The possibility of promotion is a huge incentive for employees, but how do you become a company with an internal conveyor belt of talent?

There’s nothing like a promotion to inspire staff. A survey by the consultancy Great Place to Work of 400,000 US workers revealed when people believe internal promotions are effectively managed they are twice as likely to put in extra effort at work and five times more likely to believe their bosses act with integrity.

By offering people a challenge to work in different areas of our business, our employees can constantly upskill, learn and develop

A clear policy on internal promotions also correlates with share price returns at triple the market average, and staff turnover half that of rivals.

Those are some serious findings. But companies often hesitate to hire from within. External candidates for top jobs can seem alluring, offering qualities such as a diverse experience, knowledge of rival enterprises and a fresh mindset.

Create a career path from graduate to director

So how can companies improve the way they promote internally? One outstanding role model is JDX, a financial services company focused on regulation. It’s a member of the Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100 list of high growth companies and ranked as one of the best places to work in the UK.

“Externally recruited senior hires have been virtually non-existent,” says Sarah Brennan, head of learning at JDX. “And this has not happened by accident.”

The JDX formula relies on education. Ms Brennan explains: “We have a world-class six-tiered learning academy, specifically designed to support the pathway from graduate to director, and our rapidly growing business means there are opportunities aplenty.”

The JDX Academy keeps all 750 staff on the talent conveyor belt. New hires go to the Bootcamp. It’s a four-day intensive training course, covering regulations, history and professional behaviour.

Stage two is onboarding. This mixes online learning with tutor-led sessions. Everyone gets a personal suite in the online learning management system.

Above this sits another four tiers of tuition. The full curriculum is as broad as an MBA. It ends with executive coaching, for employees ready for leadership positions.

Don’t let them lose interest

Another solid method is to keep bright employees on their toes. Bored staff are likely to do a runner. “A significant number of our employees have been with us for ten, twenty, thirty and even over forty years,” says Simon Winfield, managing director of Hays UK and Ireland, a FTSE 250 recruitment company.

“By offering people a challenge to work in different areas of our business, our employees can constantly upskill, learn and develop. We also encourage global transfers – something I’ve done personally – and you get diversity through this. If you have talented people, you don’t want to lose them, and internal promotions are a great way to support their careers and ensure you don’t.”

It also helps to let staff define their own roles. If they want to take on more, encourage them. For example, Prezzybox is an online gifts retailer based in Warwickshire. Founder Zak Edwards says: “Wherever we can, we try to hire staff for new roles internally. We want our team to push themselves and progress inside and outside work. Every member of the Prezzybox team is encouraged to push the boundaries of their roles and get involved in projects they are passionate about, even in other teams and departments. This drives a culture of continuous learning and naturally people’s roles evolve into something other than they were hired for.”

If you hire from outside, you’ll lose insiders

Fast-growing companies may feel they need to hire outsiders when expanding. In fact, there is a strong argument for using existing staff in new locations. For example, Frank Recruitment Group now employs 2,000 staff and is opening up branches across the globe. It uses existing staff in new locations.

“Although we’ve benefited from strategic external hires, we place a great emphasis on promoting from within,” says chief executive James Lloyd-Townshend. “Over the last 18 months, we’ve opened eight new offices and each location is managed by an existing employee. This means when you walk in, it feels familiar, whether you’re in London, Dallas or Singapore. Promoting internally also gives employees a goal to work towards. When your people make you who you are, hiring from within is an essential part of maintaining that brand.”

Of course, if it’s not possible to hang on to the brightest stars, you can always let them go. And lure them back later.

“A favourite scenario is when we are able to hire ‘boomerangs’, people who have worked at BBH, gone elsewhere, and then returned with a whole host of new skills and perspectives they can deploy in a rapid and relevant way,” says Neil Munn, group chief executive of global advertising agency BBH. “They know our culture, but combine this with an appetite for positive change. They are the embodiment  of T.S. Eliot’s ‘We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time’.”

It’s the poetic way of saying your company should be the sort of place people want to end up at. After all, if they don’t, what on earth are you doing?

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