Promote Happy


  • Some people are motivated to lead, some are motivated to work
  • Structure your available promotion path to accommodate both leaders and workers
  • Allow people to switch across paths

We have known for years now that company cultures and structures from the '70s and '80s do not fulfill the generation of people that are entering the workforce today. As I write this I am fortunate enough to be working with a company that understands people and what motivates them. 

The culture goes beyond the typical low hanging fruits like free snacks and a Foosball table. The company respects the individuality of its people, but moreover they find ways to actively nurture it. I talk frequently about the concept of Lead Happy: that leaders should focus on their people's fulfillment and inspiration when making decisions that may impact them. A contributing concept of Lead Happy is what I'll call "Promote Happy" (dangerously cheesy, I know).

Promote Happy is not a new concept, and I've worked with other companies that do this, but I want to try to shed light on its importance and why I believe it's a vital shift that every organization needs to make if they hope to maintain an attractive and fulfilling work environment.

The days of one track careers are gone, or at least they should be. That is, to force a person into one prescribed path for their career in your organization is to disregard their individuality. That might seem harsh, but let me explain:

The Traditional Path

We'll use Basket Weaver as our example career. You start as an entry level Basket Weaver, you learn and prove that you're one of the best Basket Weavers in the company. Then a spot opens up above you, and because you're such an amazing Basket Weaver you get a promotion. Now you oversee other Basket Weavers, but rarely weave for yourself. It's a path we're all familiar with. And it makes sense, right? Wrong.

What if you don't have leadership skills? What if you're not a good at coaching and leading others in their weaving journey? You could develop these skills, sure. But what if you really loved basket weaving, and you don't love leading Basket Weavers? In this traditional model you don't have a choice; you either lead Basket Weavers, or your career remains stagnant. 

Do you want someone who isn't good at, or passionate about, leadership in a leadership position in your company? Would you want someone that's not a good Basket Weaver, weaving your baskets? They're two different skill sets, but they both deserve career progression.

What you've done however, is forced an incredible Basket Weaver into a completely different role. They wanted the recognition of a promotion, they wanted to advance their career, but did you ever think that maybe they didn't want to lead people? But then how do you accommodate both? Some companies have taken a shot at this by implementing the following two pronged approach:

People Path

This is the path of promotion for people that want the responsibility of leading, coaching, and mentoring Basket Weavers. They want to be responsible for people. This is for individuals who have an interest in things like emotional intelligence, coaching plans, cultural preservation, seeing the forest through the trees, and making strategic decisions instead of execution decisions.

Notice I did not specifically mention their abilities as a Basket Weaver. That's because technical expertise is not a primary factor in deciding if a person should be promoted along this path. Again, they're a different set of skills. A strong grasp of the technical is important, but the best weavers do not automatically make the best weaver leaders. 

Let the people who are passionate about leadership, lead; and those that are passionate about weaving, weave. Promote, reward, and recognize both.

This leads us to the second path.

Specialist Path

The specialist path is for those that love basket weaving. It's their passion, and it keeps them motivated to get out of bed every day. But what does a promotion without gaining more authority look like?

It's a promotion in seniority. With this promotion they gain the authority of the title of Senior Basket Weaver (not to be confused with Señor Basket Weaver). They are the experts of basket weaving in your company. They are the ones that leadership go to for consultation about how the organization might execute an idea they have. They are the go-to for anything related to basket weaving, and their expertise and hard work is recognized via title and consultation.

Though they do not officially lead other Basket Weavers, they can act as the technical resource for them. They aren't responsible for the professional development of the weavers like their supervisors are, but they are an encyclopedia of basket weaving information that more junior weavers can go to for technical guidance and leadership.

People leaders might set the goal, but the specialist leaders will help the org figure out how to get there. 


Have you ever wondered why middle management is such a stagnant level in organizations? So many people get to middle management but don't promote further. Why is that? It might, in part, be because they had the skills and passion to be an incredible Basket Weaver, but not an incredible weaver leader. So now they've been forced between a rock and an un-promotable hard place. 

This leads me to a very important factor in all of this:

Allow people to change paths. Perhaps over time they discover the passion and develop the skills to lead people. Maybe they get tired of just weaving baskets and want to explore that challenge. Or vice versa, they realize their passion is not leading after all and they want to go back to weaving baskets, or even weaving straw hats! Allow them the freedom to make that decision, and support their desire to do so.


I think there is a lot of potential for additional paths, each path catering to a different motivation and skill set. Giving your people the option to pursue the path that best fits their goals will ensure they are fulfilled and inspired, making way for the motivation that already exists within them. I challenge you to find other innovative ways like this to enrich your people's lives.

Promote Happy.