For those who lead companies, how difficult do you make it to promote someone? Is all the effort worth it to your managers, supervisors, and the person themself? Or are you practically posting an Exit sign for your most ambitious, talented workers, who will inevitably seek jobs elsewhere?

Here are a couple of promotion practices that may be out of date and hindering your efforts to keep employees engaged, contributing, and moving up the ladder.

Promotions happen only once a year.

In corporate America, there's a long-standing practice of doling out promotions once a year at annual review time. Though this may have worked well once upon a time, it seems old, outdated, and just plain antiquated at this point.

Nowadays, we move fast. People change, jobs change, and organizations change.

An employee might be ready for a promotion in February. Do you really wait until the end of December to promote her--if she even sticks around that long? In this competitive hiring environment, your best employees may get scooped right out from under you if you fail to promote them when they deserve it.

True, many of us are still using this once-a-year promotion schedule because we're tied to it with budgets, approvals, and so on. But I think we can be more creative. Though some companies pooh-pooh off-cycle promotions because it "looks bad," I'd argue that it's actually really motivating for employees to see deserving folks getting promoted and proving there's a viable career path in the organization.

Job descriptions and skills are not defined.

In many organizations, it's unclear how to even get promoted. Job descriptions aren't published, and skill sets that are needed for each job aren't clearly defined. Distinguishing an associate from a manager from a director gets muddied up. An employee asks his or her manager the million-dollar question: "How do I get promoted to the next level?" And the manager is placed in the precarious position of trying to make sense of something that's undefined.

This leaves a lot of room for inconsistent practices and could result in some very unsatisfied employees who may choose to explore opportunities elsewhere instead of trying to figure out what they need to do to move up the ladder in your organization.

If your job descriptions and required skill sets aren't clear and shared within your organization, work with your human-resources team and supervisors to outline clear roles and responsibilities, and also what differentiates one job (or title) from another. These subtleties are what your employees and supervisors need and want, to be able to clearly articulate what each level does and the skills and abilities an employee will need to get there.

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