A defined promotions policy is something that often gets overlooked as CIOs ensure their companies are at the cutting edge of IT. Yet it can have a huge impact on productivity, the potential skills pool, staff morale and, ultimately, a company’s chances of survival.

‘Companies should definitely have a promotions policy in place to ensure clear and transparent promotions criteria and processes,’ urges James Brook, managing director of Strengths Partnership and the author of several business books. ‘It should cover how promotion and selection decisions are made, the process and criteria to be applied when making promotion decisions and what people can do if they feel the policy has not been applied fairly and objectively.’

Unfortunately, too many CIOs have their eyes too firmly fixed on the technology when it comes to promotions. ‘CIOs will very often align promotion policies with technical criteria,’ claims vendor CEO Etienne Greeff of SecureData.

"While it is important to measure how good and efficient people are at solving technical problems, it is not everything and what CIOs can often lose track of in a promotion plan is understanding what IT’s role is within the business.’

Greeff believes it is essential for CIOs to develop an ongoing understanding of what this role is. "They need to understand what the business objectives are and what their team’s part is in helping the business achieve these objectives. Once they are clear on this, they can incorporate elements into their IT team’s objectives.

"But they need to evaluate how these objectives relate back to what the IT department is supposed to provide for the business and include these as part of the KPIs for the team." Essentially, Greeff is saying that if CIOs only incorporate technology criteria in their promotion plans, then they shouldn’t be surprised that staff aren’t meeting wider business objectives.’

So, what should be considered before promoting a staff member? Andrew Gray, head of digital at business consultants eg.1, says: 'Once a clear business benefit has been established for the promotion, it's important to be open and clear about what skills are needed and what support is required to make an individual successful in a role – this will greatly improve the likelihood of success for the promoted employee.’

The staff member’s level of skill, knowledge and experience in relation to the job specification should obviously be considered, adds Brook. ‘However, what is just as important, and arguably even more so, are their personality strengths or areas that really energise the person, as this will determine their level of commitment and engagement in the job.’

‘If they aren’t passionate about what they do, no amount of skill or knowledge will enable them to achieve in the upper ranges of their potential,’ warns Brook. ‘For example, if a more technically oriented person is not motivated by leading and coaching others, then they shouldn’t be considered for a people leadership position regardless of how technically adept they are. Other factors that should be considered are their level of flexibility, especially if the role involves long or irregular hours and/or a lot of travel. A positive, solutions-focused mindset and willingness to learn and grow in the role are other factors that will be important to the person’s success, especially in a leadership role.’

And what about the situation where there is a change of leadership in an area of the IT space due to a promotion? How should that change be managed?  Brook urges CIOs to have a succession policy in place to motivate and retain internal talent, otherwise they will not feel valued and might leave the organisation.

‘Where there is a leadership opening it should ideally be posted internally first, so internal candidates can apply if there is no obvious successor for the position,’ he says. ‘Even where there is an obvious successor in the IT talent pool it is sometimes prudent to post the position as this promotes perceptions of fairness and also might uncover candidates who are less obvious but might be equally as good.’

Gray agrees, urging promotion from within versus hiring someone new as the positive benefits of doing so far outweigh the negatives. ‘These include motivating staff who see promotion as a possibility, providing internal prospects for high-performing employees or discovering hidden talent within your own organisation and showing there are opportunities to progress,’ he says. ‘It also removes the fear of will the unknown outsider succeed and the obvious reduction in hiring costs. The decision to hire externally should be a last resort, and generally in order to find a rare skillset that does not currently exist and cannot be developed.’

Greeff agrees with Brook that succession policies are important, but highlights the gulf that often exists between the mindsets of the more senior staff and juniors. ‘Traditionally, junior IT workers are the doers and the more senior staff are the thinkers, but it’s vitally important to ensure everyone within an IT organisation thinks like a senior employee.’

This difference in perception makes clear communication vital during promotions. ‘Make sure when changes are made that people understand why you’re making them and what the impact will be,’ counsels Greeff. ‘All too often, these messages are not communicated down to the ground. If you make it clear what the change is, what the business impact is and what it is likely to result in, then technology-focused people will become more aligned with what you’re doing. This is one of the single biggest problems with promotions and change management.’

Ultimately, managing successful promotions is about identifying the right people early on and ensuring there are structures in place for their strategic development. Get this right and you have a recipe for your company’s success and a happy workforce as well.

Tips for managing promotions

•    Ensure the process is fair and transparent and promotion criteria are clearly communicated
•    Use a thorough process, ideally including an assessment centre to measure personality, attitudes and behaviour in context
•    Assess for personality strengths and positive attitude, not just skills, knowledge and experience
•    Put in place a 90-day on-boarding process to help the person transition