Who Should Get Promoted?

Courtesy of Expert Staffing • posted January 23, 2014

Eventually, all novice managers encounter one of the biggest challenges of any supervisory position: looking out over a group of competent, industrious, intelligent employees and choosing just one of them for a coveted promotion. This decision has to be made, and usually there’s no way around it; just because you’re torn between two highly qualified candidates doesn’t mean you can turn one available position into two and make everybody happy. And the stakes can be high. Most employees will accept being passed over for a well-deserved promotion—but only once. If you pass a self-respecting employee over twice, prepare to lose that person.

So how can you make the right choice? Here are a few qualities and considerations to keep in mind.

1. Choose the candidate backed by numbers. If Jack and Sally are both angling for the position, turn away from their bright-eyed faces for the time being, and direct your gaze to spreadsheets, performance numbers, sales quotas, and projects that have been completed on time and on budget. Look at these hard numbers first. And if Sally’s numbers are higher, keep this fact at the top of your list of criteria.

2. Envision scenarios. For example, if you need to stay late tonight to complete a project, which of the two will be more likely to cancel their evening plans and stay with you? If you can’t picture Sally doing this, but you know Jack won’t hesitate, take this fact into account.

3. Focus on positivity. When something goes wrong, Jack will usually identify the problem and point it out. But Sally will do this too. And instead of just naming the problem, Sally tends to quickly start suggesting solutions. In the race for the promotion, Sally pulls ahead.

4. Choose the candidate with grace in the face of criticism. If Sally tends to get tense and hostile when her work is criticized, how will she respond when the position becomes more advanced and the criticism becomes harsher and even more direct? If Jack accepts criticism humbly and owns his mistakes, he may be better prepared for the next level.

5. Pay attention to context. “Promotions” have a very specific place and a specific value in our culture, and they never happen in a vacuum. No matter how objective you think you’re being, acknowledge that as a member of our society, you carry a host of conscious and unconscious prejudices (and being a member of a historically marginalized race, class, or gender doesn’t exempt you from this fact). If one of your candidates is female and the other is male, or one is white and the other is non-white, remember that the female/non-white/non-native-born employee has had to overcome more challenges and obstacles then the other candidate in order to stand where they are today. The playing field is not even, so before you try to identify the fastest runner on your team, take a close look at the length and condition of their respective tracks.

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