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Will you get promoted over an outside candidate? (In the Trenches).

When a desirable position opens up in an organization, many insiders believe they have an advantage.

It's true that most organizations have a written policy that promotions should go to current employees--a.k.a. promotion from within. If you read the fine print, however, you'll find a loophole the size of Texas. It's this phrase: "Whenever possible."

The organization may make a big show of interviewing internal candidates--after all, it's good for morale--but may have no intention of filling the slot with a current employee. This is especially true if the current job holder is forced out.

How can an ambitious physician executive find out what the chances for internal promotions really are? Determine the answers to the following five key questions and you'll have a good idea.

1. What does the grapevine know?

Forget the written policy; find out the tradition.

Insiders should count on nothing unless the company has a tradition of weighting the scales for current employees. Can anyone recall a recent example of an insider being promoted over a competent outsider? If not, being an insider may be a practical disadvantage. You'll have to sell harder to be taken seriously.

Has anyone who was turned down for an internal promotion told the grapevine why? If you have contacts in competing institutions, pick their brains, too. There may be alumni of your organization who lost to outsiders and will tell all.

2. Is a search firm working to fill the position?

If so, have you been asked to submit your resume? If not, can you influence HR or the hiring manager to arrange it?

If you're told it's up to the search firm, you're not in contention. Consider submitting your resume to the search firm independently. They may have other opportunities. (Of course, don't let your boss know.)

3. Is technology an issue?

A significant number of 40- and 50-year-olds are still computer handicapped. They haven't taken courses, gotten tutored or otherwise spent the time needed to gain proficiency. Their discomfort may register with their bosses.

Senior managers tell us that many of those laid off in the current downturn were not necessarily redundant but they were techno-twits. Secretaries are in short supply and people who can't use the company software are expendable.

4. Do you have enemies?

A favorite quote from years ago in The Wall Street Journal is "Friends come and go but enemies accumulate."

Insiders can be non-starters because they've been in a job long enough to have powerful enemies who'll lobby for an outsider. Any outsider starts neutral. One test of your acceptance is to ask yourself, "Who would be delighted to see me promoted and who would gnash his teeth?"

We saw this in a hospital medical department. The inside candidate for director of medical affairs, a department chair, was heavily involved in fact-finding and mediating two sexual harassment cases. She thought of herself as even-handed. Senior managers viewed her as vindictive--someone who would punish those who disagreed with her. She will have to move on if she wants to move up.

It doesn't have to be an incident nearly that controversial.

If you are an attending and want to be a clinic director, your relationships with other managers and physicians are critical to your selection even though management requires a whole different set of skills. If the other clinic managers don't work well with you, they won't want you as a peer. The person making the promotion decision will almost always sound out the troops.

Employees with powerful enemies or detractors will be tolerated as long as they perform well, but they are rarely promoted. The exception: The hirer wants to punish one or more enemies and promotes someone who will add to the hirer's power and help control those enemies.

For example, a newly promoted manager who had a dotted-line relationship to the CEO could be added protection for his new boss. A smart insider would never take the role once he figured Out the motivation for his promotion. The situation would be a political minefield. Imagine what would happen to the new manager if the CEO became a casualty.

A variation on this is the boss who brings in an outsider to dismantle her subordinates' fiefdoms. A supervisor hired from outside the company would not let Mossback get away with his passive/aggressive, analretentive style. He'd be writing up Mossback's obstructions the second day he was on the job.

An insider would have a harder--although not impossible--time curbing Mossback because of the history between himself, Mossback and Mossback's protectors. Perhaps Mossback was nice to him when he was a resident in the department 10 years ago. How could he deal decisively with Mossback when Mossback mentored him when it counted?

5. Does hirer want status quo or change?

If the organization recently went through numerous changes, hiring an outsider might push everyone into a collective nervous breakdown. In that case, promoting a known would clearly be better than hiring an unknown; what's needed is stability, not more change.

Even the best-qualified outsider will have trouble convincing a hirer that he can soothe and heal better than an insider who already knows the history, the politics and the personalities.

Finally, it's not the insider/outsider questions that determine the odds so much as the problem the organization wants to solve. If you knew what they wanted to buy and why, you'd have a better handle on whether to apply.

With so many variables on a hirer's agenda, how could any insider who didn't get the promotion consider it a rejection or denigration of his skills? The decision was political and substantive from the get-go.

Marilyn Moats Kennedy is managing partner, Career Strategies Inc., Wilmette, Ill., and a long-time member of the ACPE faculty. She can be reached at 1150 Wilmette Avenue, Wilmette, Ill., 60091, 847/251-1661, by fax at 847/251-5191, and by e-mail at
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Title Annotation:tips for physicians seeking promotions
Author:Kennedy, Marilyn Moats
Publication:Physician Executive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
Previous Article:Physician executive experts answer your medical management questions. (Ask the Coach).
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