CEOs on promotion: Talent, going extra yard and helping fellow employees are big factors

Smiling front-desk employees
It is no longer just tenure that secures a promotion. (Image: Getty Images)

What goes into a CEO's decision of whether or not to promote an employee? Is it tenure, talent or other factors? The choice is a big one and sends a message across the company, especially if a high-profile executive is involved. But on any level it will be talked about by staff, who may hope they are next.

“There are multiple factors to promotion,” said Jeff Zinser, principal of Right Recruiting. “In the past the decision was primarily tenure based, but that has changed over the last 10 years to be almost a non-factor. Talent alone is not a factor because often the promotion is to a manager level and talent in a skill does not directly contribute to talent as a manager.”

“I think the biggest factor now is a desire for promotion coupled with having done to support that desire,” Zinser said. “That second part shows in many waysgetting an MBA, successfully managing projects/teams, projecting an expectation and interest in promotion by achieving beyond expectations. Employers want to know that you are interested in being promoted and that you have prepared yourself for the next step in your career in a tangible way.”

A promotion does send a message to employees, and to others, in many ways, said Clifford "Kip" Backscheider, president of The Result Consult Group.

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According to Backscheider it is a message that says:

  • This person has demonstrated a history of sharing ideas, of assisting others, of thinking creatively and of acting boldly on behalf of the business.
  • This person is an excellent representative of the company who customers, vendors, current and future employees can admire.
  • This person has performed excellently and has taken intelligent risks for the company.
  • This person wants to grow with the company and has the capacity to perform on a higher level.

The sentiment that a move is warranted must be based on objective promotion standards known by all, otherwise those not promoted will look for, and find, ulterior motives,” Backscheider said. “For that reason, many organizations have promotions made by a committee of supervisors and colleagues. This can help reduce chances for misunderstanding and frustration.”

Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint, said she doesn’t “have a set criteria for getting a promotion. It's not formulaic, like you need to check off these boxes and in X time you'll get a promotion. You earn your promotion every day by simply going above and beyond, showing you're driven and want to continue to grow with the company and help the company grow. Actions speak louder than words, so if I see your impact and results, as well as the desire to continue to be challenged in new ways then that's the main criteria.”

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“At Eatzi’s, promotions are based on performance rather than tenure,” said Adam Romo, CEO of Eatzi’s Market & Bakery. “When we consider promoting a team member, it’s really about whether or not they have the right skill set to succeed at the next level. Just because someone is doing an outstanding job in their current position, it doesn’t mean they will automatically be successful at a higher level.”

In terms of criteria employees meet, “They have to possess the specific skills necessary to succeed at that next position,” Romo said. “There are always new skills required when you move up in any organization. That said, leadership skills are extremely important when we’re considering promoting someone.”

Work and team player skills are essential in every position, Romo said. “As you elevate to more senior, leadership positions, collaboration among your peers becomes critical to achieve broader goals and objections. As Eatzi’s has grown, I am now more focused on developing my leadership team, to ensure they have the tools necessary to successfully achieve our goals and strategies.”

“It's a combination of performance and potential,” said José Costa, CEO of For Eyes. “To me, it’s not about tenure. If you have a strong, young, smart and aggressive top performer, who has delivered tangible results, then he/she should be given much bigger challenges. This should set the example for the rest of the organization. I assess my teams every 90 days and let them know exactly where they stand. We want to build a culture of meritocracy and performance which is based on transparency and continuous, honest feedback.”