How to promote the best people

How to avoid mistakes and how to make the right pick

“How did that person ever got to that position in our organisation?”

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

Did you ever have this thought when you looked at the work of someone? Did you ever wonder how someone even remotely could have been considered qualified for the task, for the job or for the position on which they are?

In most organisations, people become increasingly frustrated about the way how people were selected and promoted. A lack of trust is the last problem you need after just making it through a global pandemic.

However, how can your organisation be sure about promoting the right people while avoiding mistakes and still making the best pick?

Hard and Soft Skills

An excellent education is a great skill. However, especially the highest degrees from private institutions tell you more about someone’s social upbringing than they tell you about applicable skills.

Many organisations already moved on from focusing on formal qualifications to practical application. Also, references play an important role in securing that a candidate is not coming from only a theoretically suitable background.

However, especially candidates from elite private institutions frequently fail to apply their knowledge in the real world. Suddenly facing the reality of meeting people of other so-called “social backgrounds” makes them fail due to a lack of appropriate communication, conflict management or leadership skills — to name only three of the many aspects.

Most likely, you heard about the most frequently occurring case of promoting the wrong person: the best person from the sales team suddenly becomes the leader of the sales department. Without further qualifications, this is a recipe for disaster. Being in a sales team means having frequent and direct customer contact to get the deal signed. Being the leader of a sales department means coaching and training, empowering, and leading others. It also means to be heavily focused on reporting, statistics, KPIs, strategy — to name only a few aspects. A wide range of additional qualifications is needed when someone moves from an operational role to a tactical or even strategic one.

Hard skills are excellent and much-needed. Still, Soft Skills make the most crucial difference if someone will succeed after being promoted.

Networks and Nepotism

It goes without question that a good network is beneficial. A genuine network is based on quality, facts, proof, and evidence, which help accomplish a task better than one could do alone.

However, in organisations, we often do not see networks. We see insider deals, cronyism, nepotism which then gets relabelled as a (pseudo-)network. If you promote people only based on other people’s suggestions, you will often only promote the ones that favoured each other to climb up the career ladder together.

People working for you will quickly realise what is happening and who is inside or outside of such a “network”. Many scandals in certain industries evolved and were created due to such cliques. The harm does not only affect these people. It will affect the organisation and your employer’s brand significantly, starting a chain of issues connected with it. The problem started in the first place: when you deliberately or arbitrarily promote the wrong people, your organisation will suffer from it very soon. The more transparent organisations have to become, the more likely it will happen rather sooner than later.

Injustice and Consequences

Most organisations claim that justice, diversity and equality are core values that they live day by day. However, the congruence between their own and the people’s perception outside the organisation is limited (politely said).

Skilled workers and talent will be a limited resource for the foreseeable future. Even a global pandemic did not change the shortage on the market. The global event made it worse. Numerous people now realised that they either want to do a different job or spend less time at or even with work than they did before. As an organisation looking for talent, you need to perform much better after the crisis than before. Attracting talent will be a much more complex issue than it was in the past.

Check your Employer’s Brand on websites like Glassdoor (or Kununu for the German-speaking market) to see what people honestly think and how they perceive your organisation.

Do you want to be the platform where only the people show up who did not find jobs anywhere else? Some formerly large and prestigious organisations suffer from this result. It is their fault.

When you see errors in your hiring practices; when you see injustice in who gets promoted; when you see nepotism taking over, it is time to act immediately. When quality, proof and evidence-backed decisions have to take a backseat, it is time to change, or you will have to expect severe negative consequences very soon.

It will be uncomfortable to address issues. Still, it is your only chance to become a better and more sustainable organisation.

More insights in this week’s podcast: click here to listen and learn.

Sustainable Recruiting and Leadership is important for you?
Let’s talk:



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Niels Brabandt

Niels Brabandt


Niels Brabandt is in business since 1998. Helping managers to become better leaders by mastering the concept of Sustainable Leadership. Based in Spain & London.