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How do you deal with an obviously inferior candidate winning a promotion?
October 4, 2011 12:02 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with an obviously inferior candidate winning a promotion? Am I whining? Am I worried about nothing? Do I care too much about my work being a mostly pleasant place to be 40 hours a week? I'm not sure what to think or how to feel. Thoughts? Advice? Thanks in advance.

This guy is nearly unanimously disliked by his peers, complains about work, hates dealing with customers (retail environment), and is straight up rude and passive aggressive. Somehow he ranked higher than candidates with better attitudes, better skills, and fewer downsides. (They don't come to work hungover!) He may soon be one of my bosses.

They were all inside candidates, so I have worked with all of them, know them personally, and reviewed their applications even though I was not on the hiring panel.

I am totally baffled and wonder if/how to bring this up. I see it as a huge mistake that will drag down morale, which is something I really care about, and that he may have said he cares about on paper and in an interview, but is totally incompatible with his approach to pretty much everything.

It doesn't appear to be any kind of favoritism, as they really seem to think he is the best candidate. Yet, all I can think of is how hard they've been gamed, and how stupid they must be to not be able to see that, which is a terrible attitude for me to have, but I can't help it.

Full disclosure: I went out for this position and was denied. However, I don't mind not getting it, as long as someone who clearly should get it does. This guy is not that. I have my own set of downsides, but as far as I know they hardly compare.
posted by troubadour to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe he was a pain because he was bored, frustrated and/or underemployed in his previous post. Perhaps he has killer ideas about taking the place forward and that impressed the hiring bods. Responsibility can bring out the best in people. Or maybe he'll be rubbish - the thing is you can't know at this stage what will happen. What could be gained by raising concerns now? They won't un-offer the post and you could set up a nasty situation where the new hire is being undermined from the get-go, which honestly won't turn out well for you even if he is rubbish. Workplaces are dynamic, things change. If anything you'll learn a lot from seeing how he handles the transition - it's not easy to be promoted from within and you can observe what does and doesn't work at close quarters!

Give it time and see what happens. If he turns out to be the worst boss ever you can raise it with the higher-ups then.
posted by freya_lamb at 12:32 AM on October 4, 2011


Hmmm. If he is indeed, terrible, they'll find out soon enough and will rehire someone shortly.

If he isn't, then he was at least more skilled than the rest of the candidates in building good relationships with his superiors (or at least not ticking them off). That is, as terrible it sounds, a legitimate skill. (And probably something all of us should learn so stuff like this doesn't keep happening to us.)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:36 AM on October 4, 2011


nearly unanimously disliked by his peers, complains about work ... straight up rude and passive aggressive

Traditional form when such a person gets promoted to a management position is for their first move to be the instigation of a purge, where they rid themselves of all subordinates not prepared to lick their shiny new corporate boot. So I suspect that your choices will boil down to (a) licking their shiny new corporate boot or (b) finding work elsewhere.

Sorry.
posted by flabdablet at 1:28 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


He may soon be one of my bosses

(emphasis mine)

If I am correctly inferring from this that your organization has "dotted line" managers as well as clueless HR, I would recommend choice (b).
posted by flabdablet at 1:36 AM on October 4, 2011


Quite honestly, who knows why people get promoted? One factor sometimes, though, is that they share the same values as the people who promoted them, regardless of their actual proficiency. It's part of maintaining organizational culture. I don't think you have anything to gain by questioning/opposing this culture. If it drives you nuts, however, then you should think about starting to polish up your resume.
posted by carter at 2:25 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


In your lifetime, you will work with idiots fools, and people who are clueless. They may beor your supervisors, your peers, or even your subbordinate. If you want to succeed, you either need to figure out how to get the most/best out of them, or you have to figure out your own exit strategy.
Its probably appropriate to find out what kind of a manager this person is. Arguably he now has less stuff to be passive aggressive about now, since he can delegate responsibility. What you considered rude before, may now firmly stated instructions. Your ability to succeed is influenced by your ability to adapt.

As someone who has been involved in the hiring process before, I have been offered resumes including people overqualified, people with parallel skill sets, underqualified candidates and all sorts of inbetween. Generally i'll recommend candites who have workable skill sets, professional maturity, and who aren't looking to leave the job in 2-3 the years. That means I turn down the former ivy league, fortune-500 candidate - they will have a bit to learn, but it is pretty certain that they are one foot out the door before things even start.

Perhaps he may be worse off now than the other peers, but if there is evidence he will still be there 5 years from now, and evidence you might leave in 6 months, I'd pick him as an investment.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:15 AM on October 4, 2011


The main thing to focus on is that they chose him--his personality, his style, his work ethic, and his values--over everyone else who seemed to you to be nicer and more competent. That means they want his qualities in the position they promoted him to. I think--after a period of some months of your silently giving management a chance to rectify it if they see fit--what you have to face is that this is the work environment they want you to have. His is the skillset they value. His is the personality type they will reward.

Only you can decide if you can tolerate it.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:46 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


No matter how carefully you frame this to the people convinced he's the best candidate, it will come across as sour grapes. I cannot imagine that they would back-pedal on their decision, especially since they've already made an offer (and I assume he's accepted it already) and you were not part of the hiring committee.

I agree with the others who say that the selection reflects the values of the decision-makers. If he fails, though, they may change what they are looking for when the position becomes available again (which it will if this is a fatal mistake). Seems to me that your choices are to make the best of it and really shine as a foil to his blundering, or look for another place to work.
posted by Houstonian at 4:19 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's been my experience that the most qualified person rarely gets the promotion. Get used to it.
posted by COD at 5:00 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


In a case of parallel universes, I just had a version of this conversation where someone came to me to tell me that a promotion decision recently made was a terrible idea and that we were making an awful mistake. My reaction was that the person who was telling me this showed very poor judgment in having the conversation with me and that it confirmed my belief that they lacked the political savvy for the position, despite the fact that they are smarter and in many ways a harder worker. Obviously, I'm not saying that these are your disadvantages, but I do think it might be instructive in understanding how such an approach might be received. Therefore, I think it is a poor idea to have that conversation in that way.

Interestingly, their assessment of the faults of the person I selected accurately reflects my own. It just appears that their self-assessment is a bit off. So, while they may have had the best of intentions to let me know the ways that the person selected was likely to fail, they really weren't telling me anything I didn't already know. Frankly, part of our decision was that if the person we selected does fail, we think that the second choice candidate may be better qualified to perform in a year or so. I think it is also fair to say that the person we selected has significant potential that we see that perhaps their coworkers do not.

In the past, I have had a conversation where the person who was passed over asked me "How can I be better prepared to get the next promotion? What can I do better? What new skills should I learn? What bad habits can I lose?" That person is now a Technical Director on my team and someone I consider my most likely successor.

If it isn't a career kind of position and the atmosphere really turns poisonous, then escape. Otherwise, focus on firming up your relationship with the other bosses and doing what you can to maintain a positive and productive environment. Hiring managers often have a backlash against whatever the weakness of the last person was. If the last person was bad with projections and numbers, they'll look for someone good at Excel. If the last person created a poisonous atmosphere, they'll look for a team player.
posted by Lame_username at 5:18 AM on October 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Bringing this up now is a bad idea. You'll just make yourself look bad.

If he makes your place of employment miserable, you can deal with that then (better coping strategies and/or leaving), but you don't know that he will. How do you deal with the thought that someone other than you made a wrong decision? You just have to get over it because it's not your problem.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:52 AM on October 4, 2011


Once I was working in a corporate coffee shop, and my nice, respectful, intelligent boss was fired by corporate and replaced by a total idiot who didn't know a thing about coffee, management or basically anything else.

Why? Because the old boss wouldn't necessarily do exactly as he was told by upper management, if he thought it was a bad idea, while the new guy was a class A boot-licker. He may not have known what he was doing, but it didn't matter to management because they could just TELL him what to do.

Also, they deliberately didn't choose a supervisor from my store to promote, instead bringing in someone from another company altogether. This was because our supervisors liked and respected the rank-and-file baristas, and so would have been reluctant, as managers, to enforce policies that obviously affected us badly.

This wound up backfiring hugely, as his incompetence resulted in extra work for everyone else and kicked morale right square in the face. He was fired after a couple of moths and replaced with a guy who knew what he was doing. Your mileage may very.

But my point is, think about this from the perspective of management. Assume that they do not care about your personal happiness. Them this may all make more sense.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:16 AM on October 4, 2011


Reread lame_username's comment very carefully. Once the decision-makers have made the decision, almost any additional bit of information will be used to confirm that the decision was the right one. You raise a well-intentioned red flag about the decision - then you lack "political skills." Particularly if the selection was somewhat unexpected or non-obvious, the decision-makers will be patting themselves extra hard on the back for their ability to discern "potential" that others missed. This is hard-core, impenetrable confirmation bias at work. YOU CANNOT WIN.

The "how can I better prepare myself in the future" approach is your best bet.

I've been here before, and trust me when I say you do NOT want to be the person bringing these concerns forward.
posted by jeoc at 7:54 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just as I figured everyone. Thanks for the input. "Political strategist" is my weakest area of work skills and I rarely keep a secret hand because to me, its not worth it to NOT mention an issue. If I never bring it up then I don't allow for it to be fixed, and knowing that its been refused to be fixed is valuable information too. It also says, "Hey, I see this and am watching what you do about it."

Even as one of my bosses (Retail, remember. Team of 50.) he actually has zero hiring/firing power, so I'm not worried about getting purged. Maybe one of the weirdest things, from The Big Boss, is that she raved about my application, then told me I wasn't in the pool based on "appearances" which are certifiably untrue, when this guy is referred to commonly as "the a**hole."

There is a strange element here, which I failed to mention and seems really key: he's been hired for a half-promotion, and I am on the panel for his full promotion (which would make me party to making him my own boss...). Hence the fretting.
posted by troubadour at 8:58 AM on October 4, 2011


he's been hired for a half-promotion, and I am on the panel for his full promotion (which would make me party to making him my own boss...). Hence the fretting.

This is strange. But maybe it means the people who hired him are aware that he has some flaws to work on. This sounds like a probationary period, after which you and the rest of the panel will be able to judge whether or not to fully promote him.

Perhaps the fact that you were chosen to sit on this panel (esp. after you were passed over for the promotion) says that they think you can be an impartial, fair judge of his performance.

she raved about my application, then told me I wasn't in the pool based on "appearances" which are certifiably untrue

This sounds like a rather indiscreet thing to tell someone who got passed over for a promotion--what does "based on 'appearances' mean"?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:28 AM on October 4, 2011


My mother, upon the promotion of one of her co-workers, walked into the office of a supervisor two ranks above her to inform said supervisor that he -- and I have no doubt in the world she recalled this story to me verbatim -- "promoted an idiot." He asked if he wanted the job the guy was promoted to, and she said no, she did not, and just wanted to make sure that, again, he knew that he promoted an idiot.

There was about a decade of 60-hour weeks, regular promotions and accreditations, a sponsored master's degree and (nearly) universal respect behind that move. I don't know what happened after (I doubt the promotion was rescinded) but I just wanted to illustrate what your general situation ought to be to be able to criticize a promotion without any blowback.
posted by griphus at 9:34 AM on October 4, 2011


They are two separate positions, the one he got is sort of an aside to the standard hierarchy, and the one he is going for the next step up in the hierarchy. (I applied for the full step, and they are supposed to soon be fused into what would be a step and a half.) He will still need to be voted on into both positions by the rest of the team after a brief period (30-60) days. I'm not sure I expect him to win a vote, but I didn't expect him to get the offer either.

I am not totally confident that I can be fully impartial, considering what I know that apparently my superiors do not, or chose irrespective of, or... whatever. I almost feel like stepping down is the highest integrity choice, but political savvy says I should stay on, keep my mouth shut, and vie for another candidate. (Again, all internal, all known, all personally reviewed.) Then again, how is that going to go down if they STILL hire him? (I want to be as fair as I can, while still being limited by my humanity.)

Apparently my name came up as party to a particular workplace drama, whereby myself and the other party, the two of us composing the entirety of the drama, know nothing of said drama. Certifiably. Written off by The Big Boss with the comment, "Perception IS reality!" Hence "appearances."
posted by troubadour at 9:50 AM on October 4, 2011


This is hard-core, impenetrable confirmation bias at work. YOU CANNOT WIN.
I think you raise an excellent point about confirmation bias insofar as humans do tend to search for evidence that confirms their decisions. However, I'm quite curious as to what "winning" would mean in this context. Having the panel rescind their decision and replace the person they selected with troubadour? Surely that is so far-fetched an outcome that not even the most hackneyed movie would have that plot. Is winning being able to say "I told you so" when the person flames out spectacularly? I honestly can't imagine what positive outcome would even be sought by the person who explains that the newly selected candidate is an asshole who is disliked by one and all.
He will still need to be voted on into both positions by the rest of the team after a brief period (30-60) days. I'm not sure I expect him to win a vote, but I didn't expect him to get the offer either.
Given that you have assessed that the person is "nearly unanimously disliked by his peers" and "referred to commonly as 'the a**hole.'" it would seem that either he will not win the vote or you need to adjust your perception of what everyone else thinks. One of the hardest things to adjust for in the workplace is the tendency of everyone to tell you what they think you want to hear. This is especially true when you are in a leadership role (twice referred to here as boot licking) but it also happens with co-workers. When they know you dislike person X, they will be all to happy to complain to you about obnoxious things person X did, but they may sing a very different song to others.

Your comment that you like to speak your mind about things that are wrong in the organization with a motivation to inform others "Hey, I see this and am watching what you do about it" is probably not a motivation that is going to endear you to managers or make them comfortable and might make them wonder if you are a great candidate to join their ranks. Senior management is going to assign much more weight to the opinions of the other managers than to the rank and file, so if you seek to join them, they are the people you need to impress.

Finally, with regard to the panel that decides on the full promotion, that is an infinitely better venue for you to express your concerns (expressed as tactfully as you are able) and if you think other candidates on balance are better ones, to cast your vote for the people you think are best qualified. If they do end up selecting him anyhow, you will know that you did what you can. Furthermore, if you listen with an open mind, you may just learn what they see that you do not (even if you believe they are wrong, it can never hurt to get insight into how they think)
posted by Lame_username at 10:30 AM on October 4, 2011


For me, "winning" is going to be to get the best person in the position and is most adequately able to balance all the needs of the team and the business, etc. Again, I really do not care I am not getting it because there are definitely more viable candidates in the world, but I do care that I can't see from a dozen other perspective how he's a better choice than the other candidates, particularly after my application being applauded. ("I'm really looking forward to when you apply for the NEXT opening...!") I desperately hope I am proven wrong by this panel and I am just missing something somewhere, because the whole situation has really undermined my respect for the people in charge.

I did consider that this might just be my little perception bubble, but I don't think I give off any negative cues about this guy, or hopefully anyone. Yes, I have plenty of personal opinions when I stop to think about it, but I'm not sharing them unless I see there's a good reason, (As in it appears to be an issue, and its not just my own little thing.) and mostly I try not to care too much because its work, and there are always going to be annoying factors about work.

Your comment that you like to speak your mind about things that are wrong in the organization with a motivation to inform others "Hey, I see this and am watching what you do about it" is probably not a motivation that is going to endear you to managers or make them comfortable and might make them wonder if you are a great candidate to join their ranks. Senior management is going to assign much more weight to the opinions of the other managers than to the rank and file, so if you seek to join them, they are the people you need to impress.


This is a good insight for me, and not something I had considered. Its a very passive, non-abrasive, thing though. Since I brought something up, I obviously noticed and felt it important enough to mention, and that kind of operates in the background. I don't bring it up constantly, just mention it once or twice in a matter-of-fact statement. They are not very good with follow-through, so its imperative to hound to get things dealt with, but there is also a delicacy to finding the balance between being on top of the thing and beating it to death. (If I need to beat it to death because there is a deadline and I need the time or whatever, I warn in advance that I'm going to start beating it to death and why.)

I guess I'll stick on the panel and do what I can to either learn why he's the right candidate for one or both positions, or get somebody else hired for at least the one. If he gets both, is voted on, and I'm still totally unimpressed, I'm definitely looking for a transfer because this one is a 45 minute drive and there's another one a 10 minute walk from my house.

PS - I'm glad nobody has said I'm just being a whiner. That's a huge relief.
posted by troubadour at 11:04 AM on October 4, 2011


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