Dynamic delegation in promotion contests

I study how organizations assign tasks to identify the best candidate to promote among a pool of workers. Task allocation and workers’ motivation interact through the organization’s promotion decisions. The organization designs the workers’ careers to both screen and develop talent. When only non-routine tasks are informative about a worker’s type and non-routine tasks are scarce, the organization’s preferred promotion system is an index contest. Each worker is assigned a number that depends only on his own type. The principal delegates the non-routine task to the worker whose current index is the highest and promotes the first worker whose type exceeds a threshold. Each worker’s threshold is independent of the other workers’ types. Competition is mediated by the allocation of tasks: who gets the opportunity to prove themselves is a determinant factor in promotions. Finally, features of the optimal promotion contest rationalize the prevalence of fast-track promotion, the role of seniority, or when a group of workers is systemically advantaged.