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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

Who Should Get Promoted? The Ultimate Guide for Managers

I’ve been managing people for few years now, but it was only when I started reporting to a new manager a few weeks ago that I was first asked the question, “Which of your employees deserves to be promoted?”

My new boss wasn’t freely doling out new titles—she was simply trying to get a feel for the team she was now heading. Regardless, it got me thinking: Sure, my employees’ career advancement had crossed my mind before—but as a mid-level manager with only a few years of experience, it never seemed within my power to actually promote anyone.

But when it comes down to it, I do have the power—and it’s something I should be thinking about on a daily basis. If I want my employees to succeed and move up the career ladder (which I do, of course!), I need to be on the lookout for signs that they’re ready to be promoted.

If you’re not quite sure how to identify your most promotable employees (hint: it’s more than just “meeting expectations”), here are a few things I’ve learned to look for to identify the best of the best.

1. They Have the Numbers to Back Them Up

Numbers certainly aren’t the only factor you should consider when awarding promotions—but they can be a good place to start. When you can quantify performance on some level, you’ll be able to easily prove (to yourself and to your higher-ups) which employees have really gone above and beyond.

I’ve found it helpful to have some sort of tracking measure in place to stay aware of employees’ performance, like a spreadsheet to keep track of project closures and client feedback. This will allow you to see patterns emerge (e.g., “Jennifer always manages to exceed her sales goal during the last week of the month”), so you’ll be able to immediately pinpoint the employees who should be on track for promotions.

2. They Don’t Clock Out at 5 PM

OK, that sounds a little harsh. I don’t actually expect my employees to stay late, skip lunch, or refuse to take breaks in order to be promoted. But when it comes to identifying team members who are ready to move up, I do think there’s a big difference between those who do exactly what’s expected and those who are willing to put in a little extra effort.

For example, when there’s an urgent situation that needs to be addressed, I take note of an employee who’s willing to skip his or her morning break to help out—instead of retorting with a snide, “Um, I’m on break.”

Pay attention to the employees who are willing to jump in wherever (and whenever) they’re needed. This doesn’t mean they always need to stay late—but it’s nice to know that in a pinch (and when given more responsibility), they won’t leave you or their clients in the lurch.

3. They Voice Solutions Instead of Complaints

Everyone complains—employees, managers, and probably even the CEO. So, standout employees aren’t necessarily the ones who don’t complain at all, but the ones who, after the complaints have been voiced, develop viable solutions for the less-than-ideal situations. (Think your account manager who might not exactly enjoy working with your toughest client, but who dreamed up a new online report that really wowed her.)

In doing this, your employee is proving that he or she is ready to step up and take responsibility for what goes on with the team and help everyone succeed—instead of complacently accepting whatever happens by chance and not doing anything to change it.

4. They Seek Out Opportunities to Share Knowledge

In my company, the difference between two levels of the same position (e.g., Project Manager I and Project Manager II) is often that the higher-level role is supposed to be a teacher and coach, recognizing areas in which other employees are weak and bringing them up to speed.

So as you’re pinpointing promising employees, look for the ones who take initiative to train new hires and teach other employees. By generously sharing their knowledge, they’re proving that they’re invested in the success of the department and company as a whole—and will do the same as they move up.

5. They Further Their Own Knowledge

On the flip side, your promotable employees probably won’t know everything—but that’s OK. That can actually provide a great way for you to identify employees who are ready to move up—because the most motivated and self-starting employees will take it upon themselves to find out what they need to know, no matter what it takes.

Pay attention to how your employees find out new information. Do they specifically ask to attend trainings in areas where they’re weak? Do they seek out resources in other departments (instead of just asking you to find it for them)? Maybe they just dive in and try their hand at something new, eventually refining their skills simply by being willing to do it.

6. They Ask for Feedback—and Take it Well

Not many people enjoy getting feedback (come on, does anyone actually look forward to annual reviews?), so if you have employees who constantly request it, take note.

By proactively asking you about the level of their current performance, how they can improve, and what they should be doing differently, they’re showing initiative and the desire to grow within their roles.

And further, carefully observe what they do with the feedback you give. If you see that they put it into action and continue to improve with each project and task you assign, you can take it as an indication that they’ll continue to strive for great things—especially in a higher role.

7. They’re Vocal About Their Career Advancement

I’ve found that it’s pretty typical for employees to casually mention (or even joke about) raises. But it’s not as common for them to initiate a conversation about how to progress in their careers.

So, listen carefully when you meet with your team members: Do they ask about how the promotion process works? Do they want more information about a position at the next level, or how they can work their way up to that role? If they do speak up, it’s a great sign that they’re not only motivated to advance, but that they’ll do what it takes to make it happen.

The employees who are that eager for a promotion won’t let you forget about it—which will make it almost impossible for you to overlook them the next time someone asks you, “Who’s ready for a promotion?” (And even if they’re not ready quite yet, they’ll surely stay on your radar.)

Your employees’ promotions are a joint effort: They, of course, have to be deserving of the higher role. But you, as their manager, also need to be aware of who’s ready to move up, so you can make a great recommendation. When you’re on the same page, your whole team will be on track for success.

Photo of employees at work courtesy of Shutterstock.