The Federal Coach: 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 [email protected].

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.

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Good post – second piece I’d add is “that’s your job as a GS-15 manager – to make difficult or uncomfortable decisions”

David Dejewski

I agree with “just do it” and “that’s your job as a GS-15,” but the original question in bold got me noodling. Education doesn’t equal abilities. Neither does experience. Experience and education are concepts that are not opposed to one another (either/ or), but they may compliment one another.

Ability may come as a product of education or experience – though it’s been my experience that ability gained through experience is more durable and practical than ability gained through education. I’ve also found that education can have a negative effect on ability – as in the case where someone is “over-educated” with little or no practical experience. Contact with the real world leaves them frustrated or worse.

Common sense doesn’t come from books. Neither does leadership, business intelligence, or the ability to work with people. I’ve seen experience run circles around the most advanced degrees – it depends on the setting.

I’m definitely not a fan of a sit-on-your-butt-and-age formula for advancement – sometimes referred to as “tenure.” But if someone has collected the necessary experience and has a record of getting the job done, I’d hire or promote based on that before I would hire or promote because of a degree. The desired outcome is important to consider.