Promoting From Within: When It’s Time and Who to Choose

Learn how to determine if talent within your workforce is ready for a promotion — and when it’s the best time to offer them one.

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Promoting from within

Business leaders know promoting from within can be the best option when filling a supervisory or management position. Employees who move up the ladder are familiar with company policies, procedures and culture. They understand the history of the business and are focused on growth for the future.

Career progression is a priority for workers: they want to grow within their position and organization. These staffers do better for themselves, and they represent to their colleagues that the company has opportunities for growth and looks internally for team leaders. Promoting from within should be a first choice for business, but only if available talent is right for the job.

When it’s time to promote

There’s a time to promote employees, and there are times when it should be avoided. For many businesses, promotions aren’t planned in advance, but they should be. In today’s market, there’s no guarantee the top performers you have in management positions won’t be poached by the competition — leaving a vacancy you may not be ready to fill with a junior staffer. Keeping an eye on who has promotion potential is key to maintaining productivity.

Some employees get a promotion because there’s a sudden vacancy a step above them on the ladder. Others get one because they’ve stagnated in their current position for so long, leadership is concerned they’ll jump ship. Neither is a best-case scenario for promotion: both can lead to more problems than they intended to resolve. When it’s time to promote, if you don’t have a clear successor ready, consider carefully before you make an offer you shouldn’t have.

Tenure versus talent

Just because an employee is “next in line” for a promotion, doesn’t mean they’re ready to be promoted. They may be able to hit the ground running when it comes to the work, but they may not be ready to manage others. Some new supervisors find themselves in a position of managing friends. If they have no prior management experience, that can be challenging or insurmountable. Time on the job is a factor in promotion-readiness, but it’s not the only skill you need to consider.

A sudden promotion — another manager left unexpectedly — can also create problems. The most senior staff member in the department may seem like the logical choice, but are they management material or a stop-gap solution? If you’re hoping they succeed, rather than feeling confident they will, step back and look for more options.

Who to promote …

Either to fill an immediate need or to plan for the future, there are skills and qualities that make for successful advancement to management. Work with the direct supervisor, or assess these yourself, to assure the promotion will work for the business, the employee, and their direct reports.

Competency in the work

Managers should know how to do everyone’s job within their group. They may not be the most stellar performers of all tasks, but they should have a working knowledge of how to get the job done. Without this base, it will be difficult for them to evaluate how their staff are performing or jump in to help when needed. At minimum, managers should be competent to execute the work themselves.

Willing to take on more

Staff members eager to learn and take on more tasks may be a best choice for promotion. These are workers who get the bigger picture of success for themselves and your organization. They ask for more work, more responsibility, and more opportunities to grow their skill set. Look closely at this talent when it’s time to promote.

Takes responsibility

Everyone makes mistakes — it’s impossible not to. Taking responsibility for mistakes and learning from them should be another factor in your decision to promote. Employees who hide their mistakes or blame others will create problems, mistrust, and low morale. Good managers accept blame for mistakes as easily as they accept credit for successes: great managers credit successes to their team.

Taking responsibility for mistakes and learning from them should be another factor in your decision to promote. Employees who hide their mistakes or blame others will create problems, mistrust, and low morale.

Teaching mentality

Look for the staff members others go to for information and help when you consider promoting. These are the people who make the time to help without making coworkers feel they’re intruding or asking silly questions. They may be highly fluent in the task at hand or have a strong problem-solving mindset. Successful managers know how to train and build skills in their staff and look for opportunities to do so.

Skilled communicator

Being articulate is one aspect of strong communication: being an active listener is another. Managers who are skilled at relaying information are necessary: managers who listen to their reports and act on information received are better. Effective communication includes the ability to influence others, as well. A well-rounded manager understands communication is more than issuing emails and edicts: it’s open dialog that serves everyone’s needs.

Leadership

Some believe leaders are born, others that the skill can be trained. If you have an employee who is a natural leader, your eye should be on promoting them whenever possible. These are the staff members who step in and take charge. For those who don’t have the innate quality, leadership can be learned. There will be time and training needed to grow the skill: plan ahead to develop these potential managers.

Big picture thinkers

Look for staff members who see the organization as a whole when you consider promoting from within. Workers who understand their department’s place in the success of the business will work more effectively with their management-level peers. They’ll also be better able to translate organizational goals to their staff.

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… and when

If you have the time, train and coach existing employees for promotions that may be around the corner, or in the longer term. Succession planning is key to employee motivation and retention. Build on the skills they currently have, suggest they take courses, and even have them shadow a strong manager to gain insight into what will be required and how they can grow into the role.

If there’s a sudden vacancy that must be filled, look for that talent that holds as many of the management skills possible. Plan on working closely with them to upskill the lacking competencies quickly. Consider making the promotion an “acting manager” spot with no guarantees it will be permanent. During that time, have the employee enroll in online classes to build out their skill set. You may want to shadow them for the first week or so. They’ll need to learn the responsibilities they hold are more than just technical: they’ll need to develop their people skills equally.

Set a timeline to review how they’re doing and speak honestly about their skills. If the promotion wasn’t a good fit for today, but they’d like to try again in the future, work with them on classes and coaching to build their skills for the next opportunity. When promotions are successful, make them permanent.

Perhaps your first choice didn’t work out — but don’t let that deter you. Look to another internal candidate to bump up the ladder and restart the process. The time it takes to retry with another employee is well-spent. It demonstrates to your staffers they are a priority over outside candidates, and you’re willing to give them a try. It will probably also be faster and less expensive than outside recruitment.

Promotion planning

If you’re lucky enough to have a staff member who currently possesses all these skills, promote them immediately or let them know they’re on the advancement track. For most businesses, staff members may have some or most of these talents, but not all. These are the employees you want to target for future growth.

Identify skills they currently have and train to build their management potential in those that are missing. Support and grow their skills with online courses and training, shadowing, mentoring, and coaching. Let them know you’re tagging them for promotion: it will boost engagement and retention. They’ll see you’re making an investment in their future: building value in their skills for today and tomorrow.

Internal promotions should be a first choice for business. The time to plan for them is long before a spot becomes available. Look at your existing talent and even applicants. If you can spot management material, begin developing their skills so they’re ready to take the next step as soon as there’s a vacancy.

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