Rejected at work: Should I stay or should I go?

Being passed over for a promotion hurts. Here is the best way to deal with it

Being denied a promotion may have nothing to do with you. There can be all sorts of other forces at play, from whose face pleases shareholders to a board coming under pressure to make an appointment for political or strategic reasons

Being denied a promotion may have nothing to do with you. There can be all sorts of other forces at play, from whose face pleases shareholders to a board coming under pressure to make an appointment for political or strategic reasons

 

It’s no secret why people leave their jobs. More money, a bigger challenge, better opportunities, frustration and disillusionment with one’s work or employer are all compelling reasons to quit. But there is another: getting passed over for a promotion.

It’s a painful experience no matter where you rank in a company’s hierarchy. But if you’re the supposed CEO in waiting or “a dead cert” for another senior role within the organisation and it doesn’t happen, what do you do?

The natural human reaction is to be angry but the best advice says try not to show it. Avoid any big displays of emotion in the office, and be seen to carry on as usual. In your own time do whatever it takes to come to terms with what has happened, from breaking plates to an exhausting workout in the gym.

It won’t be easy, but at least it will ensure you come out of a difficult situation with your dignity and integrity intact.

“Do not make rash decisions following a promotion outcome, and don’t waste time questioning once the decision has been made,” says Peter O’Connell, managing director at Career Development Associates. “It’s important to be seen to support the new appointment. Then take your time to review your career options coldly and without emotion, and plan your next step in a structured and clear manner.”

New opportunities

While not getting a promotion might seem like the end of the world at the time, there is always the possibility that it could be turned to your advantage. For example, is it a big hint that you need to upskill, find a mentor, take a career break or rethink what you really want from your job?

Could the new situation actually present opportunities you didn’t have before? If the job has gone to an external candidate then the person is an unknown quantity. Would it be worth waiting to see if you could learn from them or if they would be willing to give you more responsibility or the chance to work on things that pique your interest more?

In short, what could you gain from supporting the new appointee?

Decide what you’re prepared to compromise on, outline what you want or need to your new boss, and put a timeline on getting it. If he or she doesn’t deliver, think seriously about moving on.

Of course, being denied a promotion may have nothing at all to do with you. There can be all sorts of other forces at play, from whose face fits in terms of pleasing shareholders or institutional investors to a board coming under pressure to make an appointment for political or strategic reasons.

Organisational downsizing or restructuring can also throw off succession planning, as can cost-cutting and a change at the top. Another simple fact is that an organisation may be able to hire someone cheaper to do the job.

Not being known to the ultimate decision-makers can also be an issue. An October 2016 study by academics David Larcker, Stephen Miles and Brian Tayan from Stanford University into “succession losers” uncovered the fact that a large number of corporate directors “admit to not having detailed knowledge of the skills, capabilities, and performance of senior executives just one level below the CEO”.

Lose out

Another sobering fact that emerged from the research is that “those who ‘lose out’ in internal succession races (for CEO) generally do not perform as well at new companies as those who were instead selected”.

So working out a compromise may ultimately be in your best interests.

That said, it may also be necessary to recognise when your race is run, and suddenly finding yourself outranked by a subordinate is a classic warning sign. Being passed over for promotion may be an unpleasant indication that you are no longer valued.

“If the worst happens, seek advice from trusted peer colleagues about foreseeable opportunities within the company. If this doesn’t have a positive outcome, it may be time to look outside the organisation and to negotiate a planned exit,” O’Connell says.

Track your successes

Management consultant Brue Tulgan of Rainmaker Thinking advises those passed over for promotion to “first try and assess why you didn’t get the promotion. Perhaps there were skills, experiences, relationships, or other criteria that you have not yet acquired, and that you need to acquire to be the top candidate next time”.

“When is the next opportunity? What do you need to do between now and then to be prepared and to increase your chances? If you are worried that your boss is not keeping sufficient track of your successes, you need a strategy for monitoring, measuring and documenting your own work. Keep score for yourself and make sure that at appropriate times you are sharing this with your boss and other decision-makers.”

Maybe it’s also time to go “leader shopping” internally: this means finding other leaders for whom you can add value. This diversifies the portfolio of decision-makers that can help you get a promotion next time.

“There is a two-part approach to leader shopping, ” Tulgan adds. “The first is to identify projects, tasks, and responsibilities to which you’d like to be assigned that would involve reporting to another leader. Then in the course of proving yourself valuable to others, you might find you are working for someone who appreciates you more. Even with no promotion around the corner, this can be a good lateral shift that gives you more breadth.”

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