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Compensation & Rewards

10 criteria for employee promotion justification

Leapsome Team
10 criteria for employee promotion justification
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Promoting internally solves a lot of problems for organizations. Employers are 32% more likely to be satisfied with the work quality of internal hires — not to mention the y’re less likely to leave or get dismissed within the first year of their tenure.*

However, internal promotions can be tricky to navigate. A well-made promotion decision has the potential to boost morale and inspire trust in employees. A poorly made promotion decision, on the other hand, can lead to disengagement and resentment among team members.

Having solid justification for the promotion choices you make is essential — and that starts with developing specific promoting criteria to inform your decisions. That’s why we’ve outlined ten promotion justification criteria in this guide, so keep reading to understand what qualities to look for when you’re considering who to promote.

*Deloitte Insights, 2024

🚀 Make easy promotion decisions with Leapsome

Discover how Leapsome Compensation can streamline your entire promotion process and empower you to take a data-driven approach.

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What are the biggest reasons for promotion?

No single quality or skill can determine when one employee should be promoted internally over another. After all, roles across diverse organizations require different levels of experience, qualifications, and soft skills. However, we’ve come up with a list of ten reasons for promotion that’ll point you in the right direction when you’re considering an upcoming promotion decision. While deciding on the best person for an open position isn’t a box-checking exercise by any means, this list of reasons for promotion should act as a good starting point:

  • Curiosity
  • Comfortable with feedback
  • Managerial and leadership skills (management roles)
  • Personal motivation
  • Sustainably exceeding expectations
  • Fit for the role
  • Tenure or experience
  • Excelling in their current role
  • Strong self-management skills
  • Future-oriented
💡 Making promotion decisions doesn’t have to be a stressful process.

Create, communicate, and implement internal employee promotion best practices and stay consistent with them over time. Implementing a dedicated tool like Leapsome Compensation means you can stop overthinking all the possible reasons for promoting an employee. Instead, you can rely on streamlined review cycles and automatic recommendations to help you make fair, data-guided decisions.

1. Curiosity

Transparency may be one of your company’s professional values, whether it’s explicit or implicit. Whatever the case, you should see curiosity as a strength. When an employee asks questions, that’s a sign that they’re engaged and trusting. This trust also shows that you’ve created more psychological safety in your workplace.

Curious team members also foster transparency by wanting to understand the “why” behind your practices. They may also suggest a better way to do things — which should be valued by any organization that wants to embrace creativity and innovation. As noted in an article in the New York Times about curiosity: “We feel most curious when exploration will yield the most learning.”

With that in mind, it’s important to seek out employees who appreciate curiosity in others and don’t become defensive when their peers, direct reports, or managers ask them questions. If they’re receptive to inquiry and open communication now, they’re more inclined to maintain that attitude when they have a higher-level position with greater responsibility.

🧐 You know that employee promotions can help you retain your best talent and save you money. However, did you know that they can have a positive effect on other team members, too? We discuss everything you need to know in our guide to employee promotions.

2. Comfortable with feedback

A screenshot of 1:1 feedback within Leapsome's Instant Feedback module.
Leapsome’s Instant Feedback module allows all team members to easily exchange feedback without any awkwardness

Giving feedback to employees builds trust, motivates them to improve, and shows that you care about their growth. However, team members should also understand the role that empathy plays in feedback, especially in managerial positions. So, look for candidates who are skilled at something called redirecting feedback.

In redirecting feedback, you point to problem areas with a constructive mindset. Here are two examples:

I know it’s been a busy month for you. I think that what may help the team move ahead with this project is if you set aside your current project, as it’s not as urgent. 

If you’re ever struggling with prioritization, I’d suggest looking at the potential impact of a task. You can tackle the most impactful ones first and move forward from there. I’m always here to offer support in prioritizing!

Do you have five minutes to talk through your work on the most recent project? I especially liked your work on the first sections, but I noticed some errors in the last few. I thought that might reflect a lack of clarity, and I wanted to let you know that I’m here to help you understand anything that might be unclear to you.

With this in mind, when you’re thinking about reasons to promote an employee, ensure they understand the value of receiving continuous feedback and praise. If they’re accustomed to constructive criticism in their current position, they’ll be more open to it as they go through growing pains in their new role.

3. Managerial & leadership skills (management roles)

Not all employees seeking promotions want to manage people or develop the skills they’d need to do so effectively. Indeed, a 2024 CoderPad study revealed that as many as 36% of tech workers didn’t want to take on a managerial role. As this reality becomes more apparent, people-oriented companies are trying to create more diverse opportunities for internal mobility and non-managerial growth. 

If you are looking to fill a manager role, you need to know for certain that your candidate is excited about managing people and building their leadership skills. What does that look like? Here are some ideas as a starting point:

  • They rely on quantitative data to make decisions
  • They proactively set up 1:1 meetings with colleagues and leadership
  • They have a clear sense of their long-term goals
  • They know how to make their performance goals specific and measurable
  • They’re skilled at prioritizing projects and helping others prioritize
  • They’re good at acknowledging strengths in others
  • They appreciate feedback and receive it well
  • They’re skilled at giving both positive and constructive feedback
  • They understand why it’s important to celebrate successes at work
  • They’re open to continuous learning and improvement around biases and diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging

4. Personal motivation

Motivated, engaged employees tend to be 23% more productive. This knowledge has led many organizations to ramp up their engagement initiatives with employee surveys and rewards and recognition programs. However, many businesses fail to understand how multifaceted motivation is in their employees. 

So, what might motivate your promotion candidate?

Intrinsic motivation There’s an internal driving force motivating the employee. Some drivers of intrinsic motivation could be:

  • The opportunity to learn new skills or develop areas of expertise
  • The pleasant feeling that comes from helping others
  • The ability to express themselves in a creative way

Extrinsic motivation There’s an external reward or threat motivating the employee. In the workplace, external motivators could be:

  • Recognition in the form of acknowledgment for a job well done or good scores in their performance reviews
  • A promotion or a new job in a different department
  • The desire to be a part of a team and collaborate meaningfully with colleagues
  • Monetary incentives, like a bonus or extra paid time off

When your candidate can articulate what motivates them, it shows that they’re thinking critically about their workplace performance. Whatever motivates them at work will produce positive outcomes for themselves, their team, and the organization.

5. Sustainably exceeding expectations

A screenshot of a heatmap interface within Leapsome Reviews.
Leapsome Reviews gives company leadership and team leads a well-rounded view of their staff’s performance

You need to ensure that you measure employee success against objective benchmarks like performance reviews and goals and OKRs — and not based on your own potentially biased perception or instincts

Let’s say that, when looking back at a candidate’s recent review cycle, you see that they’ve exceeded expectations. While that’s a great start, you should look back at more performance reviews.

Why? What you’re looking for is sustained performance — have they demonstrated their ability to consistently go beyond what is expected? If so, that’s a green flag. If not, you may need to investigate why. 

Employees sometimes have an “off” review cycle due to a personal situation, a challenging time for the company, or another circumstance altogether. Those factors certainly shouldn’t work against them when you’re considering potential reasons for their promotion at work. They’re human beings, after all, and they deserve empathy.

This is why it’s best to talk to the candidate, their manager, and even their peers. They may need a bit more time to work on any weaknesses in their performance.

💬 “By using clear KPIs, we’re able to ensure that promotions are based on objective criteria rather than subjective opinions. And by making our hiring process transparent, we ensure that everyone involved in the process can see exactly how we’re evaluating candidates.”

— Arif Michael Boysan, People Ops Consultant and Coach at
AMB Performance Group

6. Fit for the role

When you’re promoting from within, it can be easy to assume that your candidate has enough familiarity with your culture and processes. However, it’s a good idea to assess them the same way you would with an external candidate:

  • Are they a cultural fit? Even if they’ve been with your company for a year or more, do they understand why your company prioritizes diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, for example? Can they articulate what makes your organization different from others?
  • Do they have the right skill set? If your company has competency frameworks for employees at every level, you can use this to assess whether the candidate has the needed soft skills for the next role.
😬 Do you have a promotion decision to make soon? Learn how to make the process easier and more collaborative with Leapsome Compensation.

7. Tenure or experience

Anyone making a hiring decision or thinking about reasons for a promotion should be cautious of promoting solely or even mostly based on time with the company. It can cause employees to feel that they won’t be able to earn a promotion without stagnating in the same job for a few years.

At the same time, tenure with the company and experience in a role can be useful criteria. The caveat is that you should assess it in tandem with other factors, like performance review results, project results, OKRs, and the skill set they’ve developed during their tenure.

As noted in SHRM, the most important factor in your promotion decision shouldn’t be how long someone has worked with the company. A more well-rounded and practical approach involves prioritizing those who have a deep understanding of the open position’s deliverables, as well as at least 70% of the required skills and applicable real-world experience.

“In today’s fast-paced corporate world, we don’t just count ‘time served.’ Instead, employee achievements made against the time served are a more reliable metric.

Suppose a relatively recent hire is skilled enough, consistently adds value to your organization, and has a stellar track record of success. In that case, they’re more deserving of a promotion than a seasoned employee with low productivity who has developed a habit of procrastination due to a lack of motivation to progress.”

Anjela Mangrum, President and Founder of Mangrum Career Solutions

8. Excelling in their current role

You can use your competency framework to help determine if your employee has excelled in the technical and soft skills that are relevant to their current role. You can also ask their peers or colleagues they may have worked with on cross-functional projects for their input — 360° performance reviews are the perfect moment for that. 

Here are some signs that your candidate has performed at a high level in their current role:

  • They’re one of the first people you go to when their manager, reports, peers, or people leaders need help with something The candidate is consistently reliable. Their colleagues, leadership, and direct reports know they’ll be able to take a task off their hands if they have time, or help them find the right solution.
  • You can always count on their performance While it may be hard for managers to let go of direct reports who consistently do great work, perhaps it’s time to promote them before they lose momentum and feel they’re not progressing at the company.
  • The candidate is ready for a new challenge They’ve been asking to help on other projects and are willing to learn new skills.
  • Their peers already see them as a leader or expert They may not be up for a management role, but if their peers go to them for their expertise, that’s a sign that they’ll have more success engaging and building trust with their direct reports when they’re in a leadership position.
💡 Is your current skill framework working for you? Or do you need to start from scratch? Check out our People Ops Playbook on creating a career progression framework.

9. Strong self-management skills

Photo of three employees, two in the background, slightly blurry, one in the foreground, looking off into the distance.

Effective workload management is a strong indicator of a good promotion candidate.

An employee may want to take on more responsibilities and work with less managerial intervention. If they do, they need to demonstrate great self-management skills. Here are a few key areas to assess for skills:

  • Organizational skills — While this doesn’t come naturally to everyone and is a skill that can be improved over time, the ideal candidate should understand how to set up their tasks, processes, and work environment for success.
  • Identifying and setting priorities — As their list of responsibilities and tasks increases, they’ll need a solid ability to prioritize the most impactful, urgent projects. If they’re in a managerial position, they’ll also have to offer their direct reports guidance and support with prioritization.
  • Time management — Do they consistently meet deadlines, especially when those deadlines impact others? 
  • Managing stress levels — Your ideal candidate should know that more responsibility could bring more challenges. They must be ready to handle these and know when to ask for support.

10. Future-oriented

The future of work demands that we no longer rely on external experts to be well-informed about organizational trends and innovations. Instead, forward-looking companies should ask that leadership and people ops teams stay current and open channels for employees to participate in these conversations. Why? Because everyone has a part to play in shaping bigger-picture decisions that companies make for the future, not just C-level executives and thought leaders.

In light of that, the ideal candidate should embrace this same mindset and be excited about their role in contributing to future outcomes for your organization.

Make the right promotion decisions with Leapsome

A screenshot of an annual promotion review interface within Leapsome Compensation.
With Leapsome Compensation, the promotion process is a consistent part of the way you do business

Promotion decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. They significantly impact people’s careers and the way employees collaborate on a daily basis. That’s why it’s vital to be consistent, open, and transparent about your approach to promotions to engage all team members, foster trust within your organization, and nurture a healthy work environment.

If you’re struggling to understand what motivates you to promote employees and build a clear system to that end, we recommend keeping the ten promotion justification criteria we covered in this article in mind as a starting point. In addition, consider implementing a dedicated promotion tool like Leapsome Compensation. The platform is designed to make the promotion process more fair, efficient, and scalable. You’ll no longer have to worry about understanding someone’s career progression or remembering when someone’s due for a promotion review. Instead, you’ll be able to focus on what really matters — having meaningful development conversations and helping team members further their careers.

Because Leapsome knows people-centered organizations want their best people to grow with them.

💥 Feel confident about your promotion decisions

Leapsome Compensation empowers users to build transparent promotion processes for a better employee experience.

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Written By

Leapsome Team

Written by the team at Leapsome — the all-in-one people enablement platform for driving employee engagement, performance, and learning.
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