Look at missed promotion as a learning opportunity

Dear Joan,
I am an admirer of your column and read it every week. I think it is a column many can relate to, and you give excellent advice. I am now in a position where I need your advice.

I am an employee at a major company and have been for 12 years. I have worked my way up from the bottom of the ladder and now I am an assistant manager of a district office. Recently an opportunity for a district manager position arose and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me. I completed an internal posting for the position, faxed it to Human Resources, and called to confirm that it was received. I was told that it was and that I would be contacted for an interview by the general manager.

I waited a week and called HR again when I was not contacted. I was then told the general manager was on vacation and would call when he returned the following Wednesday. On that Thursday, I inquired to my manager about the position and he informed me that the position had been given to a former co-worker of mine. In the past, I had, on several occasions, trained this employee, including when he, too, became an assistant manager.

I inquired to HR and was informed that my posting was lost when it was sent to the general manager via interoffice mail. He said he always sends them interoffice mail. I then spoke with the general manager, who also stated that he did not receive the posting. They both apologized for this first error in the company’s history and they tell me how sorry they are but since the position is offered and accepted there is nothing they can do.

Later, in my own investigation, I find out he was in the position long before it was even posted as being available. I feel betrayed by everyone in a company I have given 12 years to, and now I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?

Although this may seem like betrayal, don’t be too quick to level judgment. In fact, there are several plausible explanations. I suggest that you look at the situation from a few other perspectives.

The first possibility is that it could have been a legitimate mistake. In large companies, communication between departments and units can be a significant problem. For instance, because there were several departments involved, it is possible that there was lag time between when the position was posted and/or filled and the message was sent to Human Resources. In your case, the general manager was on vacation, which could have been part of the communication problem.

Another explanation is that the Human Resources person just plain messed up. He may have forgotten to send your application to the hiring manager and then was reluctant to admit it. Perhaps he thought you wouldn’t dig deeper, and when you did, it just made him dig a bigger hole for himself.

Another possibility is that somebody went around the system to hire the person they wanted. All companies do not have posting systems. But for those who do, they are supposed to follow it. However, let’s talk reality. There are times when a hiring manager has already determined whom they want to fill the job. In these cases, they will often go through the motions or skip steps, but hire the person they wanted all along. This is particularly common in upper level management positions. At that level, there are often several senior managers involved in selecting the candidate and they will often bypass the posting system. For instance, they will consider which "high potential performer" need a specific kind of growth opportunity.

Another possibility is that you weren’t considered because they did not feel that you would be right for the job. If so, it doesn’t appear that anyone is giving you the feedback you need.

At this point, I think making a bigger ruckus will only diminish your chances for promotions in the future. For instance, the fact that you trained your former peer and that you’ve dedicated yourself for twelve years is immaterial. Similarly, whether there was an honest logistical mistake or someone did indeed bypass the system, you need to know how you can be ready next time.

If your peer was viewed as being a better candidate, you need to rethink what you have to offer and take steps to raise your visibility. You need to go talk to your manager and ask him, "What do I need to do to be considered next time?" Your manager can be your biggest asset now. Hopefully, he will be candid with you and provide you with some new opportunities to grow yourself on your current job, so you will be ready…whether the position is with your current employer or with another company.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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