Promotion in Place
Someone who receives a promotion in place is in a scenario where the upgrade in employment comes without changing jobs. The person in question receives a more prestigious job title, and frequently also gets the increased compensation that comes along with the new title, but remains in his or her current position, often with little or no adjustment to his or her job description or work duties. There are two common scenarios for promotions in place.
Scenario Number One
The company in question offers a variety of job titles that essentially are honorifics that recognize excellence or seniority, in addition to the more traditional titles that roughly correspond to one's rank in the firm's managerial hierarchy. For example, during this writer's tenure at Merrill Lynch, the firm created a job title called "Director" that essentially was a higher grade of Vice President.
The Director title was granted in recognition of excellent performance over an extended period. No hard and fast parameters were set, but approximately 10 years as a Vice President seemed to be the unstated minimum before one could be considered a serious candidate for the Director title.
Being promoted to Director did not necessarily denote leadership of a larger or more important organization that would be headed by someone with a Vice President title. Indeed, many of those named Directors managed relatively small staffs; some, in fact, were essentially individual contributors with minimal supervisory responsibilities.
Similarly, the vast majority of people who moved up from Assistant Vice President to Vice President did so while remaining in the same job, with the same responsibilities. One normally became eligible for this very common promotion in place after completing an unspecified number of years with the firm, and after receiving consistently high-performance reviews.
Note, meanwhile, that persons hired from the outside who held Vice President or equivalent titles with other firms typically would expect to receive a Vice President designation as a condition of hiring.
At the old Western Electric division of AT&T (later spun off as Lucent Technologies), this writer saw a similar system of recognition titles. In particular, non-engineering technical and professional staff general held the job title of Information Systems Staff Member (ISSM). A few long-serving employees were designated Information Systems Senior Staff Members (ISSSM).
While these individuals typically had become important subject matter experts and showed leadership qualities among their peers, they nonetheless usually were not in formal supervisory positions of any sort. The loftier title, in fact, typically was the only outward distinction between their peers and them.
Scenario Number Two
The workgroup, department or organization in question has been upgraded in status, for any of a number of reasons. As a result, the head thereof may receive an upgraded job title in consequence. This scenario is not nearly as common as the first, but it is seen from time to time.
One situation in which you might see this variation is in the aftermath of a corporate merger. To harmonize job titles across the merged entities, certain people working in the acquired firm (or junior partner in the merger) might end up receiving apparently loftier titles while seeing nothing else change regarding their positions.
Additionally, handing out fancier titles to those whose company has been acquired can be a way to soothe anxieties and paper over the fact that they actually have lost status.