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It’s performance review time and your nearest colleague just received a substantial promotion. Confident that you’ve outperformed, if not performed at par with them in most aspects, you expect a nice promotion yourself. But woah! You’re bluntly told that you aren’t eligible for one yet but might make it in the next round if you work harder.
What happened? Why did your organization grant your colleague a promotion and leave you out despite you putting in your best? On what grounds were these decisions made? Did you do anything that might have cost you this promotion? Dozens of other questions buzz in your head. But none with a definite answer.
Recent studies have found that as many as 33% of employees who were denied a raise were provided with no rationale for the decision. Of the remaining 67% who did, only 25% were convinced with the explanation provided. And most importantly, of the employees who weren’t provided a rationale or were provided an unconvincing rationale, 70% planned to seek another job in the next six months!
This goes to show that disengagement grows among your people when raises and promotions are rejected without proper reasoning. Unfair promotion systems like these are one of the key contributing factors due to which more than a third of workers today are actively searching for a new job.
The problem with promotions: They’re often too subjective
Way too often, promotions take on a subjective nature and are dependent on poor/biased judgments on the part of team managers. This unfair framework for promotions leads to a buildup of resentment among your people. But why are promotion decisions so subjective?
One reason might be the inaccuracy of performance evaluations themselves. For example, in a point-in-time 360, reviews from multiple individuals (even those from teams where you’ve had inadequate opportunities to prove your skills) are taken into consideration. And, more sources mean more opportunities for inaccurate reviews to sabotage the overall picture of your performance. We have explored continuous feedback as an effective solution to overcome these inaccuracies in another article.
Moreover, the overarching lack of transparency plays a huge factor in contributing to the confusion and resentment that comes about when promotions are rejected. At the least, one would expect an explanation for the rejection and a guide to help them progress in the next round of promotions. However, in most organizations, there’s so much ambiguity regarding the promotion criteria that it becomes almost impossible to predict whether you’re getting one.
For many companies, the lack of communication regarding promotion criteria might not be without cause—there are several instances of unfair and biased promotions taking place due to discrimination, favoritism, nepotism, and other biases. The thing is, unless you’ve made them apparent to your team, your grounds for rejecting a promotion will be deemed foul play even if they’re based on fairer causes.
So how can we make promotions less subjective and more fair and transparent?
The best practices that determine fair & transparent promotions
Now that we know the ongoing problem with corporate promotions, let’s understand how we can overcome them. The key to making promotions fairer lies in making sure that the criteria which determine a person’s chances at promotion are made transparent to the team. To elaborate:
1. Keep your people in the loop. If someone wasn’t considered for a promotion, let them know why. And most importantly, make sure that the promotion criteria are made apparent well before the performance reviews and promotion cycles. These criteria can be anything from their educational background, skillset, or core competencies to their personal motivation and readiness to take on more responsibilities. No matter the specifics, as long as you keep them a secret, it’s going to disappoint your people and create disengagement.
2. Offer necessary guidance. Make an effort to guide your people and convert a greater number of people into high performers worthy of promotions. Offer mentorship and coaching from internal experts and give them opportunities to acquire the core competencies necessary for a promotion to a higher-level role.
3. Avoid superficial promotion criteria. One of the biggest reasons promotion criteria aren’t made apparent to the people is because they are quite often biased and superficial. For example, some organizations favor people merely because they’ve spent a longer tenure with them. Others bring in unfair biases like favoritism or nepotism. The basis of this ideology is simple—if there’s a lack of transparency regarding promotion criteria, there’s probably something wrong with those criteria.
4. Have an open conversation. For far too many organizations, promotions are a top-down, non-negotiable decision. There’s no space for questions or arguments—you’re either promoted or you’re not. To avoid the obvious disengagement and resentment this can bring about, keep these discussions open. Give your people the opportunity to speak their minds and voice their questions.
Career pathing and competencies - The precursors of promotion
Establishing career pathing and core competencies are two of the key ways you can help prepare your people for successful promotions. Building out a career path for them that aligns with their personal goals as well as the company’s expectations from them gives them a better vision of their professional future. Meanwhile, mapping out the core competencies helps them develop the skillset necessary to reach the individual milestones in their career path.
Every organization needs these systems in order to form the basis for transparent, trouble-free promotions. Without these programs, a person faces ambiguity in visualizing their future career goals and the means to reach them. And with ambiguity, comes poor performance and consequently, rejected promotions.
With career pathing and core competencies laid out for them, your people develop the necessary vision and skills to progress professionally. Once the candidate has aced this duo, promotion decisions become much easier.
Clear the way for fair and transparent promotions
Fair promotions rely on transparent and solid criteria made visible to all people in your organization regardless of their positions in the company hierarchy. Subjective promotions held on the basis of unfair decisions do nothing to motivate your people and create resentment instead. Upholding fair and transparent promotion criteria and giving your people the guidance they need to achieve their goals is the key to making way for more and more high performers in your organization.