When to Give Your Employee a Promotion Or Not

When to Give Your Employee a Promotion Or Not

Once upon a time, a manager noticed a direct report excelling in his area of expertise. So she gave him a promotion. The end.

We wish every story were that simple.

Unfortunately, not every manager can “automagically” know when an employee has earned the responsibility that comes with a higher rung up the corporate ladder. And actually, it’s tempting to promote for emotional reasons: sympathy for a hire with financial troubles; a belief that longevity at the company in itself deserves a promotion; even pressure from an employee who pushes for one.

But before you promote your underling to an overling, it’s important to consider the reasons not to promote someone first.

When You Should Not Promote

First, giving someone a promotion means giving them more responsibility, perhaps management responsibility—and not every person is right for management. If the person you are promoting has a track record of looking down on their peers, not being able to say no politely, or is either too aggressive or too passive, they may not have the temperament for management. You can be setting someone up to fail, and the failure of a new manager also can mean failure for his or her team…and even failure for the company.

Second, promoting one person on your team can cause conflicts with the rest of the staff who are “left behind.”  Other staff could question your judgment, especially if you promote the wrong person for the wrong reasons. Also consider whether the person would be able to supervise their current co-workers; if they are too emotionally close, it may be difficult for the change in roles to work.

Third and finally, requesting a promotion for your staff means asking for more funding for your department, and in cases where a company isn’t rapidly expanding, that can mean another department won’t have the funds to promote their staff.

With this in mind, there are two checklists to consider when evaluating whether your report is ready for promotion. The first is a basic threshold of qualities that are necessary, but not sufficient for promotion. The second list indicates a staff member is truly ready.

If your staff member isn’t hitting the mark on the list below, don’t even consider a promotion:

  • The staff member is reliable, shows up on time, and maintains a positive attitude.
  • The staff member keeps up with their work and perhaps is taking on a higher volume of work than they are expected to do.
  • The staff member is receiving consistently positive responses from clients or customers, handles their work well, consistently achieves their goals—and you have measurable, concrete data to prove it.

When You Should Promote

Assuming your staff member meets all of the above criteria, the more you check off this list, the more likely the staff member is to be ready for promotion:

  • The staff member presents new ideas to you or proposes and implements successful new initiatives.
  • They volunteer to take on projects or deliverables to take things off your plate, and they follow through and succeed in these new initiatives.
  • During times of growth in the company, the staff member can actually take on new responsibilities and job functions, such as supervising new staff.
  • The staff member has technical competency, but also has the potential to lead and train others to achieve success.
  • You have given the staff member a plan of action for achieving their career goal, and they can show you specific achievements that are in line with that plan.
  • You are aware of the person’s strengths and weaknesses, and you have given them clear feedback, mentoring, or training to improve their weaknesses and leverage their strengths. By documenting their strengths through ongoing evaluation, you create a paper trail about their achievements that will be helpful when requesting their promotion.
  • You have taken the time to be objective in your assessment of the person, and have tried to set aside your biases, fears, and even your personal liking for him or her.
  • You have spoken with the person about the decision to promote him or her to the next level, and potentially, you have even interviewed them as if for a new position.

Promoting the wrong person at the wrong time can cause lasting damage. Done thoughtfully, promoting from within is one of the best ways to grow a company’s talent.

If you–or your company–isn’t ready to promote consider alternatives: Create a senior specialist role, which would allow a top technical performer to progress but without management responsibilities; add new job functions to an existing staff member and provide a gradual promotion pathway without an abrupt and radical new job role; or provide a bonus or other recognition aside from a full promotion.

Even if your staff member doesn’t get the promotion, recognizing that you’re being a go-getting champion is, for some people, its own reward.

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