annie-adviceA business owner is nervous that he is about to make the wrong choice in promoting a strong employee over a popular employee. He has written to Annie, who runs a business advice column, hoping she can steer him in the right direction.

DEAR ANNIE: A problem is coming up at my business, and I am hoping you can steer me in the right direction. One of my department heads is retiring soon, leaving the position open for someone to take over. I already have someone in mind for the vacant position; “Carl”, has been with the company for just short of ten years, and has proven time and time again to be a capable leader and an asset to our company. However, another employee, “David”, has his eyes set on the position, and has himself, and a good portion of the staff, convinced that he will be getting the promotion. Like Carl, David is a great employee. But after only three years with the company, he is still a little too rough around the edges to take on this leadership role. He may be popular with his coworkers, but he’s just not ready to lead, in my opinion.

My concern is that if I promote Carl, I might lose David as an employee, and possibly upset his supporters within the company. However, if I choose David, I do not feel I will get the same quality of results from that department as I would from Carl. Annie, what can I do to make everyone happy? — SINCERELY, BOSS WHO IS LOST

DEAR BOSS WHO IS LOST: That is a not so uncommon problem! Not only are you losing a seasoned employee, but replacing him is proving to be a challenge. Let me ask you, Boss; when was the last time you really made David feel appreciated, as an employee? Do you think his determination for the open position is actually his need to feel like his work is meaningful and appreciated? An otherwise happy employee would have a hard time quitting, even after being passed up for a promotion. If he truly felt he was recognized as asset to the company, he would feel confident in knowing that his day will come, further down the road. From the way you described it, Carl is the man for the job, he has put in the time and effort that warrants a big promotion. But David also deserves some recognition. You say he needs to grow as a leader, so why not reward him each time he shows initiative towards becoming the leader you need him to be.

Boss Who Is Lost, what are you doing, on a daily and weekly basis, to show your appreciation for your hardest workers? Do you have any incentives programs to help keep people engaged? I would suggest you look into starting an employee rewards program, and getting it implemented before you hand out this promotion. You may even consider appointing David to help manage the program, since he’s popular, and this would be a smaller leadership opportunity.

With a well run employee rewards program (see for suggestions and best practices) you can use very high quality company branded merchandise to give as recognition and rewards for employees who go above and beyond expectations. It works as a perfect middle ground for employees like David, who deserve recognition for the things they do, but who may not be getting regular promotions. A well designed rewards program is more affordable than cash bonuses, but still has great impact as a way to keep employees motivated and engaged. Try to design a program that incorporates 2 or 3 “value levels” of rewards and also allows you to recognize employees on a fairly regular basis. If you can get this implemented before your big department manager change, the transition should go over a lot smoother.

Remember, just because David is not ready for a Department Head position now, he can still be a contender for Employee of the Year, and the next promotion opportunity after this. Use a structured system of rewards and recognition to keep your employees engaged and motivated to become better. You CAN create a better work environment, and make everyone happier.