5 Ways to Lead Your People to Promotion

Originally published on Linkedin – August 23, 2015

Last week I said all I want to do is get people promoted, but I only talked about why that should be a leader’s focus. What I didn’t touch on was the how.

Saying you want to help people develop is different than developing them. I want to be a great and inspiring leader, but I’m the first to admit that life and every day work gets in the way of a leader’s best intentions. You can’t devote every waking hour to career path development. There is too much other work that must get done in order for there to be something to path to. Everyone should own their development, but as a leader of people, you have to be an active participant.

Thinking on this topic, and examining my own experience, here are a few things that will put your people on the path to promotion.


1. Ask the question.

The first thing you should for those you lead is to ask the question, “What do you want to do next?” or “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Many associates will say they are happy right where they are. They may be very happy or they may be hesitant to tell you they are ready to move on. If after discussion you feel they are truly happy, then they may be right where they need to be. At that point just continue to check back every quarter or so and ask if anything’s changed.

Once an associate is ready to explore their next step, be supportive. Looking to promote is not about entitlement or arrogance, but about someone developing their own talent and having the drive and passion to do and be more. Any change can be hard so make sure to nurture that ambition.


2. Make a list.

Some positions have a natural path from one to the next, but far more often careers are filled with side steps and focus flips as people move to learn more areas of the business. You need to make a list. Actually, make three lists.

Strength List – In the first, list your associate’s strengths. Put down professionally what the like to do. Public speaking, project management, layout and design, business acumen? Write it all down.

Function List–  Grab a company organization chart and list areas of the business that excite the associate. Get more granular than just Marketing or Operations, look deep into the organization and have a real conversation on what excites your associate.

Position List – Lastly, start listing the positions that make sense. They need not be open positions, just ones that are a likely next step. Obviously don’t put something three steps up, just look at what could be the right fit. That could include lateral or higher grade positions depending on the associates desire. Stepping back or sideways is often a great way to step forward more quickly.


3. Put them in the game.

If you believe in someone, it’s your responsibility to find the right opportunities with the right visibility to let them showcase their talent. Put them in the game to make the winning touchdown. This isn’t always easy. It’s natural to assign your best associate the work you need to ensure gets done and gets done with excellence, but that may mean sticking them at their cubicle 8 hours a day with their head down. Great for you, but not great for them. Find the projects or assignments that push them into cross-functional meetings and make major and measurable impacts on the business.

If a major project isn’t readily available, I always recommend shadowing. Shadowing is a great way to get visibility and experience without having the responsibility of the role. Reach out to the leader of the group in which your associate is interested and ask if there is someone they might spend some time with; attend meetings, have one on ones, overall, learn about the role. It shows a willingness to learn and a respect for the current team (just don’t let it interfere with current responsibilities).

4. Let them lead.

Don’t you think you’ve earned a little vacation? Sure you have, but now who can step up and serve as point of contact? Allowing someone to lead in your absence shows trust not only to your associate, but also your team. Let your peer group and your own leadership team know who will be stepping in while you’re away and why you chose them.

But don’t wait until you need a fill in. If you have an associate that is moving towards leadership, let them lead in other ways. Consult them on major business decisions or let them lead the weekly team meeting. Encourage peer to peer coaching and really challenge them with questions like “What do you think we should do?” or “How can we be better as a team?”


5. Talk them up.

You may think someone’s ready to promote but if you don’t tell anyone you’ve already failed. You have to be a stand up advocate. Climbing the corporate ladder is talent, knowledge, and more often than not, personal brand. You need to become the ambassador and cheerleader for your associates. When that perfect position comes open, that hiring manager should have no doubt how you feel about your candidate’s ability and readiness. If you’ve identified where your associate wants to go next, start the conversation with the leader of that group. Let them know you have someone working towards their team. It will let really put your associate on the radar.

It’s not easy losing good people, but helping someone along in their career keeps them challenged and continues to show your leadership ability. But hey, I’m just the kind of guy that likes to see people succeed.

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