How the promotion system works, and why you might be disappointed with this year’s promotion exercise

This year, as every year, the decision of who to promote or not will be largely driven by a set of crude quotas supplied to DGs by DG HR. Because of the clumsy way quotas are calculated many hard working colleagues who have performed well will be left scratching their heads, disappointed at their lack of promotion.

To explain the problem, let us visualise two different DGS with 6 colleagues at each DG of the same grade, where the grade in question has a promotion rate set by the Staff Regulations of 33% (e.g. AST3->AST4, AD8->AD9, etc.) implying an average promotion rate of 3 years:

DG 1, (seniority in grade)
4 years 
3 years
2 years 

DG 2, (seniority in grade)
4 years 
3 years 
2 years 

The only difference between the two DGs is the distribution of the 6 colleagues in terms of their seniority. However, this is not taken into account by DG HR when they set the DG’s promotion quotas, which are simply based on the number of ‘promotable’ colleagues in the grade, i.e. the number of colleagues within the grade who have at least 2 years of seniority, (which in our simplified example is everybody). The result is that when DG HR’s calculations are made for the DG’s quotas, for both DG1 and DG2 the quota will be the same – let’s say that in this example their calculation gives both of the DGs a quota of 3.

Now let’s assume that in both DGs, the 6 colleagues are judged by their hierarchy to have put in an equally good performance, as evidenced by their respective appraisal reports, their recognized use of languages and levels of responsibility. The result of the promotion exercise will be as follows:

DG 1:
4 years 
3 years 
2 years 

DG 2:
4 years 
3 years 
2 years 

In both cases, 3 colleagues are smiling , and 3 are not . However, if we focus in particular on the two colleagues in each case who have 3 years seniority and are therefore “due” for a promotion, in both cases they are average performers in a group of average performers, but in DG 1 they will get promoted , whereas in DG 2 they will not . The reason is simply because of the way the seniorities of other colleagues in their grade happen to be distributed around them.

This unfortunately gives our promotion system arbitrary outcomes, since no account is taken of the seniorities of colleagues in a grade when quotas are given to DGs. (In a previous version of the promotion system, account was taken of seniority, but DG HR no longer apply this because some DGs started playing tricks by artificially putting officials in slow careers to increase their quotas).

This is of course a simplification in a number of ways: Not all colleagues will be deemed to have had an average performance, and so the distribution of promotions will not just depend on seniority. Indeed, the Staff Regulations, and now also jurisprudence, dictate that promotion should be based solely on merit, therefore why would we be asking for quota adjustments on the basis of
seniority?

While G2004 indeed supports the idea that promotions should be based solely on merit, the fact is that under the current system we observe that whilst merit plays a part, seniority is still the de facto principal determiner in promotion decisions.

Because of this reality where it is DG quotas and seniority with only limited adjustment for merit that drives promotion decisions, and because DG HR clearly feels it necessary to give DGs a helping hand with promotion arithmetic (we could also argue that DGs do not need quotas at all), G2004 argues that for the sake of fairness, quotas supplied by DG HR should also be adjusted to take
into account the distribution of seniority years within a grade in a given year. This would avoid the situation described above, where hard working colleagues who have put in solid performances are denied the rewards they deserve , while underperforming colleagues get lucky , simply because they happen to be in a DG with an unfavourable, respectively favourable distribution of seniority within their grade in the respective year. Whilst these phenomena will tend to even themselves out over a career, with the ‘distribution’ luck on your side in some years leading to quicker promotions and vice versa, a slightly more sophisticated set of quotas from DG HR would serve to fine tune better performance and seniority with reward, and this would clearly be in the interest of both staff and of the institution.

In the meantime, some colleagues who now better understand the current system may be wondering how they can make it work in their favour in order to get themselves faster promotions. The answer to this is that it is not easy, since firstly as your promotion decision approaches you would have to have the not readily available data about how the seniority distribution of
others in your grade in your DG, and secondly, in the scenario that the distribution was unfavourable, (typically with many colleagues overdue for promotion, but few in the promotable-but-not-due-for-promotion range), then the only option to avoid disappointment based on distribution would be to try and change DG (or institution) before the promotion exercise.

This is of course a rather drastic option, and rarely one that would justify the upheaval just for the sake of improving your promotion odds. Furthermore, it would also depend on having an equivalent knowledge of the seniority distribution in your new DG in order to know whether it was any more favourable that in your current DG. In addition, the distributions in both DGs are
ever changing with the movement of staff between DGs. Finally, as mobility between DGs is sadly often punished by the current promotion system, the benefits in terms of being within a more favourable seniority distribution are unlikely to outweigh the general detrimental effect of changing DG in a possible promotion year. However, for a colleague who is in any case considering a
move between two DGs, but is undecided on whether to make that move, if they could obtain the data, then the differing odds of their next promotion because of seniority distributions might be worth taking into account alongside all other factors in making a decision.

We’ll keep on pushing to change the system. But until then, we wish you “Good luck!”

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