8 Reasons Why You Are Passed Over For A Promotion In Retail

8 Reasons Why You Are Passed Over For A Promotion In Retail

Field retail leadership is unique in that few jobs require people to be proficiently skilled in so many areas. We need to be remarkable merchants; customer experience champions; operationally exceptional; HR savvy [at least to an extent]; strong recruiters; solid in time-management & prioritization; present and accessible business partners for our team, our peers, and our bosses; strategic business leaders; energizing communicators,; etc. There is a lot going on at all times but great retail talent learns to step up and be great in all areas of the business and to surround themselves with people who are brilliant in the areas that may not be the leader’s strongest.

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There are frequently opportunities for advancement especially in the junior- and mid-levels of retail leadership, such as Assistant Store Leader and Store Leader roles. It is an unfortunate truth that some retail organizations still endorse a promotion by longevity model for their next layer of “leadership”. These are people who have been in the company the longest. Do they have the necessary skills to effectively take on the open role? In my experience, 35%-45% [I am feeling generous today]. Is this model going to keep an organization healthy? Um…Absolutely not.  Now I know some of you are reading this and doubting that organizations still do this – trust me – they do! Frequently – longevity is a concern and a determining factor in a promotion. I am pretty sure the organizations that use this as a gauge for promotability also employ the “strategy of hope” as a primary business strategy. But…I digress…

Top Reasons You Aren’t Getting Promoted

  • You Lack The Hard Skills To Do The Job: One of the most common misconceptions employees have about promotion decisions is that they’re based solely on performance in their current role. While that’s certainly a portion of the consideration process, success in one area doesn’t necessarily translate to success in another higher-level role. You’ve heard the saying “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” – the concept is the same – become familiar with the requirements of the job you want, and determine what skills and competencies you need to develop to be successful in the next level. Then, talk to your boss. Let them know you’re interested in moving up, and ask for advice and a development plan on how to get there.
  • Your Boss Doesn’t Know You Want A Promotion: This happens entirely too often in retail. You hire a new leader for the role – either internal or external – all through the process you are communicating to the team about the progress and the status of filling this position. After the new person starts you learn that someone is upset because they thought they should have been considered. I have always joked during budgeting dialogs that I needed a crystal ball for my region because of all of the things that junior level leadership or entry level leadership expects us to discern psychically. If you want a promotion – you need to not only say it – but prove through action that you are ready for it and deserve it. If you don’t speak up – you have no one to blame but yourself.

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  • You’re An Outrageous Gossip: Your skill set and competencies are absolutely irrelevant if you are a gossip. You are a liability to the health and growth of not only your store and store team but you are a liability to your colleagues. Once I was interviewing a candidate for a promotion to a Store Manager role and everyone spoke very highly of this candidate. When I asked the candidate what they could do to improve this already great store – they proceeded to tell me – for five full minutes – how the current Store Manager had “checked out” and that they would sneak out five minutes early a couple times a week – on and on about how not committed the departing manager was. The candidate was so consumed with talking poorly about the person who was supporting their promotion that they talked themselves right out of one. Since 2014 I have been absolutely pathological about understanding and getting to know all of my team members so that I know each individual person and what kind of integrity they possess. I am firm in my professional [and personal] “no jerks” policy to not only not promote gossips but to deal with this issue immediately and if not repaired – swiftly weed them out and my team is committed to this as well. Few things can hurt business and culture as much as toxic employees and it is exacerbated if their behavior is silently sanctioned through being promoted.
  • You Lack The Soft Skills Necessary To Do That Job: More than hard skills your character will be a huge consideration in promotions. When you step into a leadership position you need to display and action things with empathy and passion. You will need to resolve conflicts and deal with toxic employees. You will need to model things like honesty and integrity. You will need to show you can inspire and motivate your team. You can model you possess these competencies -today – by taking on stretch assignments and projects that show your ability to deliver these soft skills. One of the main reasons you aren’t “asked” if you are interested in an opportunity is because you aren’t modeling these hugely important skills today. Nor have you asked about how to demonstrate these soft skills or bothered to find out what they are.
  • You’re Defensive When Feedback Is Provided: Next to gossiping – this is a critical tell for people that aren’t ready for promotion. Your boss is in place because they have made a commitment to guide and support your performance and career path. They would be remiss in their responsibilities to you and the organization if they didn’t provide feedback, guidance, recognition and encouragement. But – you can’t simply accept the warm and fuzzy things. You have to be open and objective enough to understand a perspective on your performance that may differ from your own. Retail leadership is usually defined by their ability to develop and place new leadership into the right roles. It is a very rare instance when the person you report to is out to hurt your feelings by providing not-so-great performance feedback. It typically comes from a place of goodness to help you grow and find success. When you are closed off to it – you aren’t ready for promotion – no matter how skilled you think you are.
  • You Lack Initiative: This happens frequently when people are actually vocal about wanting a promotion to the next level. No matter how great you say you are – if you aren’t willing to show it because you aren’t compensated for it today – you are likely to deliver maybe “good enough” results – but great retail leadership doesn’t care about “good enough” – they care about great. They care about being the bench for the organization in every area of the business and they will only invite people into roles that are willing to contribute to the team’s excellence and greatness. Talk is cheap. Action and results speak volumes about a person.

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  • You Lack Professionalism: This goes along with learning the skills for the job you want instead of just displaying skills for the job you have. When you step into an elevated leadership role – you need to be the model for [forgive the cliché] “what right looks like”. This means you need to be extremely aware of an alignment between what you say and do and your guidance ability to your team – both verbal and non-verbal. Dedication to being a solution-seeker and truth-teller is a very hard to find competency. People who seek out ways to overcome obstacles and who don’t rely on excuses – like the weather, the customer traffic, the alignment of planets – to explain why they can’t attain better than “good enough” results are a dime a dozen. Those who don’t seek an audience to kvetch to about issues – but who achieve phenomenal results, regardless of situation – consistently – in the business are the type of people who are promoted. Your level of professionalism is up to you. If you choose to be unpolished, inarticulate, and unwilling to rise above the pedestrian level of effort – you, again, own that.
  • You Expect It: I worked in an organization once upon a time  who did promote based on longevity – that was their business model and one of the reasons their business was/is struggling. They were afraid they’d lose knowledge if they didn’t promote “John” next. Was John ready? Heck no! As a matter of fact, because it was “expected” their productivity usually would be well below what other retailers would deem “below expectations”. It was a three month HR nightmare to change this business practice in my region but one of the reasons my region was only one of two regions producing positive comps to LY and Plan [out of eight regions] and my team and I were insanely dedicated to delivering great and inviting people on to our team who wanted to be great. Promotions are earned – not gifted because of longevity. If you are passed over and it makes you angry – you need to reflect on your performance and results. If your boss doesn’t explain the “why” to you before, during, and after…you have a bad boss but that doesn’t excuse your lack of effort.

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Being passed over for a promotion doesn’t need to be the end of the world. Quite the opposite, it can be a huge learning and growth opportunity—and the catalyst or just the good old-fashioned kick-in-the-pants you need to start delivering spectacular results. Your career success is yours to own. How you handle the disappointment of not getting promoted will be a big part of your reputation and your future promotional viability. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn from the experience, and then knock their socks off!


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | beth@excellencein-retail.com [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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