How do you know when to promote employees?

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Deciding whether one of your employees is ready for a promotion can be as difficult as making that initial hire. We’ve asked four senior-level professionals what they think are the most important traits and attributes of a successful employee. They also divulge what to consider when a promotion goes wrong.

When it comes to having “the right stuff” in the workplace, most people automatically think of those three pricy letters at the end of a name: MBA (or BBA, or CMA or a number of expensive variations). But talent and certification don’t always go hand-in-hand, according to Dana Anderson, manager of business transformation at Xerox Canada. “Education used to be the differentiator in the workplace,” he says. Now the pendulum has swung to behavioural traits. Education is what gets you in the door, but your attitude and your behaviour is what gets you to the top.”

One of the behaviours Anderson cites is passion for one’s work. This is a trait with which Sherline Joe agrees. Recently Joe, who works for Toronto-based PR agency Media Profile, was promoted from senior consultant to account director. She says, “I think it’s important to be passionate about your work, to be adaptable and to be capable of anticipating client and team needs to get a job done.”

She adds, “I believe that both taking and demonstrating initiative is really important; going beyond simply ‘doing your job’ and truly adding value in novel and creative ways.”

Dalia Bakhoum, director of business development for a provincial tourism marketing and development organization, expands on the idea of workplace behaviour. She says, “What I looked for [in an employee ready for advancement] is someone who works ethically — that is someone who helps their colleagues and works as a team. Someone who isn’t just out for himself or herself …. A key trait to a true leader is someone who looks at how they can make a difference and how they can help others.”

For Bakhoum, recognizing potential in an individual and nurturing his or her career progression is a mark of a good manager. She explains, “[Our job is] to identify those who will bring leadership, innovation and mentoring to others. If you are doing your job right then you’ve mentored that person to take on that role and you in essence will be a stronger leader. Surround yourself with strong people who are willing to learn and work hard and you’ll have a successful team.”

Any savvy senior level executive must remember that advancement for a career-minded employee means more than just a pay raise. Sherline Joe says of her feelings about her own advancement: “My recent promotion has afforded me the opportunity to expand the scope of my role, further develop my skill set, and take on additional responsibilities in order to tackle different challenges. This evolution of my responsibilities keeps me challenged, interested and passionate about what I do. As well, receiving recognition for a job well done is always satisfying and much appreciated.”

But of course, not every promotion has such a happy ending. Occasionally you might find that a recently promoted individual loses his or her drive to perform. But more often, it turns out that the manager was wrong about an individual’s readiness to be advanced.

Shari Angle, VP of special projects at recruitment and human resources firm Adecco, explains why this happens. “Sometimes the best performers don’t necessarily make the best leaders. Examining one’s leadership capabilities in the promotion process for a management position is necessary.”

Dalia Bakhoum’s suggestion, if this scenario happens, is to sit down and talk with the person about job performance. She says, “You owe it to the company and to the employee. Outline what needs to change, and if that doesn’t happen then you need to let them go. That’s what probation periods are for.”

Dana Anderson adds, “When a promotion is the wrong fit, you need to be honest with the employee and clearly address the skills, experience and behaviours this person needs to further develop. Sit with the employee and map out the next step that will address the current gaps.”

How to score that promotion

For those looking to advance in their careers, our senior executives have some advice. “Keep learning,” says Sherline Joe. “It’s important to continue acquiring new knowledge, to stay on top of industry trends and developments to ensure that your skill-set remains relevant in a rapidly changing business dynamic. As well, be curious: seek additional challenges by asking for more work when you have the available bandwidth.”

Shari Angle, VP of special projects at recruitment and human resources firm Adecco,
Shari Angle, VP of special projects at recruitment and human resources firm Adecco,

Shari Angle suggests, “If you are seeking a promotion, it is okay to be upfront with your manager about your wants and needs as an employee. However, make sure that the actions associated with achieving the promotion are productive and in line with key business objectives.”

Xerox Canada’s Dana Anderson provides a slightly different angle. She says, “I think the most successful employees are ones that not only effectively manage their bosses but also effectively manage their subordinate and peers. To be truly successful you need to have the support of all those around you, not just your boss. It is never wise to align yourself to one boss – that boss could leave or could have opposing opinions to other decision makers in the organization.”

In today’s competitive business market, it’s up to you to take control of your career. If you’re a professional looking for advancement, show your superiors that you are the right person for the job by taking the advice of our senior executives. And if you’re a senior executive yourself, considering advancement for your employees, the advice of our experienced individuals presented here will help you reach your decision.

Photo of Sherlin Joe courtesy Sherlin

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