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  • Writer's pictureGrace Simpson

The complex world of corporate promotions.

Are you sometimes surprised when you see an email and find out someone on your team was promoted when you did not even see a job opening? Read on as I break down the complex world of corporate promotions.

The pursuit of career advancement is a constant endeavor for ambitious professionals. The prospect of a promotion is exciting because of the increase in total compensation but also the increase in scope and complexity and the ability to have a greater impact. Before we get into the all of the complexities of promotions, first you have to understand the environment we are operating in.


Understand the impact of the current environment

In 2021 and 2022 we saw a fountain of opportunity for employee movement - it felt like every organization was hiring, every employee skillset was in demand and positions that previously felt like a huge stretch, were now in reach. If you read end of year trend reports from 2022, many analysts and consultants predicted this war for talent would continue to escalate, but in comes 2023 with an economic downturn and a lot has changed. We saw significant layoffs across many sectors and in particular the tech sector which previously seemed to be immune to prior economic contractions. With that, hiring has halted or slowed in many sectors and internal upward movement has slowed. So, what does that mean if you are looking for an internal promotion? It means you really have to understand the promotions philosophy and mechanisms of your organization and your role to set a realistic goal for yourself.


If you read end of year trend reports from 2022, many analysts and consultants predicted this war for talent would continue to escalate, but in comes 2023 with an economic downturn and a lot has changed

I say complex because it really is! Navigating corporate promotions requires a deep understanding of the various pathways available. Let's explore why getting promoted is not as simple as it may seem and shed light on the different types of typical promotion pathways.


The promotion philosophy

A promotion philosophy is just a way of defining the guiding principles and beliefs that an organization follows when it comes to promoting employees

A promotion philosophy is just a way of defining the guiding principles and beliefs that an organization follows when it comes to promoting employees. It outlines the criteria, values, and considerations used to determine who is eligible for promotion and how the promotion process should be carried out. Here are two examples of different perspectives on promotions philosophies:

  • Needs-based: This philosophy is based on having an open and available role to fill. This can be driven by a vacancy due to attrition or the creation of a new role. But, you start with an open position and look for a candidate who meets the criteria to fill that position. For example, a vacant General Manager position for a retail store would be a needs-based position to fill.

  • Next-level performance: If you have had a promotion in the past but already feel like you had been doing the job for quite some time, this is an example of a particular promotion philosophy. In this approach the company looks for next-level performance to reduce the risk of a promotion 'defect' (meaning someone who was not successful in role after promotion) for its own interest but also the interest of the employee. Your scope and performance in your current role has increased over time and essentially you elevated yourself to the next level.

The philosophy is one important part of the process, but so is the the selection process.


Promotion selection

Did you know that interviewing for a more senior role is only one promotion approach? Some companies post job openings and invite either internal and/or external candidates to apply. In this case, anyone can throw their hat into the ring and be eligible for consideration. In other companies, employees are only eligible for promotion based on manager nomination or a defined selection process that can leave the employee in the dark. There can also a variety of different approval levels required for a promotion - sometimes a promotion may require only your direct managers approval, other times you may need to pass a panel interview or sometimes the approval may need to come across a variety of more senior managers or stakeholders from other teams.


Your company may have a consistent promotion philosophy and approach for the entire employee base or the approach and process may differ depending on level, role, country and/or job family (e.g. tech vs. non-tech). For example, tech job families often have a skills-based assessment or portfolio requirement as part of the promotion process. Canada and some countries in the EU tend to have more employee protections in place due to stricter labour laws and this can impact promotion eligibility. See? The world of corporate promotions can get really complex really fast!


Your company may have a consistent promotion philosophy and approach for the entire employee base or the approach and process may differ depending on level, role, country and/or job family.

So, how do you know what promotion approach is applicable to you current job? Let me share a few tips to point you in the right direction.


Where do I go now?

  1. Ask HR: Asking your HR partner about the promotion process for your role is the first place to start. On this topic I would recommend partnering with HR rather than your manager. Your manager may have a number of different people on their teams whose roles all fall under different promotions processes and it can often be hard for a manager to keep track of the process that applies to each role. Your HR partner should be able to share resources or verbally describe the process that is applicable for your current position.

  2. Talk to your manager: Your manager is the best person to provide feedback on your promotion readiness - that just means have you demonstrated the performance and potential in skillset (and often leadership capability) to deliver for the organization at the next-level. Having regular career conversations with your managers helps to ensure you are both on the same page regarding your readiness level and helping to set a realistic timeframe.

  3. Review role guidelines: If you are part of a larger and more established organization you may have access to role guidelines (sometimes called job levelling guidelines). These are usually charts that breakdown the skills and capabilities required for a role at various levels. For example, Project Manager Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 would all have different expectations around decision making and dealing with ambiguity. This tool is used during the promotion decision to ensure your skillset meets the requirements and can help you have a more objective conversation with your manager about your readiness level.

  4. Part of a union? Review your collective agreement! Agreements typically outline the promotion process in detail and are a wonderful resource because they are enforceable and ensure a fair and equitable process.


The world of corporate promotions is a multifaceted landscape and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach across different organizations and even within the same organization. You can help chart your course to success by understanding the promotion philosophy and selection approach that applies to your role. I aim to share this information because since joining talent management it has been eye-opening how complex, unique and different the promotion process can be. Understanding the process is a really important when determining your own personal next steps in development. For example, if your promotion requires stakeholder support, then increasing your visibility to others will be important but if your promotion requires demonstrating a specific technical capability, then up-skilling yourself should take priority.


Add a reminder in your calendar to your next career conversation to ask a few clarifying questions to help you better understand the promotion process for your role!


As always, if you are looking for support through a challenging talent situation at work and want a fresh perspective or someone to talk to, reach out! I would LOVE to chat! Connect with me here, shoot me a DM on Instagram or check me out on LinkedIn!


Did you know that Chapt GPT helped me write this post? While AI formed the first draft, I revised, edited and added my own perspectives and experiences to bring a unique and valuable perspective to the topic.

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