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The Federal Coach
Posted at 12:41 PM ET, 03/18/2011

Ask the FedCoach: Handling tricky promotions

This week’s question is how federal managers can best communicate promotions on their team. Please continue to share your ideas and suggestions for the column by commenting below and by sending in your questions to the


How do you handle promoting someone who’s best for a position based on abilities and education over someone with more experience?  - Federal manager (GS-15) from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Just do it! I realize that making difficult decisions is never easy, particularly when you may disappoint an employee. But, remember that in a merit-based employment system like the federal government, promotions should always be based on merit not tenure. Just be sure that your promotion decisions are not a surprise to your team.

 To handle this issue, I suggest you make certain you are clear with your team about job requirements.Initiate conversations with your senior leaders, colleagues and human resources to ensure that your requirements for promotion are the same as others’. You don’t want to be caught saying one thing, and a supervisor elsewhere saying something else.

 Next, communicate your expectations to the team. I consider using a team meeting during annual review time to discuss the process, requirements and other relevant factors--such as budget cuts--that may affect promotion decisions. By having this conversation with your team, it will ensure that you are delivering the same message to everyone, and it will also offer folks an opportunity to hear your answers to the questions others pose.

 After your promotions are final, you should provide direct feedback to each member of your team.Consider scheduling an additional one-on-one session with employees who you anticipate may be disappointed by the promotions their team members have earned. Even if they’re not surprised, they may have questions about what they need to do differently moving forward.

 Finally, don’t forget to celebrate the employees who’ve been promoted. Sometimes in an effort to manage others’ disappointment, it can be easy to overlook those who’ve been promoted. Celebrate their success by bringing in bagels for the team, taking them out to lunch or recognizing their good work in your next team meeting.

 Don’t be afraid to make the right decisions regarding promotions. Just make certain that your decisions are based on merit and clear criteria and that you take the time to address the very human reactions your team may have to the outcomes.

By  |  12:41 PM ET, 03/18/2011

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