In The Workplace

I have two senior workers who have been with us since the establishment of the company 15 years ago. They’re the average “yes” men who follow direction but lack leadership qualities. Now, I’m considering a younger guy we hired five years ago to be my assistant manager. He’s a dynamic, fast-track guy who exhibited consistent high work performance, and at many times has exceeded my expectations. However, I’m worried about the implications of promoting someone ahead of my pioneers. How do I handle the situation? — Thorny.
A mother tells a cute story about her eight-year-old boy’s visit to the doctor with her. While viewing her chest X-rays, the curious child asks what all those “things” are. The doctor says, those are his mother’s bones. With great concern, the boy asks: “Are you going to put them back in?”
Just like the boy in our story, your concern is how to “put back” what has been diagnosed, but this time, it’s about the effect of bypassing the two senior guys. You’re right. It’s one of the sensitive issues that you have to deal with when you’re in management. Some of the possible issues may be valid as many organizations would consider favoring those in senior positions, but that’s assuming that all of the applicants’ qualifications are equal.
Whether the issue of bypassing is valid or not, it’s a touchy subject because we’re talking here of rejecting two pioneering workers over a neophyte who has proven worthy of promotion. The issue becomes complicated if the two workers are required to report to the newly promoted person.
This calls for a great deal of diplomacy but with a decision still based on practicality and reality. There are several tactics that may prove useful in this regard:
1. Decide based on existing company policy. People will give all kinds of reasons as to why they should be promoted ahead of everyone. But no one can argue against a clear, objective, and robust promotion policy. As long as the rules are fair and announced beforehand, including one that has a provision favoring meritocracy over seniority, then you can’t go wrong.
2. Refer to the industry practice and standard. In the absence of a clear policy on promotion, your next best approach is to use the most common reasonable practice. It could be any acceptable policy that’s being used by your competitors, if not the prevailing standards within a certain geographical location, like in an export processing zone.
3. Send all candidates to a third-party service provider. If items no. 1 and 2 above are not possible, your next approach is to send the candidates for evaluation by an external consultant. There are many consultants who can give you professional advice on the best possible candidate for the job. The process includes an online assessment test and validated by interviews by psychologists, among others.
4. Emphasize the fairness of the company’s promotion process. This should help the employees’ misconception about the management policy. This happens when they hear another worker who was promoted unjustly, except that they don’t know the whole circumstances. The best way to quickly put the issue to rest is by being able to show the reasonable of the company’s policy.
5. Reverse unfounded claims of superior work performance. It’s one of the trickiest arguments that can be made by workers who are about to be bypassed for promotion. It’s important because you don’t want to demotivate people from excelling, so you have to rely on the company’s objective performance appraisal system to demolish unfounded claims.
6. Defend the policy of meritocracy against seniority. How can you promote someone solely on the basis of his or her length of service when there are deserving people? Russ Minary says it all in his blog: “In the real world, results speak louder than words. For example, some people have gone fishing many times but they’ve never caught the big ones (seniority). Other people take some risks, go on adventures and catch the big ones (meritocracy).”
7. Groom everyone for future career advancement. Give them equal chances to do a better job. There are many ways to do this. One is by assigning them difficult, if not challenging tasks. Allow everyone to exceed your expectations using less company resources or accomplish targets way ahead of agreed timeline. Another approach is to appoint the candidates to act in your behalf when you’re on vacation. And rotate the schedule among potential candidates.
8. Give losing candidates hope for their future. But without giving them false hopes. You don’t want people to remain unhappy since they may look for other opportunities elsewhere, which means the possibility of losing some who have institutional memory about the organization. If it’s practical, try to find other opportunities elsewhere within the company for these employees. If promotion is not possible, then maybe transfer to a different department or a geographical location could be helpful.
Promoting someone and leaving others on the back burner is always a no-win situation if you fail to follow an objective and fair process. If you make a mistake, serious repercussions can result that could range from people seeking jobs elsewhere to decreased cooperation that could hinder productivity inside the organization.
This is not to mention the everyday silent resentment and a work environment fraught with tension.
ELBONOMICS: Work hard in silence. Let your success be the noise.
This columnist is holding a one-day workshop on “Lean HR: How to Stop Inefficiency and Win Back Control of Your Work!” to be held on May 23, 2018 at Makati Diamond Residences. For details or registration, contact Ricky Mendoza at (02) 846-8951 or 0915-406-3039 or e-mail