An SME’s Guide to Employee Promotion

The development and the progress of your employees isn’t something that happens by chance – more often than not it’s the result of careful analysis and planning on their manager’s part. Promoting your best team members will not only retain excellence and loyalty within your company, but it can also create further opportunities for promotion lower down the scale, and open the door for new talent through external recruitment.

employee promotion

Analyse Performance

“Many executives and managers have trouble explaining why someone didn’t get promoted because they haven’t been doing performance evaluations,” says Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing. Bear this in mind when you need to justify not offering a promotion to an employee, as well as when you want to defend that recent promotion you made to a bunch of unconvinced colleagues or unimpressed employees. Doing this won’t only protect people’s feelings, it’ll protect you legally.

Effective performance management and keeping up-to-date records is not only useful for explaining internal promotions to others, it’s a valuable tool for discussing progress with that recently-promoted employee. Show them why they’ve been promoted. Use the data at your fingertips to outline their successes and strengths – and congratulate them on these – and then use this same data to create targets and an action plan for them to carry through into their new job role. Promotion isn’t by any means the final destination, and it’s your responsibility to keep developing and motivating your staff. 

With the use of performance management programs and software for recording targets and successes, you’ll also be able to convert this information into charts and graphs for effective reporting. The same HR programs should offer features for designing your own PM templates, distributing forms and managing the appraisal cycle in a timely and consistent manner.

Outline Roles

A promotion normally means a higher salary, a new job description and sometimes different working hours. Get off to a positive start by making sure you’re all on the same page, and draw up a new contract of employment for every newly promoted employee. This should state all existing terms (notice period, leave of absence procedures, and bonus or commission terms) as well as clearly detailing new responsibilities and any new benefits they’re entitled to.

As with all tips for HR success, the key is clear lines of communication. Once this new role has been discussed formally and written up into a contract, ensure that a copy of this is shared online so that, in case of lost paperwork, there is a safely stored version that can be referred to at any time.

It could well be that this promotion is a new role altogether. If this is the case, consider delegating some ownership to your newly-entrusted employee and make their job description a collaborative document, open for discussion and contribution. 

Outline Development Routes

‘Fail to plan and you’re planning to fail’ – an especially apt warning where HR is concerned. For the profit of your business overall, as well as for the benefit of your staff, it’s worth mapping out routes for development, and making them public with a career framework. Keep all your practices transparent and clear and you’ll ensure that nobody feels short-changed and everyone knows how to go about making progress.

This depends entirely on the size and nature of your business of course, but a visual ‘map’ of your company structure will help individuals to focus on the direction they want to head in professionally, as well as lending a valuable sense of belonging to all team members. For each position within your company, make it clear whether there are specific qualifications required for promotion into this role. Think about whether you will ask for academic grades, a professional qualification, certain training or a specific amount of time spent working within a similar sector, perhaps through job-rotation. Having a document like this made public at work will not only enhance your employees’ sense of belonging, but the very process of creating this will encourage you to focus on the shape of your business. It will also help when writing job descriptions for further promotions and external recruitment. Watson Wyatt claims that ‘employees who are engaged have a clear line of sight,’ so make sure everyone can make out the paths ahead of them. 

Failing Employees

As mentioned above, an up-to-date and meticulously recorded appraisal process will arm you with all the evidence you need when you have to refuse an employee promotion.  This data will protect you legally, as well as ensuring your employee understands where they’ve fallen short of the mark and how they can improve in the future.

We’re only human and, especially as our workforce grows, we can’t expect to remember every action taken by every employee at any given moment. In cases where internal positions have been unsuccessfully applied for, it’s imperative that this information is recorded safely and confidentially – preferably online where the date can be accessed by those who need to know. A good HR software package will allow you to easily update employee records to reflect everything, from their most recent PM targets to disciplinary measures, absences and positions applied for within the company.

Use a failed application as a good opportunity to analyse your employee’s progress with them. Turn the situation around and look at performance data with your employee. Use this to discover and recognise their talents and negotiate strategies for improvement and – potentially – future promotion.

About the Author: This article is written by Michael Palmer, a HR consultant with 10 years experience.