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4 tips for successful internal promotions

February 7, 2020
4 minute read

4 tips for successful internal promotions

By Jackie Dube February 7, 2020

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 makes promoting from within work. Here are four ways to do that:

internal promotions

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 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. 

The employees have spoken.

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Proactively identify opportunities for employee growth.

To successfully promote from within, you need to regularly think about your current workforce, their skills 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 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 upcoming 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.

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, your 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. 

You need a way to identify and promote leaders internally.

Let employees know where they stand—and what they need to work on to be promoted.

Download rubric

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 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 role. 

Make sure the internal candidate matches what you’re looking for. 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.

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