One of the most frustrating characteristics of employment promotions is the lack of candor. Consider this scenario: An employee has been applying for various promotional opportunities for the past five years. Each time she has been turned down, she has received a letter thanking her for her interest and noting that a highly qualified candidate was selected. The people on the oral board have been warned by Human Resources not to discuss the reasons why any of the applicants were turned down.
This is a common practice. The fingerprints of cautious employment attorneys are all over it. I can understand their advice. It reduces the likelihood of a challenge to the selection decision. It helps keep their clients out of court.
Here’s the problem. Let’s say that the reason the employee has been turned down is that in several cases, she turned off the oral board by talking too much. In a few other instances, she cited some accomplishments that seemed to be exaggerated.
No one has talked to her about these mistakes. She will continue to apply for promotions and continue to be rejected.
I can understand the cautious language with regard to external applicants because of the greater legal risk and the lack of obligation to develop the person, but the environment changes significantly when someone who is already within the organization is applying. In those cases, the employer is evaluating the internal talent pool and not simply filling a position.
Advising employees on how they can improve their chances for promotion should be a standard practice, not an aberration. The option to obtain candid feedback is one that would be welcomed by many applicants and it has a natural relationship with the entire concept of employee development.
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The applicants might not always like what they hear, but there are times when candor is much kinder than silence. Employers and their attorneys should consider the burden carried by internal applicants who, carrying the hope of advancement, are not given the tools for improvement.
Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.