Many of us have been in this all too familiar storyline – you fulfilled almost all the job responsibilities and requirements (about 95% of them) for that next role in your career path or career lattice. You were proud of your accomplishments and were anxiously awaiting for your boss to tell you that you have been officially promoted. You waited for it and waited for it. And, then you heard, “You did an amazing job this year. You are so close but you are just missing a few things [5% to be exact] to be exhibited from that next level. As a result, we’ll need to see you complete these items and you’ll be able to re-apply and be re-evaluated on the next annual promotion cycle.”

This all too familiar script continues. You nodded your head in hesitant agreement to the understanding of the words but not the logic. Your mind then shifted to – “Um, okay – this is not adding up. You just told me in this review that I am a valuable asset to the company. Yet, year after year, my mountain of quality deliverables and goals succeeded are passed over for the anthill of ‘a few things to be exhibited.’ Something seems wrong here. I will continue to accomplish levels at my role and the role above, all while remaining at my current title…and, of course, pay band for yet another year.”

Annual is Out – Ongoing is In

Here’s the thing – you weren’t wrong – the annual system is. Companies have to make a change and fix this issue. The fix: Managers and employees alike are challenged to evaluate and re-calibrate goals, provide feedback, accomplishments, roadblocks, improvement areas on a quarterly, monthly, or even bi-weekly recurrence. This is meaningful because the focus is not on the metric. The focus becomes on the actual entity that matters: the evolution of the employees within their roles and career.  

Companies have to fix what’s broken by eliminating annual (or even semi-annual) promotion cycles. Employees excel and hit targets on an ongoing basis to keep up with the pace of the current workforce. Employees are always asked to do more and hit higher performing targets in shorter durations. It is time that companies update the promotion cycles to align with how people are delivering work. Providing real-time promotions will result in less turnover and higher employee satisfaction resulting in higher engagement and productivity. 

No More Freebie Promotions

Not only will it reward and incentivize the top performers to keep constantly achieving their next goal but it will also eliminate the promotions that were awarded without being fully earned. Every year there is that team member that lobbies for a ‘freebie’ promotion without having achieved any requirements at the level above their existing role. Managers eventually feel pressured to reward those team members because they are doing good at their job and have been in their role for numerous years – albeit not performing at the next level during those years. This devalues the promotion because a promotion should not be given based on time. 

A promotion should be given based on ability and achievements in the role above. If HR and business operators agree with this rhetoric, why then are we basing promotions on an annual basis timeline?

Reward Those Who Kick Ass

Promotions should be less about applying and appealing for your “case of why I should get promoted” and more about being recognized for those who have achieved the next level. That way we are rewarding those top performers who are so valuable to our business verses just those who talk the loudest. 

Companies have to do better for their top performers – the top performers do better for their organizations and, as symbiotic relationships go, organizations need to do the same for them. Companies should cease the practice of employees feeling this need to strongly appeal for their own promotions. Rather, managers and employees collaboratively work towards employees’ promotions and tracking of successes and improvements. 

This process is not rooted in epic amounts of data but on easy and streamlined feedback. Employees or managers should be able to opt-in an employee into the promotion cycle, if an employee has been performing at a level above their respective role for 3 – 6 months. The process to submit will actually be more of a collection of feedback throughout ongoing career conversations/performance management regarding accomplishments, roadblocks and a unique box which outlines how the employee has performed at the level above. There is a small collection of people from various departments that meet bi-monthly to discuss promotions. Companies want to reward the top performers, not disincentivize talent by continuing a convoluted outdated process.


You wouldn’t tell your partner who was proposing with an engagement ring, “No, you’ve got to work on that last 5% and try again during next engagement season.” Unlike traffic lights and sprinkler systems, we aren’t creatures who run on a static time table. We achieve best in a dynamic environment, when we know hitting our milestone means growth and moving to the next level. Let’s start now to break the promotion annual cycle process for 2021 and begin to focus on the people and not the system.