The employee promotion process isn’t always clear-cut, and it may sometimes feel like you’re navigating a minefield just to find a few repeatable promotion best practices.
You must devise a strategy for how you’ll approach internal mobility options for employees who aren’t interested in vertical promotions. You have to get buy-in from leadership and stakeholders. And, once you’ve chosen an ideal candidate, you may still need to work with your promotee to provide mentorship and build soft skills.
Although promoting employees is crucial for companies that wish to retain talent, reduce employee turnover, and become people-first workplaces, implementing promotion practices can be challenging at first, especially at a time when employees feel that companies don’t always have their well-being in mind.*
That’s why we’ve put together a list of best practices that can transform your promotion process. We’ll explain what makes them successful, how they work, and how you can implement them today.
What does a company with great promotion practices look like?
“Promoting an employee is one of the most important functions of people management. Through it, we supply senior positions with internal talent and provide growth prospects for employees.”
— Ricardo Luís Von Groll, Manager at Talentify.io
A company with good employee promotion practices recognizes that promotions shouldn’t serve as carrots dangled to motivate employee performance. Instead, these practices should be integral to creating equal opportunities and enriching the employee experience. With this in mind, managers should discuss career development with new employees from the beginning of their tenure with their company.
A company that puts people first should also be willing to listen and learn from their staff about what they’d like their career trajectory to look like. Not everyone wants to be on a vertical path that leads to managing a team. Some workers want to delve deeper into their specialties as individual contributors, and others might like the chance to explore cross-functional opportunities, moving from one discipline to another.
How your company approaches career growth conversations is up to you, but the guiding principle is that no one wants to plateau: people want responsibilities, compensation, and job titles to reflect their growth.
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7 best practices for fair, effective employee promotions
Your promotion practices should help you create opportunities for your employees and promote an overall culture of transparency and fairness. But doing so with intentionality is key, so here are some of our best-practice recommendations.
1. Consider both personal & professional growth
Sometimes, managers who worked hard to secure their current position assume their direct reports have the same goals they once had. But if you’re an informed, effective manager who understands the promotion process looks different for everyone, you know how crucial it is to coach your team along the career path that’s right for them.
And how do you know what development opportunities are best suited to your employees? Ask them! Arrange 1:1 meetings with your reports and ask questions about their:
- Professional goals for the next two or three years
- Long-term career goals
- Working style
- Ideal work routine
- Professional support needs
2. Avoid promoting solely based on tenure
As job-hopping and industry-hopping become more prevalent (and even encouraged) practices for the millennial and Gen Z workforce, the idea of seniority has changed significantly throughout the last decade. And while you don’t have to remove tenure as one of your promotion criteria entirely, you should be cautious of a seniority-only system.
It’s better to balance seniority and performance-based promotions, so more junior employees feel their hard work will also be noticed. With this strategy, you’ll also find it easier to retain your newer talent.
And if your company wants to shift to making more performance-based advancement decisions, it’s time to implement a career development framework.
Development frameworks keep leadership and employees actively involved in the promotion process. How? They give employees a level-by-level progression plan with the skills they need to acquire to move from one stage to another. And they provide leaders with an accurate way to evaluate employee performance based on success benchmarks the company has already outlined for every role.
“In the old way of doing things, employees were rewarded for their loyalty — essentially how long they stayed. But these days, people are staying for shorter periods at companies. In this sense, promotions should not be given simply because someone has spent years and years somewhere.”
— Matas Jakutis, CMO of ForceField Digital
3. Set up mentorship or buddy programs
Setting up a mentorship program within your company is a great way to use the resources you already have to create growth opportunities and drive more engagement for your people — but it takes a bit of strategy and planning. Here are some practical steps to get started:
- Determine your mentorship program objectives. Do you want to encourage more peer-to-peer coaching for employees who belong to underrepresented groups? Prompt employees to work with people from other departments? This will help you set clear parameters for your initiative.
- Reach out to leadership and upper management personnel from different departments to see if they’d like to be involved and determine what level of time commitment they’re willing to make.
- Ask employees to fill out a questionnaire about what new skills they’re interested in gaining and opportunities they’re interested in learning more about.
- Ask managers to review employee questionnaires and create pairings based on employee interests and goals.
- Prompt employees to arrange a standing meeting with their mentor monthly or biweekly.
4. Provide opportunities for cross-department exposure
When talking about promotions with your employees, it’s important to do so in the context of internal mobility. While promotions are typically vertical (e.g., taking over your previous manager’s position), the concept of internal mobility encompasses promotions and other career moves an employee can make within your organization.
This means that someone could make a lateral move to another department or stay in a department as an individual contributor while choosing to become more specialized and take on more responsibilities other than managerial ones.
While the idea of losing their best talent to another department might be concerning, managers shouldn’t let that discourage them from establishing connections between their teams and leadership from other departments. Why? Because, at the very least, it can help your employees better understand how their contributions impact other teams and the organization as a whole.
And yes, these initiatives can lead employees to move to different focuses or specialties, but taking that risk and supporting your people is better than holding onto dissatisfied employees and creating barriers between departments.
5. Make promotions a discussion rather than a top-down decision
Managers who know how to give feedback understand that promoting employees should involve discussions about their vision for their new role and how it aligns with company goals, even when making favorable promotion decisions.
That’s why having a promotion policy is especially useful — you can use it to detail how managers should approach promotions with an employee, step-by-step. In your policy, you can also specify that managers should begin with a discussion and follow up with ongoing training over a few months.
Managers should also have honest discussions with unsuccessful candidates who feel they’ve been passed over for a promotion and want to understand why. In these conversations, you can prompt employees with questions like:
- [x] are some reasons why we went with a different candidate. But why do you feel you should have been chosen?
- How do you feel your values align with our company values, and where do you think you need to improve?
- [x] is what I think you can do to boost your performance. What do you think?
- What training opportunities would you like more access to?
⭐ How does an employee’s career advancement work in step with your company’s compensation? In our guide to creating compensation planning, we walk you through creating a compensation plan for your company, including building a career progression framework.
6. Be transparent about how promotion decisions are made & when they happen
Transparency is critical for creating a healthy company culture, especially as more organizations shift to remote work. Employees don’t want to feel left out of the loop. And one of the most important ways you can demonstrate your commitment to transparency is by being open and honest about how management makes promotion decisions in your company.
That means letting your people in on the entire “behind-the-scenes” process that goes into choosing internal candidates and making internal hiring determinations.
For instance, announcing your new head of development shouldn’t prompt employees to say, “I had no idea that person was being considered for the role.” Instead, be upfront about your process from the start and let everyone know what stage you’re at in your deliberation as you go:
- Are you talking to a few different candidates?
- What data will inform your final promotion decision?
- Are you considering hiring externally?
- Have you decided on one candidate who you’ll spend a few months training for the role?
- How will you handle succession planning?
Employees want to know their input about your process matters and that you aren’t trying to hide anything from them out of fear over how they’ll respond.
“One important change we’ve made to our promotion practice is prioritizing transparency as much as possible. For example, this means that whenever a new opportunity for promotion arises, management communicates all relevant details to the entire team, rather than only those who are realistically in the running being informed.
This creates a lot of benefits in many different areas of our working culture, but primarily we find it a good motivating force for all of our staff to know when and how often promotions are happening.”
— Anthony Martin, Founder and CEO of Choice Mutual
7. Communicate promotion decisions with your company
Announcing employee promotions company-wide is good for transparency, but celebrating success also helps boost morale and motivation. Rather than leaving promotion updates to team leads to relay the information to their direct reports, make promotion announcements in your all-hands meeting, company-wide Slack or Microsoft Teams channels, or company newsletter.
Take your promotion practices to the next level with Leapsome
How you handle your promotion process is linked to how your employees feel about your company, which is why you should deal with it with transparency and fairness. If you take the time now to create standardized best practices for promoting employees, it’ll be easier to grow in a sustainable, equitable way that helps you avoid attrition in the long term.
Our goal at Leapsome is to help you make promotion decisions that are as consistent, unbiased, and data-informed as possible. That’s why our new promotion module lets you work with key stakeholders and integrates with our tools for performance reviews, making your promotion procedures easier to scale.
🚀 Make your promotion process fair and transparent with Leapsome
Leapsome’s promotion tools help make more data-informed decisions and let you streamline the entire process from end to end.
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