Did you know that most employees feel a promotion is not fairly decided based on ability and performance? According to a World at Work study 65% of employees have doubts that a promotion is based on a fair assessment. I would like to believe that those numbers are somewhat inflated, after all, everyone wants a promotion and thinks they are above average. It is true that deciding who to promote can be tough for some managers. After all, nearly all employees would like a promotion, and pretty much all those same employees work hard and do their best. So how is a manager supposed to decide who should be promoted to the next level?
Doing their job well is not enough
When it comes to promoting someone, one of the worst reasons to promote someone is because they do their current job well. This alone, is not enough to promote someone. In fact, this is one of the key reasons why there are so many poor managers within the corporate world. An employee may be a great accountant or a software engineer. But that does not mean they are going to be a good manager of other accountants or software engineers. A salesperson may be good at selling, but this does not mean that they are good at getting other people to sell. Gallup research showed that 9 out of 10 first time managers do not have the skills to perform their new management role. The key reason is often they were promoted on their ability to do their previous job, not the new job.
Look for problem solvers
It is one of the paradoxes of corporate performance appraisals, that the best performers are often regarded as being difficult. A high performer is likely to spot issues and bring attention to them. This can be incredibly frustrating to a lot of leaders. No one likes to be told that the way they may have been doing something for the last few years is inefficient and can be improved upon. Especially if the leader was the one who put that process in place. But a key sign of an employee that should be promoted to the next level is one that spots problems and solves them.
Are they a self-starter?
Let’s carry on with the example above. When that employee solved a problem, did they solve the problem because you as a leader asked them to? Or did they solve the problem because they noticed it could be better and then proactively found a way to improve it on their own? There is a big difference between those two individuals. One is an order taker, who will do what is asked, which is a great quality for an employee, but a bad quality of a manager. You do not want your managers to be order takers who will do what they are told. You want your managers to be leaders, who will proactively improve both their team and the wider organisation.
They are constantly learning
Finally, does the employee in question push themselves to learn new things? Their approach to growing themselves and their knowledge will tell you a lot about their potential career path. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Warren Buffet reads several hours a day and Bill Gates finished a new book on average once a week? Now, very few of us are ever going to achieve that level of success, but a propensity to learn new skills, means that the employee is going to continue to get better. If they are doing extra courses, or reading industry magazines or listening to leadership podcasts, it’s a good sign. If the employee is going home and watching Netflix every evening it is not. If managers are not learning new skills and trying out new ideas the organisation will stagnate and get stuck in a “this is how we do it here mindset” because they don’t know any other way to do things.