A key management vacancy is coming up and an internal appointment seems obvious. In your opinion, there's only one candidate, but colleagues are championing their own proteges. And you know there'll be resentment from those who miss out. So what's the best way to handle a promotion?
PLAN AHEAD. Succession plans have their limitations, because they close off options and are overtaken by events. The answer, says Angela Barron, adviser to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, is to develop all your people on a continuous basis. 'Find out where individuals want to go in their career and provide them with the training, so that when a vacancy occurs, you have a choice of qualified people,' she says.
THINK AGAIN. Don't assume that because a position is being vacated it must be filled in exactly the same form. 'A lot of organisations are increasingly looking to 'vacancy management' - using every vacancy to re-think the boundaries of jobs,' explains Andrew Forrest, learning and development director at the Industrial Society.
CAST YOUR NET WIDE. Ideally, you should advertise the post but, failing that, you should consider any internal candidate who is suitably qualified. 'You have to keep an eye on equal opportunities legislation,' says Forrest, 'so it just isn't good enough to have your favourite blue-eyed boy manoeuvred into the job.' When a coveted job is filled behind closed doors, it will only lead to resentment.
PROFILE AND MATCH. Too often, promotions are made on the basis of gut instinct, or even likability, when a more scientific approach will yield better results, says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester School of Management. 'Draw up a profile of the job in question, looking at the skills, competencies and personality traits that it requires, then do the same with each of your candidates and find the best match.'
ASK A COLLEAGUE. 'If you involve other people in the selection process who will be internal customers of the person chosen, you will get a broad range of perceptions, and that person will have the support of those they will work with,' says Louise Coates, head of performance and development at HR consultants William Mercer.
LET DOWN THE LOSERS. If you know there are individuals who will be disappointed not to get the promotion, talk to them personally. You can use this as an opportunity to discuss their own aspirations and development needs, and what can be done to meet them. 'But if you feel they won't go any higher,' says Forrest, 'it's only fair to tell them, so they won't labour on with false expectations.'
OFFER A LIFELINE. Throwing your promotions in at the deep end to see if they sink or swim might sound macho but it is a pitiful waste of resources. Making a transition from one level to another is challenging for most people, and support is vital. Immediate managers can provide coaching, while somebody more detached can act as mentor, providing a sounding board.
SECONDMENT RATHER THAN TRIAL. If you promote somebody on a trial basis or give them a 'designate' title, it is both a sign of weakness and a hostage to failure. If the appointment doesn't work out, the individual may feel humiliated and it could be difficult to return them to their former job. If you're not sure, a secondment can achieve the same end without the burden of expectation.
DO SAY: 'After extensive evaluation, Rachel has been chosen to fill this post on the strength of her relevant experience, her team-building skills and the respect in which she is held by colleagues.'
DON'T SAY: 'I've been grooming Warren for this job since he started. If someone else thinks they could do it better, it's hard luck.'