· 2 min read · Features

Promotion: the only way isn’t always up


The value of any brand is based on the talent of the people in the organisation.

It is not a business that takes a revolutionary step or comes up with a must-have product, but the people behind the business. It is the final few words that make all the difference here - knowing what to do with the talent you have in your organisation.

Unfortunately, many modern businesses still operate in a traditional way when promoting talent: in other words, the best salesperson becomes the head of sales.

But this is an approach that can, at best, misplace talent, and at worst do serious damage to a business. Just because you're great at sales, doesn't necessarily mean you'll be great at managing a sales team!

While the person becoming head of sales has been rewarded with a pay rise and more responsibility, the business may have lost its best salesperson and, in cases where the management skills are lacking, contributed to a major downturn in the sales team's morale and performance.

Getting the right people on board is hard enough to do in the first place, so finding the right way to retain them should be your top priority, right?

The traditional approach has been to reward top performers with a promotion, as it typically comes hand-in-hand with a pay increase. As the global economic recovery slowly gains momentum, research suggests that nearly half of your top talent will look to the horizon for fresh opportunities. But is the dangling carrot of 'career advancement' the best way to retain them?

It is time for organisations to look beyond linking engagement and remuneration with 'promotion' - it isn't guaranteed to align employee goals with an organisation's fundamental objectives. Engaged employees are people that are highly motivated and are passionate about your organisation. They will have an emotional attachment and in most cases be willing to contribute far more than they are contractually obliged to. When you have a culture where discretionary effort is part of the day-to-day differentiation, business performance and shareholder return will far outpace your competitors.

What you will also have is shared purpose: openness and a level of understanding (being 'people-centric') that will allow you to align employees' aspirations and goals with the vision and strategy of your organisation in order to inspire them to maximise their personal potential.

When you start dialogue with your people about what they want, you might be surprised to find that 'promotion' probably isn't it; but it's often a fait accompli. The world's leading organisations have 'talent mobility' that allows alignment, engagement, development and freedom for their talent to rotate or take different directions, other than upwards. It is about allowing your people to decide how they want to progress through your organisation, instead of only being promoted upwards. The challenge then is to support them, train them and develop them to reach their true potential.

Apple's tagline is: 'To build something truly different, you need to work in a truly different way.' It may be time for such a change in your organisation.

Is it time to ask yourself some questions about your business and your team? Have you asked your people what they want? Have you ever offered them the ability to create their own role, or have you ever considered letting your people choose their managers and leadership teams?

On the face of it, these seem like pretty big questions, but your company will only become 'outrageously good' as a result of doing things differently. If you engage your people and align them to your organisational journey, you will set their talent free. Utilise your people - make them a part of the decision-making process and you won't be constantly faced with the dilemma of 'do we or don't we?' when playing the promotion card. This may seem like a radical prospect, but remember what Mark Twain said: "If you always do what you've always done, you will get what you've always got!"

Cris Beswick (pictured) is an HR speaker, consultant and author, as well as the director of Cranfield University's creative growth programme