3 Weird Ways People Get Promoted

There are lots of ways to get promoted. Hard work, diligence, nepotism... But at some companies, not even having a relative in a senior position is worth much when it comes to climbing up the ranks. (See also: 12 Unique Ways to Score a Job Interview)

Read on for three of the quirkiest, most inventive promotion methods you've ever heard of. They're anything but run of the mill.

1. An Algorithm

Seven years ago a team of Google's senior-most data crunchers set out to create a mathematical equation to determine who got promoted and when. "We wanted analytics to spit out our people decisions," says Google VP of People Analytics Prasad Setty. Previously, the company's top dogs would gather for several days at a hotel where they would scour performance reviews and ultimately hand out promotions to those employees they concluded were most deserving. It was an exhausting and time-consuming process, one that Google executives believed big data could accomplish more efficiently. And so the fate of thousands of employees was entrusted to an algorithm.

Turns out, people didn't like that much. "We thought that these people who lived in the world of search and ads algorithms all day long would love this," Setty says. But when the algorithm was presented to Google's hiring committees, they were completely unreceptive. They simply didn't think an algorithm could replace the consideration and care that goes into human resources decisions. And so, after much debate, Google executives agreed that people should make people decisions. Data still contributes to Google's promotions processes, but it's people that are at the reigns.

It seems robots won't be taking over for human resources managers anytime soon.

2. Random Selection

Organizations would be more efficient if they promoted people at random. That's the counterintuitive conclusion arrived at by three Italian researchers who were awarded the 2010 Ig Nobel prize in management for their research. Their work is based on the Peter Principle, the idea that merit-based promotion results in many people assuming positions that exceed their level of competency. To fix this problem, the researchers simply removed merit from the equation. What they found is that when people win promotions by lottery, the entire organization performs better. Yes, we know it sounds crazy, but these researchers did the math to back it up.

What the Italians didn't consider, however, is the reaction of employees when informed by management that when it comes to future promotions, their hard work and accomplishments won't be considered. (We predict the scene would be something just short of the apocalypse.)

3. A Sense of Humor

Proteus International weighs a person's sense of humor when making hiring and promotion decisions, according to founding partner Erika Andersen. "Last year we had two final candidates for an admin job in our company; both looked great on paper, and their phone interviews had been positive," she writes in an explainer on Forbes. "We then had both candidates do an in-person 'inbox simulation' — in effect, a couple of hours doing tasks and interactions he or she would do on the job. So both people came into the office and spent a couple of hours with us. It quickly became very clear which person we wanted. A key difference: One candidate had a sense of humor, while the other was almost completely humorless."

It wasn't that the chosen candidate told jokes; rather, she was quick-witted and funny in an understated sort of way. Andersen explains, "When I said, 'You're a native New Yorker? I don't meet many of those,' she replied, 'Yeah, I know more people in New York who are from other countries than from other boroughs.'" Nothing worthy of an SNL performance, but it's the kind of clever and light-hearted remark that makes a person generally pleasant to be around.

As it turns out, humor is valued by executives far beyond the boardroom at Proteus International. A recent survey by Robert Half Finance found that 79% of chief financial officers believe an employee's sense of humor plays an important role in how well they fit in with the company's corporate culture. Many of those surveyed also said they believe a person with a sense of humor produces better work.

What's the strangest way you've been promoted?

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