From TJ magazine: Who should get promoted?

Anna Vila Pouca encourages managers to check their blind spot when assessing for promotion.

Reading time: 4 minutes

A common frustration for staff in many organisations is working alongside, or worse working for, an individual who isn’t competent in their role. Perhaps the only thing even more frustrating is witnessing this incompetent individual being promoted to a bigger and better role, despite their lack of ability and potential.

And yet we’ve all seen this happen, even though the demotivating and damaging impact can be far-reaching. So why do so many organisations fall foul of this, despite it being something so seemingly obvious to avoid?

Often, it is because assessment for promotion lacks the same standards, rigour and consideration as the recruitment processes used to bring new people into the business. It is all too easy to promote someone who has ‘earned the right’ – perhaps due to long tenure or lack of alternatives – rather than engage in a selection process that explores their skills and ability to do the job.

The result is an exasperating paradox where new talent goes through tough assessment, but existing employees skip the process entirely. This can cause a landslide of demotivation and lack of engagement, and an organisational culture that is far from high-performing.

Time to de-risk

Organisations cannot afford to ignore the risks associated with an inadequate or absent promotion process; particularly for leadership or management positions where the impact of incompetence has more damaging ramifications.

To avoid this, clarity about the criteria and process for promotion is critical. Employees who are clear about what is expected of them are far more likely to be motivated to work towards a promotion.

Talking about criteria, rather than people, will provide the objective lens needed

The additional benefit of this structured approach includes a sense of fairness, which has been consistently linked to positive organisational outcomes such as increased engagement and retention. Moreover, when employees feel in support of and in agreement with talent decisions, this has an overwhelmingly positive impact on organisational culture.

Organisations should feel encouraged by the associated benefits of a promotion process that is transparent, evidence-based and defensible. This need not be daunting to implement. These three simple steps are a good place to start:

  • Establish what ‘great’ looks like

Talk to people in the target jobs that you are promoting into, their colleagues and their managers. What does someone need to be doing to succeed in role? What should they avoid doing? Involving people who understand the role, and the characteristics of success, will provide valuable insight into the criteria you should be looking for.

Top tip: Try to avoid asking about the strengths and skills of incumbents already in role. Talking about criteria, rather than people, will provide the objective lens needed.

  • Define the criteria to assess

Classify your findings into ‘skills’, such as experience and technical knowledge, versus the required ‘behaviours’ a person needs to be successful in their promoted role. Use this to build a framework of the criteria that you want to asses. Ensure this is manageable – avoid a shopping list of requirements, as well as being too whimsical about what is needed.

Top tip: Keep in mind the standards you would be looking for in an external candidate and ensure they are applied to internal candidates.

  • Identify suitable assessment methodology

For each element of your success criteria, identify how this will be assessed. Can it be successfully evidenced via an interview or is more rigorous assessment methodology needed?

Top tip: Consider whether you need to assess all the identified criteria, or just the gaps internal candidates might have.


Use science

All too often, promotion takes place without going through this process, in spite of the risks. But the tried and tested science of occupational psychology will deliver the right result when it comes to identifying the best candidate.

This is particularly the case for senior and leadership roles, but new technology means robust processes have become practical and affordable for roles at all levels.

Assessment methodologies have become increasingly sophisticated and can easily be customised to fit your organisation and specific needs. Virtual assessment is now commonplace and allows candidates to be assessed via exercises delivered on their desktop.

This removes the need for resource-intensive assessment centres, but still provides valuable behavioural competence evidence upon which decisions can be made. Virtual assessment ensures an engaging, relevant and transparent experience for candidates, eliminating any concerns about subjecting people to outdated processes from which they see limited benefit.

An additional benefit is the opportunity for feedback. By undertaking in-depth assessment, both the employer and employee learn more about their strengths and areas for development.

This means the process is beneficial for the employee, even when they aren’t successful. This added benefit eradicates the misconception that assessment processes are too resource-intensive or require too much investment. It is an investment, but one which yields great return for all involved.


About the author

Anna Vila Pouca is director at PSI Talent Management

This is an excerpt from December’s magazine. For the full insight get your free trial of TJ here.



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