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Leadership Development Insights

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Improving Promotion Decisions

Joe Thoresen
Chairman & Founder

in · fer deduce or conclude from evidence and reasoning rather than explicit knowledge.

The accuracy of an inference is enhanced by the quantity and quality of relevant information and clear and logical reasoning. Overuse is not recommended.

In our daily lives inference is an important decision-making tool. It is used so often that we sometimes forget that it is not as powerful as factual information. When used improperly it can degrade the quality of decisions. For our purposes, we will focus on the use of inferences when making promotion decisions in complex organizations.

Some promotion decisions are relatively easy. Others are difficult. The easiest promotion decisions are likely to occur within well-defined job families. Which sales rep to promote to senior sales rep. Which programmer to promote to lead programmer. In these situations, there is a natural progression of increasingly complex job tasks. Managers observing and evaluating performance can reasonably infer from performance on the simpler tasks how more complex tasks are likely to be performed. Inference is needed to bridge the task difficulty gap. However, if key aspects of the simpler tasks are relevant to the more complex ones, the degree of inference required is likely to be minor-only an inferential "hop."

The problem occurs where one job family ends and another begins. For example: lead programmer to manager of programmers; machinist to shop foreman; sales rep to district manager. In these situations, the continuity of job tasks is broken. Entirely new tasks and responsibilities are injected into the performance milieu, and performance on the lower job can have little to do with performance on key elements of the higher one. If we use only performance on the previous job for decision-making, we move from inferential "hops" to inferential "leaps." When leaps become too long, we are guessing.

What should happen in these situations? What solutions exist? Which are the most effective?

Stay tuned. 

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