In The Workplace

I’m a vice-president who is torn between promoting an average-performing old-timer (OT) and a newcomer with star qualities (SQ) to a vacant managerial post. The human resource (HR) department does not have a clear policy on promotion but recommended OT. I rejected this advice out of my belief that meritocracy should prevail over seniority. How do we resolve this matter?  — Yellow Submarine.

The most objective and practical way is to send both OT and SQ through an evaluation process by a third party, using tools like psychological assessments, job simulation games, ability and aptitude tests. It may cost your organization some money but the result can be worth if you want to assess likely on-the-job performance.

As a department head, you must understand the dynamics of each and every relationship in your organization. It could be that the HR department is influenced by friendship with OT. We can’t say for sure. That’s one reason why you need to be very careful with your choice.

Of course, loyalty as displayed by OT is an important ingredient in any work relationship, except that any hiring decision must balance the need for loyalty with the overall requirements of the job. It is possible to interpret OT’s long service as reflecting an inability to get a job elsewhere.

If this is the case, then a consistent performer like SQ, who could serve as a role model, might be more welcome. On the other hand, OT and the rest of your department may have been so accustomed to a relaxed work environment that SQ might be treated like a pariah if he rocks the boat by demanding more performance.

If you aren’t aware of these things, maybe you don’t have your ear to the ground.

You need to make a firm and objective decision that keeps future issues from arising. Now might be the right time to create or review a management policy with the help of the HR department. Put it in black and white that merit takes precedence over seniority. Seniority should come in only to settle ties between equally-qualified candidates.

Here are some ideas that you can use to create a healthy working environment:

One, job vacancies must be announced to all workers. Go public. Explain the requirements of the job, the required qualifications and the timeline for submitting applications. This does not mean ignoring those who do not indicate their interest. If this happens, talk to people who are next in line and find out what their career plans are.

Two, promotion policy must align with succession planning. You can’t have one without the other. If there’s a vacancy, the succession plan (aka replacement plan) is the first document you should consult. Unlike the promotion policy, a succession plan must be kept confidential to avoid adversely affecting the morale of people not on the list.

Last, employee career management and career planning. This is the job of all line managers and department heads who must practice proactive communication with their direct reports. This requires a regular engagement dialogue to help discern the employees’ career interests and assist them through a multi-pronged training and coaching program.

People management is the heart and soul of every organization. In order for your business to succeed, it’s important to manage people effectively, by motivating them not just with big money and handsome perks. You should also do so with zero-cash motivational approaches that let them use their talent to full potential.

While the employment contract carries with it specific expectations from both employees and management, there are many unwritten rules, like treating everyone with due respect and trust.

Everyone deserves a happy, healthy, secure and safe working environment. The employees themselves must be the ones making the environment sustainable. Anything less than this would represent a clear failure in motivating people. It may lead to the promotion of deadwood over candidates who consistently perform like stars.


Consult with Rey Elbo via Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or send your workplace questions to or via