Promotion policy has to be well thought out

Promotion policy has to be well thought out


Promotion policy has to be well thought out

The intense desire to seek promotion is universal. A daily-wage worker wishes he could become a monthly wage earner though it may not mean much as far as take-home wage is concerned. A middle manager aspires to become a departmental head with all its perks and responsibilities. A director of a company has his eye on the managing director’s slot because he thinks he will become his own boss. Such is the strong desire of individuals hoping to climb the hierarchical ladder in an organisation.

“Oh, he is too young. Let him wait,” is the general remark when a bright young spark is being considered for a promotion. What the managers fail to understand is the keenness on the part of talented youngsters to go up in an organisation as soon as possible. So they do not subscribe to the management policy of  “wait and see” but would like to be promoted whenever possible irrespective of the number of years they have put in or the number of seniors who are in the line of promotion. If they do not get what they want, for them the lawn is always greener on the other side and so they do not hesitate to change jobs. The word “loyalty” has no strong meaning for those who have self-interest above that of the organisation they are serving.

Horizontal organisation

In these days of liberalisation and globalisation, the trend is to have leaner horizontal organisations with fewer chains of command. The category of ‘supervisor’ is fast becoming an endangered species. People like to be supervised less. They want responsibility and willing to take it, if only a management trusts its people. In fact, some might even ask for it. In such organisations, the very concept of a ‘boss’ is getting outdated. Its the team that delivers and not any individual, at least that’s the theory.

However, reality is different. People work for the team (the organisation) and at the same time they work for themselves too. There is nothing wrong in such an attitude provided there is less conflict of interests between the self and the organisation. It’s the overarchical ambition of a few individuals, which causes problems to an organisation.

Under the regime of a less top-heavy set up, to expect any member of a team to get promoted regularly would be difficult. However, there is a way out. Those who deserve to be recognised might end up with cash and other incentives. This is not much of a consolation for those who want to climb the hierarchical ladder. Some organisations re-designate those who are promoted using labels such as ‘systems analyst’, ‘group leader’, ‘group manager’, ‘project manager’, ‘deputy manager’, and ‘director’. In such promotions, the team structure and chain of command remain more or less the same to avoid heart burning in those who have been overlooked for promotion or recognition. This is better than humiliating people by putting one person, a colleague at that, as the boss to whom every team member reports. Nevertheless, there would be unhappiness still all around with such designations, though under-current and subtle, but people are likely to recognise that the management has done a deft balancing act in lieu of many factors.

A management confronted with the need to utilise promotion as a tool for motivation has to do its homework properly. The promotion policy has to be open, honest and merit-based as seen by the majority of the employees. Just one wrong case of an undeserved promotion can put a permanent black mark on the organisation’s promotion policy and may become a precedent. If an out-of-turn promotion were given, due to some reason or the other, the majority of the employees would be very unhappy and have every right to question the management’s action.

That’s more so when an employee secures a promotion by devious means such as “blackmail” by waving the offer of a competitor. It would be better to let such an employee go, though after trying to persuade him/her to stay back, rather than pander to his/her demand that could damage the credibility of the management beyond repairs. It would shatter the morale of a large number of employees by just trying to retain one individual, by hook or by crook, however valuable he/she might be. The echo of such a cave-in by the management could last forever and could become a dangerous precedence. There is nothing like anyone being ‘indispensable’ as someone or the other is likely to fill that vacancy. Moreover, a certain amount of employee turnover is inevitable and could prove useful in getting to know where the organisation, and also the employee stand in the job market.

A fair policy

Not everyone can be promoted in an organisation as otherwise this management ‘tool’ of recognition / reward will lose its meaning. There has to be a premium for good and smart work. An individual’s contribution should be evaluated objectively. A recent incident should not cloud the boss’s opinion about his subordinate who otherwise has done well.
The boss should not be vindictive because he doesn’t like someone. On the other hand, a boss may be critical and demanding about an employee’s work but when it comes to pushing that person’s case for promotion, he is enthusiastic. Anything put in black and white in a confidential report (CR) can mar that person’s future; such is the power of a boss over a subordinate. As such the boss has to be careful in what he writes. On the other hand, he should find fault, give instructions and occasionally fire him if there is something wrong about that employee’s work. He has to realise his responsibility towards all employees under his/her control and care. This means the boss has to be seen as being fair towards all and malice towards none. However, he/she can be tough with the people without being harsh or unreasonable. He/she could be a tough taskmaster but also a coach, guide and a friend.

“If we go on promoting everyone, where do we have so many positions or posts?” asked a senior manager. There can be only one head of the department, only one factory manager and one managing director. Promotion causes joy in one person but heartburns in many that cannot be helped by the very nature of promotion that is selective. After a while, a time comes where the slot for promotion is limited, unless there is diversification or expansion. It is the skill of the managers how they deal with such persons who might lose interest and motivation to work, as they see no light at the end of the tunnel. The older employees feel neglected that should be a cause for concern for the management. These people may be old but are loyal and have the maturity to stick on.

Promotion policy of an organisation should reflect on the management’s concern for efficiency and a willingness to reward those whose contributions have been significant. However, a number of organisations, in the government and semi-government sector, stick to the age-old time-tested ‘promotion by seniority’. This is not to ruffle feathers but meritocracy takes the backseat with such a policy.

When job-hopping becomes the norm, the usual promotion policy might not work to retain outstanding employees whose contribution could make a big difference to the fortunes of any organisation.

It may appear strange that mere financial inducement is not enough to woo and retain good employees. They look for a management policy that encourages talent, nurtures it and gives it opportunities to grown within or outside. Thus ‘marketability’ of an employee could be the yardstick for an employee to stick to a job.

The management should create the right environment where achievers are recognised and rewarded. This need not be limited to those who have met with success.

Thus risk-takers too should get their just rewards and recognition. Such an act will send out a strong message that a management recognises those who tried hard despite heavy odds but didn’t succeed which is not held out against them for not promoting. Promotion could be a powerful incentive for those who wish to excel and show that they can scale greater heights if only a management gives them the right environment and incentives.

(The writer is an independent consultant in Quality, Management and HRD based in Bangalore. He can be contacted at

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