Making Promotions Matter

The Harvard Business Review had an article recently entitled “How You Promote People Can Make or Break Company Culture” Jamie Herzlich, a reporter for Newsday, recently spoke with me about it. She wanted my insights about whether promotions are important, especially in small or mid-sized companies. Yes, they are. 

Here are some of the thoughts I shared with her:

  • Promotions can be a powerful way for organizations to retain employees and help them grow. When people have the opportunity to learn, develop and grow, it sends the message that they are valued contributors. 
  • Managers have to know their people – their strengths, their development needs, and their individual career goals.
  • Organizations should have a process for promotions. The process need not be elaborate – just a way to let people know there are opportunities available. It shouldn’t stop with announcing the opportunities. Consider all qualified individuals who express interest. 
  • Encourage employees to express their interest in those opportunities. It’s a way for the organization and managers to understand who is interested in certain types of opportunities.  
  • Managers need to be honest and candid with employees about their career aspirations and development needs. If aspirations are unrealistic – the opportunity will never be available within the organization or the employee needs to develop more – then help the employee recalibrate his or her aspirations.
  • Support employees’ career development needs. Provide them with training opportunities – and this need not be attendance at expensive conferences. There are webinars and courses at local community colleges that may be the right fit. Provide them with mentors or stretch assignments so they will be ready in the future.
  • Provide feedback to employees about promotional opportunities. If the employee expresses interest and is not ready for a promotion at that point, let them know why, and have discussions about career development. If the employee is considered, but not chosen, let them know why and encourage them to continue to express interest in future opportunities. 

Often time, promotional decisions are clouded with the perception that someone was already pre-selected for the position. It may be that someone is promoted because the scope of his or her job has changed and more responsibility has been assumed. If that’s the case, explain the circumstances when the promotion is announced so other people don’t feel “passed over.” Someone may be hired from the outside because they bring skills and experience that no current staff members possess and for which there’s an immediate need. If that’s the case, explain it. People may be disappointed, but they can accept it when they know the underlying facts that support the decision that was made. Make the promotions work for your employees and for the organization!

Cornelia Gamlem

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