Performance Management

How Challenging Tasks Contribute to Promotion Decisions

Understanding why certain employees are promoted is critical at both an individual and organizational level. At the individual level, it is important to understand what factors affect career advancement. At an organizational level, a thorough understanding of what factors lead to employee success in a higher position is imperative for succession planning and managing employees. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of the various factors that contribute to promotion can be beneficial at both the individual and organizational level.

What Makes an Employee “Promotable”?

Many factors influence whether or not an employee will be promoted in an organization including:
  • Job performance – Promotion decisions are often made based on job performance. That is, if employees are successfully completing tasks outlined as part of their current position, it is assumed that they will also have the skills necessary to successfully complete tasks in the next position “up the ladder”.
  • Challenging experiences – The type of task that is completed is often another important consideration in promotion decisions. As employees engage in more challenging and complex tasks, their likelihood of success in higher positions increases.
  • Promotability evaluations – Many organizations conduct promotability evaluations in order to determine if a supervisor believes an individual could adequately perform at a higher level in the organization. These evaluations can include supervisors’ perceptions of current job performance and work experience.
Each of these factors must be examined simultaneously in order to determine if an employee is ready for a promotion. Job performance alone is not a good indicator, as many times one’s current performance will not be predictive of their success in a more complex position. Therefore, examining current performance in conjunction with how current tasks overlap (or don’t) with those of the higher position is imperative.  This is because tasks required for a higher position are often more challenging and complex and employees who volunteer for those complex tasks may be more qualified and motivated to take on the tasks that would be required by a higher position. Ultimately, the decision is based upon the individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities, to determine whether he or she has the potential to succeed in a more complex position.

Practical Implications

In today’s competitive and ever-changing business environment promotion decisions are important not only to organizations for succession planning, but also essential to individuals interested in career development and advancement. Therefore, several considerations should be taken to ensure success.
  • Organizations – To ensure employees are ready for promotion, it is important to evaluate not only the level of current individual performance, but also the types of tasks the individuals are partaking in to determine if they qualify for a higher position.
  • Individuals – Individuals wishing to advance their career should be encouraged to take on complex tasks that are a good fit for their current skills and abilities.  During this time, staying connected to the organization and working closely with a supervisor will help to avoid any negative effects (i.e. reduced quality of work, decreased productivity, etc.), as the employee works to increase overall contribution and performance.
Ultimately, the decision for promotion will be up to the supervisor. Many times this decision is important for both the individual and the organization as a whole. Therefore, various factors should be taken into consideration before a final verdict is reached.

Elizabeth Allen


This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: De Pater, I., Van Vianen, A., Bechtoldt, M., & Klehe, U. (2009). Employees’ challenging job experiences and supervisors’ evaluations of promotability. Personnel Psychology, 62 (2). 297-325.