Who gets promoted… and why


If we are honest about it, getting that next promotion is a key motivator for our work.  We understand that with promotions come salary increases, more responsibility, and new opportunities that both excite us and challenge us.  But, there may be some mystery around promotions that I would like to, at least partially, dispel today.  So, here goes….

What are the reasons an individual might get promoted?

What is your typical response when you see that someone in the organization was promoted?  Is it, “Great, that promotion was well-deserved?”  Or is it more often, “You’re kidding?  How could that even be possible?”  Hopefully, your typical reaction is more often the former than the latter.  So, why does someone get promoted?  What are the factors that influence a promotion.  I believe there are several reasons why individuals get promoted:

  • Competence – The most obvious reason for a promotion is that the best, most qualified candidate was selected.  This is the reason we all hope to get promoted and the thing that typically motivates high performing individuals.  Promotions often are given to those individuals that have gone the extra mile, that do the very best work, and that make everyone around them perform better.
  • Sponsor or Advocate – If you conduct a survey among those in management at any company, you will find a significant percentage of individuals promoted because of another individual.  Someone in their career made a significant effort to move them forward.  Someone gave them a “big break” or brought them into a role because they had worked together in the past.  Or, because of networking, the hiring manager knew of them and their work in another department or company.  Because so many promotions occur as a result of these relationships, it might be worth considering whether you should work more diligently developing your own.
  • Creation of a Position – Some are promoted into roles that they actually helped create.  I once moved into a new role in this way.  I was part of a broad team that identified the need for a new role and eventually moved into the role.  Those individuals that can identify ways to add value (e.g., a new function or role) are often the individuals that move into these roles.
  • Formal Talent Review Process – Many companies have a process they refer to as the Talent Review process.  Annually, individuals are categorized by performance and potential.  Additionally, key positions are reviewed to determine if we have “ready now” backfill candidates.  Top performers are often those individuals deemed ready now and are associated with these key roles.  When openings occur, these individuals are often those most likely to be promoted into the role.  The Talent Review process also provides a venue for identifying developmental needs to help an individual get ready for their next logical step.
  • Unique Skills or Abilities – Promotions often are awarded to individuals that bring something new to the table.  For example, if your company adds a new product or product line, the staffing group will now seek potential employees or promotional candidates with those key skill sets.  By developing unique skills or abilities or intentionally gaining new experiences, you enhance your potential for upward steps.
  • Timing – No doubt, a factor in promotions is timing.  An individual with the right abilities and experiences might not have promotional opportunities if the pathway above is blocked.  Conversely, being in the right place at the right time is invaluable.  Capitalizing on these uniquely timed events can be a huge factor in your next upward step.
  • Combinations of the above – Probably, most promotions occur as a result of a combination of the factors above.  Having the right timing, but poor performance will NOT result in a promotion.  Maximizing each of these factors provides the highest probability that you are on the upward pathway.


So, given this information, how does this help you guide your future?  Is there any action you need to take?  Remember, to a significant extent, your career and progress is a function of your own effort, diligence, and hard work.  Good luck on your next move!





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