Jedi Office Hours: Passed Over for a Promotion, Part II

If you haven’t read the first part of this post, you will want to read this first.

So… we established Jane was upset.

She applied for a position she expected to get but didn’t. Now she was expected to train the person that was chosen for that position.

After a while in HR, you get to know the people you serve. You know what they are capable of, you know how far to push the envelope when probing and you know what boxes they live in. On paper, some people seem like a great fit for a role but there’s an ugly truth in HR you should know about.

Job Requirements Don’t Matter As Much As We Say They Do

Jane made it to work on-time, everyday. She took her work seriously. She had to be asked, on occasion, not to come in when she was sick. (Who even does that anymore?) She met her deadlines consistently. She had back-up plans for her back-up plans.

So, reliability? … not a problem.

Performance, maybe?

Before meeting with Jane I reviewed her employee file. It reflected high productivity ratings each year – above average to excellent appraisals. She was a team player. There were “kudos” notes in her file – meaning, other employees added letters to her file commending her for her contributions on different projects. She increased her knowledge base through training and shared her knowledge with others.

Performance, growth and relatedness … check, check, check. No issues.

Perhaps, there were behaviors that needed to be corrected.

I asked Jane to tell me what prompted her to write that email. She said that while grateful she kept her job, Jane felt bamboozled by her boss. Let’s call him “Joe”.

Jane said Joe never asked her if taking on additional responsibilities was the direction she wanted to go professionally. He basically just piled on the work and she did not complain. She didn’t want to appear as if she was unable to handle the extra responsibility and eventually realized she was actually good at her new responsibilities. She wanted to do more.

So, she worked hard on preparing herself for a management role she learned would soon become available. She shared her interest regarding professional growth with her boss.

And that’s where things got hairy.

He never expressed it verbally, but Jane said she sensed her manager did not feel she was “management material”.

“I never understood my performance appraisals,” she said.

Once I spoke to Joe, it was apparent that another one of HR’s unspoken truths reared its ugly head.

Hiring for Fit is really about Hiring for Convenience

Joe was pretty open about why Jane did not get the promotion.

“She’s not ready to lead,” he said.

He admitted having discouraged Jane from applying for the role. Jane was not whom he envisioned in that position and it was never meant to be a permanent transition.

Did she meet the requirements? On paper, absolutely.


Jane was difficult to manage. She was combative and questioned authority (his, in particular).

She wouldn’t excel in their culture, he said. Corporate speak for not “fitting in”.

In addition, now was not the “right time” for her to be developed.


So, it’s not that she did not meet the job requirements, or that she wasn’t “management material”. Jane had a strong personality and was not as easy to manages, and the change in his department would not be welcomed at this time.

I was sure he could have gone on and on.

As a manager, that decision was entirely Joe’s to make. But clearly if his goal was to maintain the status quo in his department, he’d failed miserably.

Set Proper Expectations

Stuff happens. Businesses sometimes need to make quick decisions to address unexpected situations. But if we can help it, we need to let the team know about our game plan so that they can be effective in their roles, too.

If there are issues keeping an employee from growing in a organization, that’s what reviews are for. Identifying the challenges and setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, related, and time-bound) goals are not just for increasing sales. They are also used to modify behaviors, and discussing it once a year is not enough.

Also, temporary role solutions should be just that: temporary. Especially if, as a manager, you see no future for that person in the role.


Form Letters Do Not Replace A Real Conversation

A rejection letter is meant to inform. That’s it.

A form letter and a follow-up meeting between the manager and the current employee/rejected candidate ensures continued engagement and an opportunity to clear the air.

Maybe it’s time for a change. A clean break. Or, just reassurance that their continued contributions are appreciated, but it needs to happen.

Will it be easy? No. It will be uncomfortable as hell for both of you.

Not doing so allows the emotions behind these situations to fester, especially if the employee ends up staying.

Why? Because the potential for the employee to become toxic increases while engagement and productivity decreases. Not to mention the ongoing impact of that toxicity affecting that employee’s performance or their relationship with others.

And then you don’t just have a miserable employee on your hands. You have a miserable team, too.

So, my advice for Jane was this:

Being passed over for a promotion sucks is disappointing, but it is also an opportunity to have a frank conversation with your boss, in a constructive and transparent format.

What needs to change?

What needs your focus to improve?

What won’t change and will that keep you from moving up?

If you find that your boss is not someone you can talk to, and your moves are limited, then maybe you need to decide whether you are working for the right boss. Or, even the right company.

And take steps to change that.

But if your boss is open to discussing what needs to change for you to grow, embrace the opportunity to be transparent and show them you lead with your head. In the end, some transparency and humility will get you further than you think.

2 thoughts on “Jedi Office Hours: Passed Over for a Promotion, Part II

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.