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Ascending the Ladder: Best Practices for Managing Promotions Within Your Agency

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Tracey Hudson

Promotions can be tricky to get right, especially in a small agency. It’s important to manage this process smoothly, particularly when you’re growing or someone leaves. When you recruit, people tend to want to know what the opportunities are so they’ll want to see you are a growing agency and there are options for their own career so when someone senior leaves, this is when they will see it’s their opportunity to shine. Problem is… there might be more than one person thinking the same thing!

If you get this wrong, you risk alienating the people who feel hard done-by, or seriously disrupting the balance of your team causing wider ramifications in terms of productivity and effective working relationships. The other issue is that sometimes managers will promote the person who is just best at the job – just because they are best at the job doesn’t mean that they are the best manager, or can handle a different client base in the same way.

So what do we need to think about?

How do we know when an employee is ready for promotion?

Well, the confident ones will just ask, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready. Look out for these qualities:

  • When they consistently go above and beyond – Doing their current job well is a given, but you know some employees are destined for better things when they take on extra responsibilities (maybe without even asking) and do those well too.
  • Being resilient and flexible – How do they react in adversity or if asked to help out a different team temporarily. Someone who takes such challenges in their stride and with good grace is showing that they have greater capabilities.
  • They have become a technical master – They can do their day job without thinking and are ready for more. Be careful that this is not your only consideration though, particularly if you will have them doing less of what they have proved good at in their new role. You could be promoting them out of their depth.
  • Showing genuine alignment with the business – This is a great endorsement of both you and them – they talk less about themselves in the singular and instead think and talk in terms of what’s good for your business.
  • Willingness to learn – The last thing you need is someone who is so confident in their abilities that they won’t be open to constructive feedback and training in their new role. This is always evident in individuals who are technically brilliant but, for example, have to lead a team for the first time. Technical brilliance does not mean that they are a natural leader or effective manager so the attitude needs to be open to learning moving forwards.
  • If someone puts themselves forward but is lacking some of the above, tell them what you expect to see in a candidate for a more senior position. This way they will have something to work towards. Be honest!

Managing the promotion process successfully

A promotion has got to be right for the business, too – with a suitable position open or ready to be created – and budgeted for. The circumstance will dictate how you handle the process – for example, if a Senior Account Manager leaves, you might naturally have a Junior Account Manager who has built up experience and ready to take the SAM job title, but it might be that your Client Director has left and there are plenty of candidates who would want that role so you will need to have a more structured selection process.

As with everything in HR, processes need to be in place to ensure that promotions are carried out fairly. If a promotion is for a designated position, even if you have someone in mind beforehand, it would be sensible to advertise the role (although there is no law which specifically requires this), certainly internally. Judge the applicants objectively and provide feedback based on fair criteria. As well as protecting yourself against any claims of discrimination, this will also help you manage team dynamics – doing as much as you can to preserve good relations with unsuccessful applicants when you want to retain them in your team. Judge objectively, yes. But think beyond technical skills and attitude when assessing promotions. Do they have the softer skills to be a success at a more senior level: communication, emotional intelligence, time-management…? Don’t make this decision on your own – involve someone else who doesn’t directly work with the candidates so that they can bring objective challenge to your decision-making.

Help with managing promotions

Use a professional service, like the HR Dept! An external HR provider can be your objective challenger and give your people the confidence that the process is transparent so that when the successful candidate is announced, it makes it easier for good working relationships to continue.


About the Author

Tracey Hudson is an experienced HR professional having worked in HR for over 20 years, predominantly advising the SME market. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and has built a wealth of experience across all industries over the years including working with marketing and ad agencies, so she really knows her stuff! And on top of that, she’s always happy to have a chat with anyone so if you want to pick her brain, drop her a message.

  • 📈 Promotions are important in an agency, providing growth opportunities for employees, but they can also risk team balance if not managed well.
  • 💼 Just because someone is good at their job, doesn’t mean they’re suited for management or a different client base.
  • 👀 To evaluate readiness for promotion, look for qualities like going above and beyond, resilience, technical mastery, business alignment, and willingness to learn.
  • 🗣️ If an employee seeks promotion but lacks certain qualities, communicate expectations honestly.
  • 🔍 A promotion should benefit the business, requiring a suitable position and budget.
  • ⚖️ To ensure fairness, have a structured selection process in place, possibly involving internal job advertising.
  • 👥 Consider not just technical skills but also soft skills, and involve objective third parties in the decision process.
  • 💡 Engage professional HR services for transparent, objective promotion management.