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Employee Engagement

Are you promoting the right people?

By Caitlin Leishman on February, 6 2018
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Caitlin Leishman

Your organization’s system of promotion or succession planning is a key deciding factor in whether or not you achieve organizational success.


If you’re not recognizing employees who are putting in exceptional effort and instead focusing your leadership choices on seniority, you risk alienating your employees. This inevitably leads to lower morale and engagement.

Many organizations have a system in place for shortlisting and then selecting people who have high leadership potential. These individuals are often given more opportunities to prove themselves and develop their skills.

But how do you know you are selecting and promoting the best people? With so much at stake, what should you definitely avoid in order to ensure strong and effective leadership?

Many organizations struggle with promotions because of the highly personal nature that surrounds them. It is easy for people to try to advance their careers at the expense of others, either through monopolizing time with a manager or sabotaging others’ progress.

It is important to discover self-promoters early on, as they are not conducive to a team environment and will often seek to progress before going through the proper development process. It’s also important to not be blinded by an impressive degree or qualifications, while they are significant achievements they do not necessarily speak to great leadership potential.

When you promote an individual who doesn’t deserve the position, it can have a strongly negative domino effect. Those who feel they should have been promoted instead may feel insulted and look elsewhere for employment, your judgement may be questioned, productivity may drop, and as a result turnover might rise.

Before even beginning to discuss promotion it’s important to talk to each of your team members about their career goals, so you can align their aspirations with your business goals and how you can support both going forward. When an opportunity for promotion arises, encourage employees to apply.

This will help avoid the feeling that an internal promotion is often pre-determined or fixed. Once you’ve decided on a candidate for promotion, explain to others why they are being promoted beyond just how they fill the job description. Use anecdotes and quotes from colleagues to illustrate why they’re deserving of a promotion. After the process is over, it’s important to talk with those who weren’t chosen about why, and continue to encourage them to develop their skills with your organization.

Competencies are a great way to help you improve your succession planning. Leadership competencies capture the essence of effective leaders and translate it into measurable behaviors. A great leader embodies a style of transformational leadership that welcomes new ideas and perspectives. 

HRSG has a selection of world-class leadership competencies to identify the unique strengths your organization needs from future leaders. It’s not enough to identify leadership competencies—organizations must also help their people actually develop and demonstrate those competencies. And just as the business environment has shifted, so, too, has the learning environment. The new skills required of leaders aren’t always the kind learned in a traditional classroom setting, where participants passively take in information.

Instead, classroom learning needs to be supplemented with other development programs. Research has shown that 70 percent of learning takes place as a result of practice and on-the-job experience, so it’s essential to provide more interactive, hands-on approaches. Examples include:


  • Job rotations, which allow leaders to experience other roles, train across departments, and become more knowledgeable of organization-wide operations.
  • Individual coaching and mentoring, where participants are paired with more experienced leaders who provide guidance, offer support, and share knowledge.
  • Group coaching and networking, so participants can learn from one another and make valuable connections.

In addition to incorporating a wider range of learning options, today’s learning environment prioritizes self-directed growth. Leaders must take responsibility for and play an active role in the process of building new competencies.

They have to be accountable to themselves and the organization and own their growth. And they need to understand which techniques, approaches, and learning environments work best for them.

When learning options are mapped to competencies and proficiency levels, competencies offer a strong foundation for self-directed learning and development. Leaders can clearly see the learning resources that can help them to get where they need to go, and they have the freedom to choose the development path that fits them best.