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November 17, 2011
Business Note: Random Promotion, Anyone?
Since it's end-of-the-year performance review time at many workplaces, I thought it might be an appropriate time to link to this article. It points to some recent research that suggests that traditional promotion strategies in large organizations are, in fact, counterproductive. The null hypothesis - random promotion - would actually be more effective. (Although it's not easy to see how you'd implement that!)
There seem to be several reasons for this. Difficulty in judging the criteria for promotion and picking the wrong criteria in the first place are certainly factors. And you certainly can't ignore Peter-Principle effects, where someone gets promoted to a position where they're less effective than they were before. Here's one of the papers talking about its results:
Notwithstanding the previous discussion on performance, the current study raises the uncomfortable suggestion that all the time and effort put into promotion and selection by HR practitioners doesn’t really matter that much. After all, even though performance went up and down in response to contingency factors, the average difference between promotion systems at a given level could be measured in single digits on a hundred point scale (even random promotion wasn’t that much different from the rest). Could it be that the particular method used for job assignment really has little effect on an organization’s bottom line? This is directly relevant to HR practitioners because they typically spend a lot of time on the job assignment task and such time might be allocated elsewhere if the effort in unproductive or inefficient.
But then, the people evaluating such systems and such ideas are generally HR practitioners themselves. . .
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