How To Know If An Employee Is Ready For A Promotion

Promoting the right employees at the right time is important for the success and vitality of your company, as well as the engagement and success of your employees. Wait too long to promote strong employees, and they may grow bored and look for work elsewhere; promote too soon, and they’ll be overwhelmed by the responsibilities of their new position.

So how can you identify when an employee is ready to be promoted? While skills, experience and qualifications provide a starting point, there are many other considerations for knowing if it’s time to promote an employee. Here are a few.

What to Look for in All Promotions

Whether you’re thinking of promoting a line employee to their first management position or a mid-level manager to an executive, there are certain things to look for in all promotions.

You Can Quantify Their Performance

Numbers aren’t everything, but they’re important for two reasons:

  • They help justify your promotion decisions to upper management and executives.
  • They reduce bias in promotions.

First, objective performance data helps you justify your promotion decisions or recommendations to yourself and to your higher-ups.

This requires a proactive performance tracking system to be in place. Peer reviews and 360 feedback are a great way to collect this information, but there are other options.

Second, objective performance data counters unconscious bias in promotions.

One of the most common biases in hiring is the “like me bias.” People are more likely to hire people that are like them. People are susceptible to the “like me” bias, but data is not. It doesn’t discriminate by gender or race, and as a result it is crucial to ensuring your promotions are awarded to those who are most deserving of them, rather than those who look like your existing management team.

They’re Proactive

Keep an eye out for the employees who are the first to identify and solve problems, find ways to improve efficiency, further their knowledge, or go above and beyond in other ways. If an employee is proactive in volunteering for extra tasks and taking on more responsibility, it’s a sign they may be ready for a promotion. Leaders don’t wait to be told what to do; employees who don’t wait to be told to find ways to improve their work, start new projects, or help other employees are demonstrating serious leadership potential.  

It doesn’t have to be splashy, though; the employee who takes the initiative to launch a new product often gets attention, but that doesn’t mean the quieter employee who is proactive in improving a bidding process, for example, should be overlooked. Any activity to proactively improve something for the company is a sign the employee should be considered for a promotion.

They See the Big Picture

They are intuitively able to grasp strategy and understand how their role drives that strategy forward. They are able to rally people around working towards a larger goal. They inspire others to think big, too. They see how pieces fit together to form a cohesive whole. They are engaged in the company’s long-term success.

What to Look for When Hiring a First-Time Manager

Promoting an employee into their first management role is particularly delicate. The skills the employee has to do their job may not be the skills needed for a successful manager. But if they haven’t led a team before, how can you know if they’ll be able to do it well?

Look for these qualities when considering who to make a first-time manager.

Awareness of the Nature of Management

Do they understand what the role of a manager is? Will they be able to let go of some of their individual duties to assume their role as the team leader? Will they be able to adapt to the way their relationship will change with their colleagues? Management requires delegation, communication and planning skills. Not all employees will naturally develop these skills outside of management.

While they may not have formal management experience, look for employees with leadership experience. This can be outside the workplace, such as by volunteering or leading a sports team, or can be within the workplace, such as by taking a leadership role on a social committee. These roles can help them develop an understanding of the nature of management.

Emotional Intelligence

So-called “soft” skills, like empathy, self-knowledge, negotiation, and communication skills, are crucial for any manager. Don’t make the mistake of promoting a star employee solely for their hard skills; a great engineer isn’t necessarily a great manager, unless they demonstrate emotional intelligence or are willing to improve their soft skills.

What to Ask Potential First-Time Managers

Without a track record, it can be difficult to establish which employees have the skills to become a manager. The answers to these questions will give you some insight into if they have what it takes:

  • Have you led a group outside of work that helped you learn about management?
  • Have any of your colleagues already seen your ability to manage a group or a project?
  • What steps would you take to prepare to transition from your current role to the role of manager?

It’s important to make the right decision about who to promote. Skills, qualifications and experience only tell part of the story in identifying who is ready to move up on ladder. Take a holistic look at your employees and back up your decision with data to make the right promotion decisions when the time is right.  

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