When to promote an employee

Sylvie Thrush Marsh, HR Advisor
by, Sylvie Thrush Marsh, HR Advisor

A key factor in successful business ownership and management, at all sizes and in all industries, is managing your people well and ensuring that everyone’s career is progressing as expected/desired.

A 2016 report by recruitment firm, Hudson, found half of all NZ employees intended to leave their current position within a year. In a tight labour market, not only are you doing the right thing by your people by helping them climb the ladder, you’re also doing the right thing by the business and ensuring that you retain your high performers.

Promotion can take many forms - increasing an employee’s current responsibilities, changing their title, giving them a team to manage etc. These are all ways of stretching their capabilities and recognising that they’re ready for the next step in your business.

How to tell who is ready for promotion

When considering promoting your star performers, there are a couple of behaviours to look for that will help you assess who’s in the right place for a promotion:

1. She’s responded to challenges maturely and learned from mistakes.

Stepping up into a role, whether it’s a first management role or a more senior technical role, brings it’s own set of challenges that she will need to be capable of rising to. If she’s used to stretching and developing herself, and has shown that she can make good decisions, a promotion will come easier than if she enjoys and prefers to remain comfortable in her work.

2. He routinely identifies and solves organisational problems already.

Continuous improvement gets talked about a lot, and if he’s already walked the walk (even by implementing small or minor improvements) then he’s demonstrated that he’s engaged and thinking about the problems facing him and his colleagues on a daily basis. This attitude will serve him well when he’s in a new role, facing his own problems in learning the ropes, and solving problems for you (and your customers).

3. She understands the “why” of the business and has or is developing her commercial perspective.

Long term, you want a team in your business who “gets it” – they understand the external and internal pressures on the business, have a clear sense of your priorities as the business owner, and focus their efforts appropriately. If she is already being exposed to and thinking about what’s best for the business and how her work plays a part in that bigger picture, she’ll bring that thinking to bear on her new responsibilities or her new team and continue driving results that service the bigger picture.

4. He’s already asked you about new opportunities!

Clearly, not all employees who are thinking about their career development or new opportunities will ask about them; but if they have, it’s a clear sign that they’re thinking about the next step and that they’re ready for a conversation about what this might be.

Frank and open discussions about career development are a powerful tool if used right; make sure that you’re considering requests or suggestions from your employees and spending time during your week thinking about your larger strategic plan so that you can intelligently discuss upcoming or potential opportunities with your team. Remember to discuss opportunities with your quieter or less assertive employees too; don’t let the loudest ones distract you from the rest of your team!

Locking in success

So, you’ve identified who you want to promote and you’re ready to move them into a new position. In our experience, there are some pitfalls than can tarnish the excitement of promoting your staff.

Here’s what you can do to support them in their new role and ensure that they continue to succeed:

1. Give him support to smooth the transition

As capable as he is, a new role is its own challenge and you’ll need to make sure that he has the support to succeed, while having the space to breathe and learn as he goes. Weekly or fortnightly catch-ups are invaluable in giving you insight into how your newly-promoted grasshopper is going. Talk to their manager (if that’s not you) and make sure that the employee’s self-assessments line up with someone else's. If they ask for support, which might be additional training, time in a different team to understand their function, or more resources to achieve his targets, do what you can to accommodate them or work to resolve their concerns.

2. Provide her with clear expectations and/or targets

She’ll be excited and keen to do a good job, so guide her efforts and provide her with a clear plan for her first month, three months, or six months in the role. This could be specific targets to meet (e.g. “Reduce website downtime by 15%”, or “Increase sales of Willy Wonka chocolate by 5%”) or guidance for prioritising (e.g.”Focus on spending time with your new team to build trust with them”, or “Have a strategy for the second half of the year drafted in 4 weeks”). This is not to say it’s enough to hand her a list of targets, then vanish for 6 months and reappear to assess how she performed; stay in touch and ensure that things are progressing as expected.

3. Allow enough space for him to learn and grow

Micromanagement is notorious for stifling the creativity and will to live of those being micromanaged, so it’s important that while you’re providing support and guidance per 1 and 2 above, you’re balancing that by giving him enough space to make his own decisions and own his performance and behaviour. This balance will be different for each employee: some will need a bit more hand-holding to feel comfortable, while others prefer to charge ahead and learn from the consequences on their own.

4. Discuss the pleasures and challenges of the role she’s left

You might be looking to restaff her old role internally or externally; either way, if you’re not close to the position yourself then her insight and feedback will be valuable to ensuring that you can make changes to the job description if needed, advertise for the right kind of person with the right skills, and talk to potential hires honestly about what they can expect. This might take the form of a formal debrief, or a more informal chat when the time comes for you to find someone.

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