A woman in a dark blue blouse and gray blazer sits across from a man in a suit who faces away from the camera. She shakes his hand with a smile. In the background, glass walls expose office furniture.
When looking for candidates for a promotion, keep an eye out for employees who are already taking on extra responsibilities and leadership roles. — Getty Images/katleho Seisa

Americans are quitting their jobs in massive numbers: From April to the end of July 2021, nearly 16 million Americans left their jobs, leaving small business owners to wonder what they can do to retain their workers.

Often, employees resign because they are in the wrong position and see no room for change. Offering promotions can help you keep top talent, as well as improve overall engagement and motivation. According to a Harvard Business Review study, the way promotions are handled can impact a company’s overall culture and how employees see their long-term future.

Now is the time to look at your staffing plan and make sure you’re helping each employee play to their strengths. Here’s how to create promotion opportunities for high-performing employees and identify who is deserving of a step up the ladder.

[Read more: 5 Essential Ways to Support Employees Post-Pandemic]

Create standard promotional criteria

To make your promotions equitable to all employees — and avoid the risk of a discrimination lawsuit — create a set of performance standards that employees should reach before being considered for promotion. Workest recommends creating promotion opportunities based on skills and performance, to avoid accusations of favoritism. This could mean requiring a number of years of experience, a certain amount of time spent at the company, a credential or certification or mastery of a particular skill set.

Identify candidates who are ready

Begin the process of determining who to promote by looking for the following signs an employee may be ready to take on more responsibility:

  • The employee brings a positive attitude to work, impacting the team as a whole.
  • The employee is informally managing others, either by welcoming a new hire or organizing others on the team.
  • The employee volunteers to try new tasks and take on more responsibility.
  • The employee has already asked. Often, high achievers will initiate the discussion of what they need to do to get promoted or take on new responsibilities.
  • The employee is speaking to other recruiters. If you catch wind that an employee is job hunting, now is the time to have a discussion about the benefits of staying.

Too often, companies offer “title changes” without any additional compensation, responsibility or role change.

Once you’ve identified the right candidates for promotion, show them your support. Offer them additional training and development opportunities or a mentor to set them up for success. Give them additional responsibilities, identify and fill gaps in their skill set and prepare them for the promotion you’d like to see them achieve.

[Read more: 5 Ways to Get Promoted in 2021]

Create meaningful promotion opportunities

Too often, companies offer “title changes” without any additional compensation, responsibility or role change. Employees can see right through that tactic, and simply adding “senior” in front of their job title is unlikely to encourage them to stay. You’ll need to show employees that advancement opportunities at your company are better than starting over somewhere else.

What if you’re on a budget, and can’t afford a major pay raise? Add additional perks other than compensation. This could include a flexible schedule, more work-from-home days or funds for training courses or attending a conference.

Encourage them to go for it

Harvard Business Review warns that even if you have identified a good candidate, you may need to encourage them to try for the new position. Find out their concerns: fear of rejection, imposter syndrome or mistrust that they will be fairly considered. Help hesitant employees to find opportunities where their skill set may fit, which may not match the original role they had in mind.

Prepare for change

Promotions create a cascading shift in your personnel. You might move up several people at once or have outside candidates ready to backfill a position. Be sure to plan ahead for the transition and time needed for training. Be patient with the inevitable mistakes that come with starting a new role. Provide additional support by reinforcing why they were chosen and how others can follow their example.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published January 10, 2022