How to know when to promote employees

Succession planning, promoting from within, and opportunities for career advancement are all key concepts for small businesses to consider. With all of these areas, a key consideration is how you decide what is the right time to promote an employee. But while challenging, it isn’t impossible.

Timing is a key factor in determining the success of the appointment. Promote too soon, and you may find that the promoted employee lacks the experience and skill to perform in the role, but overlook promising performers for too long and they will become disheartened. Promoting from within has several benefits, including motivating employees by showing them that opportunities for advancement exist within your business.

Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you evaluate your staff. If you can confidently say that they meet the following criteria, then they could well be an excellent and ready candidate for promotion.

Can they handle new tasks and responsibilities?

A promotion of any kind comes with its own learning curve and a new set of responsibilities. You have to be sure that your employees can handle this uncertainty with a flexible approach and the right mentality. This is something you can test by having them carry out unfamiliar tasks within the business - perhaps asking sales staff to help with stocking or deliveries, or technical employees to lead a meeting which would normally be handled by a manager.

Be prepared for mistakes, but the crucial thing to look for is the attitude with which they approach the task set to them. Give them the general idea of the task, plus sufficient guidance and reassurance that poor performance won’t seriously adversely affect the business, such that they’re happy to dive in at the deep-end and give it a go. If they’re able to learn the ropes with minimal guidance, take responsibility for their performance and mistakes, and accept feedback afterwards on how they’ve done, with a view to getting better, then they likely have the capacity to thrive in a new role following a promotion.

Do they have their colleagues’ respect?

Respect is a key factor in successful management. Employees need to trust that their manager or supervisor is both competent and on their side - able to help them see that their decisions are made in the best interests of the employees. Good managers help create a workplace culture that is focused on providing value and care, knowing that happy and engaged employees will produce their best work. And buying into managerial decisions will only happen if the manager is respected.

Respect is a balancing act between two extremes: being well-liked and being feared. While managers must be personable, they also have to be able to make tough decisions for the good of their employees and the company. Someone who’s popular but fears disapproval may not have the resolve to be that decisive leader. On the other hand, a power-wielding tyrant that scares their subordinates into compliance is no better. Bosses that micromanage by scrutinising their employees’ every move will see productivity fall, as fear triggers chemical changes in the brain that shut down the prefrontal cortex, making it impossible to work at full efficiency.  

Are their long-term aspirations linked with the business?

Hopefully this is something you already have a handle on, but if not, it’s never too late to start finding out these things! Having conversations with employees about their long-term career goals will not only help you to construct effective employee development plans, but it can inform you of who is looking to stay and build a career at your organisation.

You may find out that certain individuals are keen to try out roles that you hadn’t previously considered them for thanks to a skillset you knew nothing about. Not everyone is suited for management, but some may do well by becoming a technical expert in a certain specialisation, or may have certain experience that would serve them well in a higher role.   

Through answering these questions, you should be able to identify and assess promising candidates suitable for promoting from within. In a small business, getting the right people in the right roles can have a serious positive impact, so we wish you all the best with your next promotion!

About the author

Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he's always talking on Twitter.