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7 Ways to Make Sure Your Employee Knows How to Get Promoted

If you're serious about helping your employees advance in their careers, make sure they know what it takes to get promoted in your company.

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Many businesses claim that they are fully committed to promoting from within. At the same time, that company line often runs smack into the brick wall of reality, when corporate managers and leaders find their existing pool of already-hired talent simply isn’t deep enough for a more demanding position. 

One of the biggest reasons for this paucity of promotable talent is pretty straightforward: Workers don’t know what they actually have to do to get promoted. As a result, they often disappoint company leaders, in addition to creating frustration and blocking opportunities for themselves. A lack of employee engagement and loyalty often complicate the relationship between the company and the worker in question. 

Fortunately, the fix is fairly straightforward as well. A little transparency goes a long way. Use these seven tips to help your top talent clearly see the path towards promotion. 

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1. Know what you’re looking for 

Look at your past promote-from-within decisions carefully and honestly. What factors were really important in making those selections? Evaluating the criteria that was actually meaningful to you as opposed to the hiring checklist on paper can help you gain the clarity that you need to communicate effectively to your employees what they need to successfully seek promotion. 

And if you haven’t promoted from within often enough to figure out those critical determining factors, then make a concerted effort to get those numbers up first, and explore your ranking criteria as you do. 

2. Get clear on your disqualifying factors

What qualities or issues will earn a promotion-seeking employee a firm “no?” It’s just as important to be clear on what you won’t accept as what you value. 

Of course, disqualifications that are significant enough may very well warrant termination. But if you find yourself consistently denying promotion to certain types of employees, take the time to find out what specifically pushed the “no” button for you. It could be that you have two different sets of criteria, or it could be that some behavior or lack of skill is disqualifying your potential hires. 

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3. Define your culture and how employees can fit (or not) 

It’s not just about skills and experience — at least, not usually. How big a part does corporate culture play in your promotions? If culture is important to you, don’t neglect to include it in your list. 

4. Consider the chain 

Many employees who are seeking advancement within their companies set their sights too high. Their reach may exceed their grasp at an early point in their career, causing them to try to skip a few levels or make lateral transitions that don’t really make much sense. 

Spend some time thinking about what positions could logically and practically serve as “feeder” jobs for coveted spots higher up the ladder. However, don’t be too restrictive here. Focus on skills and relevant transferable experiences that can support career and company success. 

5. Stop inaccurate rumors about your promotions policy

In many companies, the employee grapevine is the primary source for crucial information. Unfortunately, that information is often grossly inaccurate. 

Related: 5 Ways to Instill a Company Culture Even When Your Workforce Is Virtual

Yet because they emanate from coworkers, those rumors often carry the color and weight of authority. Consequently, your employees might have an entirely inaccurate understanding of what it takes to get promoted in your business, or how to even go about preparing to apply for advancement. 

Seek the assistance of middle management and team leaders to help put a stop to the erroneous information. Then implement tip No. 7 below by making a concerted effort to build a culture of openness and transparency.

6. Promote from within often 

It might sound obvious, but if you want to encourage other employees to apply for promotions, you need to let them know that it’s a feasible goal that’s within their grasp. 

To do that, you first need to prioritize your promotion process for existing employees. Look for ways to reinforce the company’s commitment to helping employees advance and reach their career goals through promotions. Announce promotions at staff and team meetings. Include the announcement and short bios of successful candidates in your employee newsletters or company-wide emails. 

Consider offering opportunities for newly promoted employees to showcase their skills. For example, you can offer a lunch-and-learn series and ask them to create and deliver a short presentation for their colleagues. Employees will begin to understand what it takes to achieve that for themselves. 

Related: How to Keep Your Team Motivated in the Midst of Uncertainty

7. Adopt a policy of transparency 

Now that you have all this newfound clarity on what employees need to understand about successfully seeking promotions with your company, it’s time to share it widely. Create an addition to each position’s job description including each of the following:

  • Specific desired skills and expected level of expertise

  • Required prior (relevant) experience within the company

  • What positions feed into this job, if any

  • Compensation and benefits package

Make this information available to anyone in your company, no matter what department or team they’re currently assigned to, so that interested employees can gauge for themselves what it takes to attain the position they really want. 

Grow your own top talent

Although there’s something to be said for the ability to bring a highly skilled and experienced candidate onboard and have them hit the ground running from day one, relying solely on this source of new hires can be limiting. Helping your existing workforce develop their skills, set their own goals and advance their careers to your company’s benefit can deliver a number of other benefits to your business. 

Once your employees see for themselves that your company values their skills and actually does want to help them advance, employee engagement and loyalty will greatly improve. In addition, promoting from within helps preserve institutional memory and create stronger teams. The key is letting your employees know what they need to do to win those promotions. 

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John Boitnott

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Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.