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Passed Over for Promotion—Now What?

Passed Over for Promotion—Now What?

​Promotions can be tricky to manage. They are exhilarating for the person who moves up, but potentially devastating for the person who is passed over. How can you best handle the fallout? What should you avoid doing?Imagine these scenarios:Scenario #1. Jane and Jim apply for a promotion in their department. Jane gets it. Scenario #2. Jane and Jim apply for a promotion in their department. The position is given to an external candidate. Scenario #3 (contributed by Pamela McGee, SHRM-CP, VP of Human Resources, The Father’s Table). Jane and Jim apply for a promotion in their department. The position is given to a new hire who started at the company within last six months.While these are all common occurrences, they are also breeding grounds for resentment, disengagement and turnover. In my career, I have witnessed these scenarios many times. Typically, little more is said to the person passed over for the promotion other than “You didn’t get it.” The event only gets attention when the person subsequently performs poorly and faces disciplinary action, or during that person’s exit interview.Missing out on a promotion doesn’t have to mean the employee will strike out or quit. Employers can and should manage this situation in a more effective way. Elsewhere I’ve written about the law of employee speculation: When employees don’t know the facts, they will speculate about what the truth may be. And that speculation is invariably worse than reality.Tell Employees Why They Were Passed OverEmployees passed over for promotion need to know: a) why, b) that they’re still valued, and c) what they can do to improve their chances for future promotion.”Whenever possible,” said Colleen J. McManus, SHRM-SCP, senior HR executive with the state of Arizona, “I encourage hiring authorities to be specific about the qualifications, experience, and/or certification(s) of the selected candidate when promotions or new hires are announced. Often, this information helps less-qualified internal applicants understand why the selection decision was made.” McGee of the Father’s Table, a dessert manufacturer in Sanford, Fla., said leaders should ensure their direct reports have been following an individual development plan or having ongoing performance management discussions “with appropriate guidance of their strengths and weaknesses. These types of interactions will provide them with an understanding why they were not prepared for this promotion; thus, they should not be surprised about the new hire with less than six months [experience] being promoted ahead of them.”When applicants are fairly evenly matched in terms of qualifications but one outperforms the other in the interview, the hiring decision-maker could address the selected candidate’s strength in the interview process. McManus provided an example: “The announcement of Jane’s hire could include something like ‘Jane brought work samples to the interview that clearly demonstrated the scope of the larger-scale projects on which she has worked.’ If Jim and other internal applicants didn’t think to bring work samples or discuss larger-scale projects during their interviews, they might better understand how Jane emerged the stronger candidate.”To manage expectations and avoid disengagement around …