t mean they want to be promoted.
I like to use the employee category subset of the Promotable Great Performer. These are people who are promotable because they’re beginning to show skill in managing teams or leading people. This group is important in terms of succession management, and you need to keep close tabs on them. On the other hand, you don’t want too many Promotable Great Performers without there being enough promotion prospects available for them, otherwise a culture of negative competition may develop as they scrap over the limited opportunities.
Common promotion problems include:
- Employees being promoted in order to retain them even if they’re not suited to the new role.
- Employees not shining as they could because they have bad managers who hold them back.
- Managers being too involved in promotion decisions when they hold an obvious personal bias.
- Staff being promoted based on their performance in a current role rather than on how good a fit they are for the new role, hence the “Peter Principle” coined by Laurence Peter: “Managers rise to their level of incompetence.” (Peter, 1969)
Before you promote someone, you need to interview them for the position. Best practice is to assemble a Recruitment Team including their potential line manager and go through a Great Performance Profile for the new role. Ask them the following five promotion question:
- “How do you feel this role could realistically be achieved?”
- “What would you do in this scenario?”
- “What issues do you think would arise, and how do you think we could minimise them?”
- “What benefits do you think this role would bring to the company, and how could we maximise these?”
- “If you were given these standards to hit, what would you do?”
The answers to these questions will give you a good idea of whether they’re ready for promotion.
I’m often pleasantly surprised by how much knowledge employees already have. I’m not looking for super creative or mind-blowing ideas – just sensible and coherent ones that show me that they’re ready to step up. When they’re moving into a managerial role, I’m interested in finding out if they understand managerial approaches and responsibilities. When employees are promoted to senior leadership, I look for their understanding of business strategy.
It’s vital that you reach out and show empathy to people who’ve not been successfully promoted and explain what they need to do to keep growing – otherwise their motivation and productivity may drop and they might quit.
Be aware of glass ceilings
The “glass ceiling” is a metaphorical barrier that stops women and minorities rising into senior positions and achieving high levels of career success. It may be the result of unconscious bias, discrimination or a lack of mentorship and sponsorship.
It’s important to smash glass ceilings, not just because it’s morally the right thing to do but because it improves business performance:
- Diverse leadership and decision-making leads to increased innovation and creativity, resulting in stronger and more resilient organisations.
- Ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of their gender, race or other characteristics is essential to promoting fairness and equality in the workplace.
- Companies that promote diversity and equality tend to have less staff turnover because employees feel valued and respected.
Use of a Great Performance Profile can help to remove glass ceilings. Establishing clear Minimum Acceptable Standards reduces bias and ensures that promotions are based on merit.
But more than this needs to be done:
- Everyone should lead by example, exhibiting inclusive behaviour and actively advocating diversity.
- Training and education should be undertaken to help employees recognise and overcome their own unconscious biases.
- Mentorship and sponsorship should be provided to women and minorities so that their careers are supported and advanced.
By implementing these strategies, businesses can help to create a more level playing field and break down the barriers to advancement for women and minorities.