A Secret to Employee Promotion Effectiveness

October 19, 2017

So often, when someone in a company gets a promotion, an email is sent to all employees announcing the big event. This might be after someone leaves or a new position is created. How can it be that many employees could have guessed the results before the announcement is even made?

Frequently, promotions are all decided upon using the same criteria. They automatically go to a senior employee with the most experience without owners or top-level managers taking into consideration both the skill set of the employee and the skill set needed for the new position, or the promotion is based on someone’s current job performance. Being skilled and successful in one position does not mean that the same employee will be skilled and successful in another position.


Promotions should warrant careful consideration understanding the qualifications needed for the new position. When this doesn’t happen, business effectiveness can be greatly hindered. Although promotions should be given to the most qualified candidate, often times it is easier to promote from within by simply choosing an employee with the most seniority in the department or division with the opening, or someone who is performing extremely well in their current positon. While this is a simple approach and, perhaps, generates less contention among employees effected, it is also an inefficient way to build strength within a business. 

Peter Principle

Even if you are familiar with the Peter Principle, it is worth revisiting this principle and refreshing your thoughts on it. If you’re not familiar with this principle, then it is worth learning. The Peter Principle was formulated by Lawrence J. Peter in 1969 and is still very much relevant today (if you agree with the principle). 

The principle is that promotions are often based on someone’s performance in their current job and not based on the skills needed in the new job. In other words, promotions are based on the competence in one’s current job, and individuals are then promoted into positions in which they may or may not be competent. Therefore, according to the Peter Principle, every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence. Employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively. 

Effect on Business

If the Peter Principle is in fact true, what effect does this have on a business? This would mean that every position eventually will be occupied by someone who can’t do the job because of incompetence. Obviously, if this is the case and the scenario in a particular business is that all or most positions are filled with individuals who are incompetent at their jobs, the result would obviously be detrimental for a business in terms of operations, sales, and net profit.

The Solution

It is natural for businesses to spend a considerable amount of time interviewing candidates for a new job and checking references. They then spend time onboarding the candidate and, most likely, will spend a certain amount time with internal training. Along the way, employees will possibly have performance reviews and, possibly, even a performance improvement plan. When it comes time, however, in deciding who to promote, little time is spent in the selection process simply choosing the employee next in line based on seniority or how well an employee is doing in his or her current job rather than selecting an individual to be promoted based on qualifications and skills needed in the new position.

Rather than falling into the trap of promoting individuals who might not be competent at the level they are being promoted into, consider the following:

•    Contemplate promotions carefully
•    Promote based on qualifications and skills needed in a new position rather than promoting based on seniority and/or performance in the current position
•    Provide ongoing training
•    Mentor employees recently promoted

Promoting the right individual into the right job creates a positive experience for both the employee and the company.