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Compensation & Rewards

10 criteria for employee promotion

Leapsome Team
10 criteria for employee promotion
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In a survey about managerial practices, 15% of 1,000 employees said they were more likely to quit if their manager hired externally (1). But to set your people — and promotees — up to succeed and grow, hiring internally may not be enough. You need solid promotion criteria to support your decision. 

A well-made promotion decision has the potential to boost morale and inspire trust in your staff. And more trust leads to reduced stress, less burnout, and higher retention rates (2). A poorly made decision, on the other hand, can lead to disengagement and resentment in your employees.

And in an era when remote employees are worried about being passed over for in-office employees (3) and companies are concerned about “quiet-quitting,” you really shouldn’t give your people reasons to distrust you.

This is why we’ve compiled a list of ten promotion criteria for your organization. And while we aren’t laying down minimum requirements (after all, it’s not a box-checking exercise), we hope they’ll point you in the right direction.

  1. Curiosity
  2. Strong feedback
  3. Managerial and leadership skills [for management roles]
  4. Personal motivation
  5. Exceeding expectations
  6. Fit for the role
  7. Tenure or experience
  8. Excelling in their current role
  9. Strong self-management skills
  10. Future-oriented

So, keep reading if you’re ready to learn more about how to implement each of these criteria in practice.

1. Joblist, 2021

2. SHRM, 2022

3. BBC, 2021

🚀 Make your best promotion decisions with Leapsome

Our promotion tools streamline the entire process and help you make more data-driven decisions.

Learn more

Photo of two employees at work in discussion.
Curiosity tends to be a sign of motivation and engagement

1. Curiosity

Transparency may be one of your company’s professional values, whether it’s explicit or implicit; whichever the case, you should see curiosity as a strength. When an employee asks questions, that’s a sign that they’re engaged and trusting. And this trust also shows that you’ve created more psychological safety in your workplace.

A curious staff also fosters transparency by wanting to understand the “why” behind your practices. They may also suggest a better way to do things — which should be valued by any organization that wants to embrace creativity and innovation.

With that in mind, it’s also important to seek out employees who appreciate curiosity in others and don’t become defensive when their peers, direct reports, or managers ask them questions. If they’re receptive to inquiry and open communication now, they’re more inclined to maintain that attitude when they have a higher-level position with greater responsibility.

🧐 You know that employee promotions can help you retain your best talent and save you money. But did you know that they can have a positive effect on your other employees, too? We discuss everything you need to know in our guide to employee promotions.

2. Strong feedback

Giving feedback to employees
builds trust, motivates them to improve, and shows that you care about their growth. But your potential promotee should also understand the role that empathy plays in feedback, especially for managerial positions, so look for candidates skilled at something called redirecting feedback.

In redirecting feedback, you point to problem areas with a constructive mindset. Here are two examples:

I know it’s been a busy month for you. I think that what may help the team move ahead with this project is if you set aside your current project, as it’s not as urgent. 

If you’re ever struggling with prioritization, I’d suggest looking at the potential impact of a task. You can tackle the most impactful ones first and move forward from there. And I’m always here to offer support in prioritizing!

Do you have five minutes to talk through your work on the most recent project? I especially liked your work on the first sections, but I noticed some errors in the last few. I thought that might reflect a lack of clarity, and I wanted to let you know that I’m here to help you understand anything that might be unclear to you.

With this in mind, it’s also important that your promotion candidate understands the value of receiving continuous feedback and praise. If they’re accustomed to constructive criticism in their current position, they’ll be more open to it as they go through growing pains in their new role.

Photo of three employees at work at a desk, two of them standing over the desk.
Although not everyone wants to be a manager, those that do need to develop leadership skills

3. Managerial & leadership skills [management roles]

Not all employees seeking promotions want to manage people, and not everyone has the skills for it. And as this reality becomes more apparent, people-oriented companies are trying to create more diverse opportunities for internal mobility and non-managerial growth. 

You need to know for certain that your managerial candidate is excited to manage people. And what does that look like? Here are some ideas as a starting point:

  • They rely on quantitative data to make decisions
  • They proactively set up 1:1 meetings with colleagues and leadership
  • They have a clear sense of their long-term goals
  • They know how to make their performance goals specific and measurable
  • They’re skilled at prioritizing projects and helping others prioritize
  • They’re good at acknowledging strengths in others
  • They appreciate feedback and receive it well
  • They’re skilled at giving both positive and constructive feedback
  • They understand why it’s important to celebrate successes at work
  • They’re open to continuous learning and improvement around biases and DEI
Photo of three professionals talking to each other in a work setting.
What internal or external factors motivate your employee’s work?

4. Personal motivation

Motivated, engaged employees tend to be 23% more productive. And this knowledge has led many organizations to ramp up their engagement initiatives with employee surveys and rewards and recognition programs. However, many organizations fail to understand how multifaceted motivation is in their employees. 

So, what motivates your promotion candidate?

Intrinsic motivation — There is an internal driving force motivating the employee. Some drivers of intrinsic motivation could be:

  • The opportunity to learn new skills or develop areas of expertise
  • The pleasant feeling that comes from helping others
  • The ability to express themselves in a creative way

Extrinsic motivation — There is an external reward or threat motivating the employee. In the workplace, external motivators could be:

  • Recognition in the form of acknowledgment for a job well done or good scores in their performance reviews
  • A promotion or a new job in a different department
  • The desire to be a part of a team and collaborate meaningfully with colleagues
  • Monetary incentives, like a bonus or extra paid time off

When your candidate can articulate what motivates them, it shows that they’re thinking critically about their workplace performance. And whatever motivates them at work will produce positive outcomes for themselves, their team, and the organization.

5. Exceeds expectations

“By using clear KPIs, we’re able to ensure that promotions are based on objective criteria rather than subjective opinions. And by making our hiring process transparent, we ensure that everyone involved in the process can see exactly how we’re evaluating candidates.”

— Arif Michael Boysan, People Ops Consultant and Coach at AMB Performance Group

You need to ensure that you measure employee success against objective benchmarks like performance reviews and goals and OKRs — and not based on your own potentially biased perception or instincts

Let’s say that, when looking back at a candidate’s recent review cycle, you see that they’ve exceeded expectations. While that’s a great start, you should look back at more performance reviews.

Why? What you’re looking for is sustained performance — have they demonstrated their ability to consistently go beyond what is expected? If so, that’s a green flag. But if not, you may need to investigate why. 

Employees sometimes have an “off” review cycle due to a personal situation, a challenging time for the company, or another reason that shouldn’t necessarily exempt them from being considered for a promotion. They’re human beings, after all, and they deserve empathy.

This is why it’s best to talk to the candidate, their manager, and even their peers. They may need a bit more time to work on any weaknesses in their performance.

Photo of two employees at work, sitting at a table in front of their individual laptops.
Even though they’re familiar with your organization, you still need to assess your internal candidate like an external one

6. Fit for the role

When you’re promoting from within, it can be easy to assume that your candidate has enough familiarity with your culture and processes. But it’s a good idea to assess them the way you would with an external candidate:

  • Are they a cultural fit? Even if they’ve been with your company for a year or more, do they understand why your company prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion, for example? Can they articulate what makes your organization different from others?
  • Do they have the right skill set? If your company has a career development framework for employees at every level, you can use this to assess whether the candidate has the needed soft skills for the next role.
😬 Do you have a promotion decision to make soon? Learn how you can make this process easier and more collaborative when you set up promotion management with Leapsome.

7. Tenure or experience

Anyone making a hiring decision should be cautious of promoting solely or even mostly based on time with the company. It can cause employees to feel that they won’t be able to earn a promotion without stagnating in the same job for a few years.

At the same time, tenure with the company and experience in a role can be useful criteria. The caveat is that you should assess it in tandem with other factors, like performance review results, project results, OKRs, and the skill set they’ve developed during their tenure.

“In today’s fast-paced corporate world, we don’t just count ‘time served.’ Instead, employee achievements made against the time served are a more reliable metric.

Suppose a relatively recent hire is skilled enough, consistently adds value to your organization, and has a stellar track record of success. In that case, they’re more deserving of a promotion than a seasoned employee with low productivity who has developed a habit of procrastination due to a lack of motivation to progress.”

Anjela Mangrum, President and Founder of Mangrum Career Solutions

8. Excelling in their current role

You can use your development framework to help to determine if your employee has excelled in the technical and soft skills relevant to their current role. You can also ask their peers or colleagues they may have worked with on cross-functional projects for their input — 360 performance reviews are the perfect moment for that. 

Here are some signs that your candidate has excelled in their current role:

  • They’re one of the first people you go to when their manager, reports, peers, or People Ops leads need help with something — The candidate is consistently reliable; their colleagues, leadership, and direct reports know they’ll be able to take a task off their hands if they have time, or help them find the right solution.
  • You can always count on their performance — While it may be hard for managers to let go of direct reports who consistently do great work, perhaps it’s time to promote them before they lose momentum and feel they’re not progressing at the company.
  • The candidate is ready for a new challenge — They’ve been asking to help on other projects and are willing to learn new skills.
  • Their peers already see them as a leader or expert — They may not be up for a management role, but if their peers go to them for their expertise, that’s a sign that they’ll have more success with engaging and building trust with their direct reports when they’re in a leadership position.
💡 Is your current skill framework working for you? Or do you need to start from scratch? Check out our People Ops Playbook on creating a career progression framework.

9. Strong self-management skills

An employee may want to take on more responsibilities and work with less managerial intervention. If they do, they need to demonstrate great self-management skills. Here are a few key areas to assess for skills:

  • Organizational skills — While this doesn’t come naturally to everyone (and is a skill that can be improved), the ideal candidate should understand how to set up their tasks, processes, and work environment for success.
  • Identifying and setting priorities — As their list of responsibilities and tasks increases, they’ll need a solid ability to prioritize the most impactful, urgent projects. And if they’re in a managerial position, they’ll also have to offer their direct reports guidance and support with prioritization.
  • Time management — Do they consistently meet deadlines (especially when those deadlines impact others)? 
  • Managing stress levels — Your ideal candidate should know that more responsibility could bring more challenges. They must be ready to handle these and know when to ask for support.
Photo of three employees, two in the background, slightly blurry, one in the foreground, looking off into the distance.
Your ideal promotee should be able to self-manage with less managerial intervention

10. Future-oriented

The future of work demands that we no longer rely on external experts to be well-informed about organizational trends and innovations. Instead, forward-looking companies should ask that leadership and people ops teams stay current and open channels for employees to participate in these conversations. Why? Because everyone has a part to play in shaping bigger-picture decisions that companies make for the future, not just C-level executives and thought leaders.

In light of that, the ideal candidate should embrace this same mindset and be excited about their role in contributing to future outcomes for your organization.

Make the right hiring decision with Leapsome

Your promotion decision can boost morale and inspire trust among your people — but you need the strategy and resources to get it right.
Leapsome’s here to help you make data-informed, consistent, and unbiased promotion decisions. 

Because of this, we’ve introduced a new promotion module. You can collaborate with key stakeholders (like human resources leads and executives), and since it integrates with our other modules, you’ll be able to use our performance review tools (and many other features) to inform your promotion processes.

🚀 Leapsome can help you make your promotion process fair and transparent

Our promotion management system lets you collaborate with key stakeholders and integrates with our tools for performance reviews and OKRs.

Book a demo

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Leapsome Team

Written by the team at Leapsome — the all-in-one people enablement platform for driving employee engagement, performance, and learning.
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