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4 tips for successful internal promotions

Promoting from within has many benefits: retaining institutional knowledge, engaging employees, and building cross-functional skills, to name a few.

But internal promotions can also cause people problems when not done well. Consider the top performer placed in a managerial role without the appropriate leadership skills. Or the individual contributors left behind who are resentful they weren’t picked for the opportunity.

It’s critical to create a culture and system for employee development that enables promoting from within. Here’s how to do that:

internal promotions

What is internal promotion?

Internal promotion is when you fill an open role with an existing employee instead of hiring someone new. 

How to effectively implement an internal promotion process

Foster a culture that supports internal growth and movement.

When we released the results of the 2019 Employee Engagement Report, we were shocked by one finding in particular: Nine of the 10 top drivers of engagement—and turnover intent—relate to the organization.

Which means it’s not just about loving the job you have, working on a great team, or getting along with your manager. What drives employees at work is how the organization is set up in the first place.

If your company doesn’t have a culture that supports internal growth and movement, the ability to promote employees or develop career paths becomes much more difficult. Rather than working as part of an existing company culture, you’re swimming upstream against the culture.

Why should your company adopt this mindset of internal growth and movement? Because it’s better to grow and develop employees internally than lose them to another organization. 

Proactively identify opportunities for employee growth.

To successfully promote from within, you need to regularly think about your current workforce, their skill sets and aptitudes, and future roles you’ll be opening.

You can do this in multiple ways:

  • Talent reviews ask business leaders to assess employees across the company on performance and future potential. This information can help you keep an eye on internal candidates who may be a great fit for future roles.
  • Talent mapping is an initiative usually conducted by human resources departments. It involves finding the right talent, putting talent in the right roles, and retaining top talent through career pathing. This process will keep you thinking ahead about ways you can support existing employees with their career growth.
  • Personal development meetings allow employees the opportunity to share their own career development goals. You may be surprised when there’s a big difference between where an employee currently is in the company and where they’d like to end up!
  • Leverage workplace behavioral assessments to understand innate drives. These insights can help you match employees with new roles that fit how they like to work—and their behavioral strengths. 

By proactively identifying opportunities for existing employees to make lateral career moves, be promoted into more senior positions, or grow into leadership roles, you keep employees engaged and your talent pipeline open.

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Always be developing leaders.

In sales, there’s a mantra: Always be selling. 

You can apply that concept to employee development: Always be developing leaders.

As your organization grows, its need for leaders will too. Leverage leadership principles and help employees identify areas where they need to bolster their leadership skills. This will help set them up for future growth opportunities—whether it be as a subject matter expert, project lead, people manager, or executive. 

Keep the candidate experience the same as for an external hire.

Even though an internal candidate may be a proven performer, you still need to go through the hiring process of interviewing to ensure fit.

Start by creating a job description that outlines the role’s responsibilities and requirements. Consider the behavioral traits required to succeed in the new position. 

Make sure the internal candidate matches what you’re looking for from external candidates. Do they have the leadership skills and competencies to move into a more senior position? Are they wired for this kind of work—or will the job be like writing with their non-dominant hand?

If an employee is moving to a new department or team, take a look at how they compare to existing team members. Are they a seamless fit with the team’s current behavioral composition, or would their addition change the team dynamic? 

While there are times to hire externally, internal promotions are an effective way to reward performance and create career paths that bolster employee engagement.

Join 10,000 companies solving the most complex people problems with PI.

Hire the right people, inspire their best work, design dream teams, and sustain engagement for the long haul.


Why are internal promotions important?

Internal promotions can affect everything from employee morale to performance, so it’s important to get them right.

What are the benefits of an internal promotion model?

  1. Faster onboarding. The people who know your business best are the people who already work there. That means your internal hires can spend less time learning about your business and more time learning the role.
  2. Improved productivity. Nothing encourages hard work like the possibility of a promotion. Employees who want a promotion will often go above and beyond to nail their next performance review.
  3. Improved employee morale. Promotions encourage hard work—but they also encourage a long tenure. When people feel they can move ahead in their current company, they’re less likely to leave.

Are there drawbacks of internal promotions?

  1. Your company can become set in its ways. New employees often bring a fresh perspective. With too many internal promotions, your company may stagnate and lose out on the latest trends.
  2. Smaller talent pool. Sometimes you just can’t find the expertise you need within your company. If you rely exclusively on internal promotions, you might miss out on talented new hires from outside the company.
  3. Decreased employee morale. While promotions are a strong incentive, they can also be a drawback. If employees assume promotions are guaranteed, they may become disappointed when they fail to earn them.


Jackie is the SVP of talent optimization at PI. She was born in Switzerland but isn't a dual citizen.

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