Breaking the News

Q. I have an internal position open and have two current employees who have applied. I have interviewed both; however, I feel the one I need to hire is the one who has been here less time than the other. They both are very reliable employees, but the one I want to hire makes considerably less mistakes than the other. I just don’t know how to deliver the disappointing message to the longer term employee.

A. It’s great that you have two reliable employees who are interested in staying with your organization and moving into other jobs. You didn’t identify the full internal selection process, or the roles these people play, but since there was an interview involved, we’ll assume that seniority isn’t the sole criteria for being hired into a new role, and that “bumping” is not a valid selection process either.

You identified “accuracy” as the key competency needed for the new role, and based on past performance the employee with less seniority better displays that skill. Many people are not given reviews in an accurate manner, or sometimes not given performance reviews at all. So we find employees who do not have a realistic view of their performance, or a clear understanding of how to improve on the job. Based on a lack of qualitative information about their performance, they may believe that seniority becomes the objective decision criteria for moving into another role.

The ideal situation would be if each employee had a clear understanding of her strengths, and her areas for development, from having received prior feedback on performance. It would be easy to say, “You are a valued employee, and I appreciate the work you are doing for this group. I have not selected you for this position at this time based on the need for greater accuracy in your work. As we have discussed, I’ll need to see an improvement with the number of mistakes you are making on the job. Work you do to develop your accuracy will help you to be considered for other positions in the future.”


Since most situations aren’t ideal, in addition to the first two sentences noted above, your conversation may need to add, “I know you have been here longer than your colleague, and that is important to me and to the company. We need the highest level of accuracy in this role, and I need to see that more fully developed in your work. We should talk about how to make that happen.”

Choosing people for internal roles presents many organizational considerations which can influence selection and hiring decisions. The more closely you can identify the skill set you need, and the demonstrated history of those skills being utilized, the more objective the decision can be. If there are other thoughts impacting your decision, identify what those might be, and discuss them with an HR person or another manager to ensure you have a fair process.

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