May 04, 2011

Passed Over For A Promotion

I'm willing to bet that all of you have, at one time or another, been passed over for a promotion, right?

This is a situation that the CEO deals with in Gliebers Dresses: Catalogs on Trial (Amazon Kindle, B/N Nook, $0.99).  An obviously qualified candidate is compared to outside talent.  Who will be promoted?  Will internal staff be passed over for a promotion?

Corporate America is one big tournament, a pyramid scheme of sorts.  At one point in my tenure at Nordstrom, I was responsible for twenty-four individuals.  I was a VP, I had three Directors, with twenty folks of varying experience and titles reporting into the three Directors.

Twenty individuals fighting for three Director positions.

Three Directors fighting for one VP position.

Life isn't fair.

I came into Nordstrom from the outside.  And I was ultimately finished at Nordstrom by somebody who was hired from outside the company.

In other words, many deserving folks were passed over for a promotion when I was hired, and may folks were passed over for a promotion when it was my time to move on.

And when I got to Nordstrom, I brought with me a significant amount of outside talent.  When I was given broader responsibilities two years later, I did the opposite --- I took advantage of internal skills that I felt were sufficient to do the job.  Each situation is unique.

In an effort to boost "engagement", why not use the comments section of this post to discuss how you make decisions to promote people?  And if you've been passed over for a promotion, how did you deal with the pain associated with the decision?  Discuss!


  1. I don't have a lot of experience in corporate America having chosen a life of entrepreneurship and small business, but growing people is fundamental within any size organization. I wrote a post about Keeping Good People for Life and what I call the 3Ps of Retention (1) Professional Challenge, (2) Personal Relationships and (3) Prosperity. As a manager if you actively and regularly engage in a conversation with the people on your team about each of these subjects (I am talking more than just the token annual review) and take appropriate action then you'll have the basis for when and why to promote someone. If you genuinely care as a manager for the development of your people, then you'll stand the best chance at getting the most out of them. That is what I've learned in my experience.

    Of course, there is always Seasons 1-6 of The Office.

  2. I worked at a company for 8 years where the founder was one of those "24 individuals" looking up the management hierarchy back in the late 70s. He realized his progression was going to be dependent on the death or retirement of the directors and VP above he founded his own company. I started there 30 years later, and it was a 1,000-person, $500 million company. I left 8 years later, and it was a 4,000-person, $1 billion company. Throughout the company's history, one of the key tenets of the business was that that no one should ever see their advancement as a "waiting for a spot to open up above me." The way that played out? The company focussed on constant growth, and, with that growth, new organizations and opportunities sprung up from scratch. In 8 years, I only had one straight-up "promotion up the chain." I was motivated and wanted to keep growing in directions that interested me (this Internet thing came along, and that seemed more interesting than the technical writing I was doing, and then I stumbled into web analytics and then BI and data warehousing), and the company was open to cross-organizational moves and opening up positions that had a full-time "need" on a 1-2 year horizon. I moved into newly created positions 3 times.

    I've worked in other companies that are much more rigid. Those companies were much more prone to having employees who 9-to-5'd it while waiting for an opportunity to move up the career ladder. Was it the company driving the employee behavior or vice versa? Probably both.

    My counsel to anyone who has worked for me or asked for my advice about growing their careers is to be motivated and pursue what they're passionate about. In my case, and in others I've observed, advancement comes along at a steady clip.

  3. Good comments, both of you!


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