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Does Age Matter?

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

Does age matter in promotion

‘Does age matter?’ is a question that pops up from time to time in my performance management training.

The question is, does age matter in what? Usually, this question is motivated by two main needs. First, does age matter in promotion and does it matter in the rate of promotion? Second, I have observed a reverse ageism where some younger staff feel that they will not be taken seriously by others due to their relatively young age.

I have written about the concept of promotion but it is important to reiterate that promotion is a recognition of the ability of the employee to assume the role and responsibility at the next level.

An employee may have the best results or achieve the highest work outputs but that does not mean an automatic promotion.

Leaders Should Promote People to Success

Leaders should promote people to success, meaning to invest time and effort to assess, stretch, guide and coach the staff so that he/she stands the highest chance of success at the next year. Whether to promote someone depends on the promotion criteria set by the company. I would recommend the following promotion criteria:

1. Consistent good performance 2. Demonstration of company competencies or core values at the current level 3. Ability to demonstrate company competencies or core values at the next level 4. Existence of possible career derailers

1. Consistent Good Performance

Consistency in good performance means a proven track record of meeting and sometimes exceeding work goals. The consistency in good performance demonstrates to the company that work achievements are due to the consistent personal effort and not due to external fortuitous factors or one-off performance. Achievements against time served by the employee should be used as the basis of promotion evaluation instead of simply using time served in the company. Time served does not automatically equate to the right to be promoted and the lack of tenure in the company should not be a barrier to promotion. How a staff demonstrate his/her job and organisational competencies is most important regardless of age.

2. Demonstration of Company Competencies or Core Values at the Current Level

Next, the employee should demonstrate most if not all the company’s competencies or core values at the current level in an exceeding manner. For example, an employee could be proactive, go beyond what is required and be independent in demonstrating the company’s core values. This shows that the employee possesses the required competencies at the current job level.

3. Ability to Demonstrate Company Competencies or Core Values at the Next Level

On the other hand, an employee who has the best results or the best skills but does not demonstrate the company’s core values, should not be considered for promotion. To be promoted, the employee should also show the ability to demonstrate the required competencies or core values at the next job level. This is to show that the employee is fit for the role and not just good at doing the job at the current level.

4. Existence of Possible Career Derailers

Lastly, consider whether there are any possible triggers or behaviours that will derail the employee’s career. Marshall Goldsmith, an internationally renowned leadership coach, identified a total of 20 habits in his book, ‘What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There,” that might stall an employee’s career. Limiting behaviours such as not listening, passing judgment, failing to give proper recognition and playing favourites etc. While the possession of these career derailers should not automatically torpedo a promotion, leaders should evaluate whether these career derailers will hamper the employee’s ability to perform effectively at the next level.

Age should not and does not matter in promotion. Companies and leaders need to actively debunk and defeat ageism and reverse ageism in the workplace by adopting the right concept of promotion with a clear and transparent promotion criteria that recognise and develop the right person for the role.


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