As year-end is approaching, in many organisations, HR starts to receive the usual questions around promotion criteria : what shall we take into account when deciding which employees can be eligible for promotion?
First let me clarify : by eligibility, I mean that the employee can be proposed by the manager for a promotion, not that the employee will be promoted. The employee meets the minimum requirements for being considered for promotion, but the manager may decide that the employee is not ready yet, or that there isn’t a position available at a higher grade etc.
The answer to criteria for promotion eligibility is actually a bit more complex than meets the eye. Many things can influence what may be the main factor for being eligible for promotion.
Seniority as criteria for promotion eligibility
One of the primary drivers may be seniority / tenure in the company : stay in your job long enough and eventually you will be promoted to the next level up, provided you don’t mess up badly in the mean time. This kind of model based on tenure usually works :
- in certain parts of the world (I’ve heard it is pretty common in India for example, but don’t have personal experience of this topic in India – so if you do know, please share your views in the comments)
- in heavily unionised environments such as some specific industries in Europe (steel industry, car manufacturing etc)
- or in companies where job holders are all paid the same for the same job and don’t really evolve in terms of job content, for example cashier I, cashier II, cashier III… in supermarkets. I would call these promotions “job progression”.
Promotions in professional service firms
In other company cultures, for example consulting companies and similar professional service firms, you will encounter a mix of performance assessment and job progression. At the end of each year, every employee will be considered for promotion, for example from junior consultant I to junior consultant II. This is in effect job progression, but contrary to the previous example, this job progression will be based on performance.
The system is commonly called “up or out” and the “real” promotions happen every 2 or 3 years when the job content significantly increases if the employee is performing. The major differentiator in the consulting industry is that every employee is promotable each year, while in the majority of companies outside the consulting industry, only a few employees are reviewed for promotion each year.
Performance as driver for promotion eligibility
Of course performance is an obvious factor to see if an employee should be eligible for a promotion or not. After all, you want to reward performance while at the same time, strong performance is a good indicator to maximise your chances that the employee will continue to deliver great results in the new role.
For most organisations though, it may be quite difficult to base promotion eligibility purely on performance. Not all managers are reasonable, willing to differentiate or able to have a conversation with their employees who expect a promotion and tell them that they’re not ready yet. So if you don’t put some other control criteria, you may end promoting people for the wrong reasons or at the wrong time.
So what to do ?
The case for using multiple factors when deciding criteria for promotion eligibility
In most cases, companies will base promotion eligibility on multiple factors.
Time/ tenure in current job or grade will be a hurdle, which means it’s a pre-requisite that has to be met before the employee can be considered for promotion. For example : “minimum 3 years in the current position in order to be eligible / make the list for consideration”.
Then, performance usually comes into play. It can be the most recent assessment, or based on a longer period. For example : “be rated at Expected Level or higher”, or “no rating Under Expectations in the past 2 years”.
Some organisations push the criteria further to make an employee eligible and may use one or a combination of other factors such as :
- Potential for progression. Many organisations will have an informal filter for that, based on the manager’s and his peers assessment of capacity. Other companies have formal processes to rate the potential of employees and use a 9-box grid to position them in a matrix of performance and potential. Only employees who still have room to grow will be considered for promotion.
- Fit for the new role. Of course, all companies will consider if the employee is a good fit at the time of deciding the promotion. But I am talking about using “fit” as a criterion to decide if the employee can be proposed for submission (ie the step before making the decision to promote or not). This requires the company to have a strongly developed competency framework to compare the employee’s current abilities to those required to perform the proposed job. The GCC has a typically transient population and fluid organisations that adapt quickly to rapidly emerging opportunities. As a result, strong competency models are often less frequent than in the developed, established economies.
- Manpower plan. We tend to forget sometimes, but is there a job available at the new level ? Was it planned ? If we promote the employee without needing an open position, it means that the promotion reflects recognition for the increased competencies and the achievements of the employee, and maybe also a few additional responsibilities. The promotion is essentially one of job progression. A more significant promotion would happen when an employee takes on a new role with significantly higher responsibilities and has to be replaced in his/her old role, hopefully by promoting someone else. In that case you need an open position and the manpower plan, succession plan and /or reorganisation plan will be useful for deciding eligibility for promotion.
Once you have established your list of eligible employees, the hard work starts : who will you really propose for promotion ? And, even harder: who will actually be promoted ?
I’ll be interested to hear which criteria your organisation uses for deciding promotion eligibility – feel free to share in the Comments section !
Related posts :
- How to decide how many promotions to grant each year
- 3 factors influencing the promotion rate for your organisation