Promoting Employees: How to Get it Right

Promoting the wrong employee is like quitting smoking: It’s easy to do, a million times. Promoting the right person at the right time takes more diligence. But it can be as important to the well being of your company as ditching the smokes can be for your health.

Many businesses approach the concept of job promotions with something less than a studied eye. While the process may seem basic, the consequences of an ill-advised promotion can be nothing short of cataclysmic — particularly if it happens over and over. That means it’s critical to understand what works and what doesn’t in the art of promoting employees.

Here are seven guidelines for promoting an employee:

1. Get to know all the wrong reasons for doing it. Sad to say, but there’s no shortage of bad or misguided rationale for moving an employee into a more important position. Here are five ugly suspects: None of these “reasons” need further amplification. But there’s more, according to Susan Kormis of Susan Kormis Associates, a human resources consulting concern. Don’t forget the temptation to play white knight for a distraught employee.”Someone may be dealing with some personal issues, so you think you’ll be the saving grace by promoting him,” Kormis says. “That’s really nothing more than promoting someone in hopes of getting rid of a problem. It’s just one of many bad reasons for promoting someone.”

2. Recognize that competence doesn’t necessarily mean a promotion. Not only do many employers cite the wrong sorts of reasons in promoting someone, they also equate solid job skills in one role with continued success in a different role. Granted, it’s great that someone’s adept at their job, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll flourish in another position with greater or different responsibilities. Instead, focus on those areas that the new position requires, be it personnel management, communication or other skills.”Technical competency is often a far second to people skills,” says Marilyn Lustgarten of the Star Makers Group, a management consulting firm. “Promoting someone into a higher position because they’re good at what they did in their prior position is often the wrong reason. Many of those technical skills can be learned later.”

3. Spell out why you’d promote an employee. A series of bungled promotions often boils down to the fact that a company has never given any detailed thought to those attributes they look for in promotion-worthy personnel. So, take the time to delineate what you think is important in employees with promotion potential, be it leadership characteristics, an ability to foster teamwork or other attributes that not only work where they are now but also jibe with other, more important positions within the company.

4. Let your people know what you’re looking for. Concomitant to establishing parameters for promotion is making sure everyone in your firm knows what’s on that list. Let your employees know. Then monitor how employees match up, be it in formal annual reviews or on an ongoing basis as the situation dictates. Encourage your people to suggest others in the company they think hit those guidelines.”Employees should never really be surprised about any sort of promotion decision,” Kormis says. “It’s important to have an open dialogue on an ongoing basis so that everyone knows where he or she stands pretty much all the time.”

5. Look at weaknesses as well as strengths. Another common promotion snafu is turning a blind eye to problems that someone may confront in a new job. Don’t ignore all their positives, but consider as well their struggles and challenges — be they technical or managerial in nature — and be prepared to offer after-the-fact support and, if necessary, supplementary training to address them.

6. Know the importance of detachment. You’ve seen it in dozens of movies — a guy from the loading dock moves up to a supervisor’s job, only he can’t stop acting as though he’s still one of the boys. Moving from buddy to boss isn’t a transition that everyone can make. So make it clear to any candidate for a promotion that he or she is going to have to adjust to a whole different set of professional and social demands. “It can be very, very difficult, moving from being a friend to being their supervisor,” Kormis says. “For instance, before promoting someone, ask them if they think they’ll be able to objectively critique somebody with whom they used to work.”

7. Take a lesson if someone says “no thanks.” Lustgarten once knew a company which tried to promote a star salesperson. The “star” resigned immediately. “She said she knew she was such a poor fit for the job that they would end up firing her in six months,” Lustgarten said. Never lose sight of the fact that employees can turn down a promotion for all sorts of reasons, including necessary travel or family reasons. Respect their choice. If, however, someone bolts the company because he knows better than you that he’s not cut out for the job, it’s probably a good idea to reevaluate your promotion methodology. That way, the next time you dangle the promotion carrot, a better-suited bunny will be ready to grab it.


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