By Emily Suess

You might think that employee promotion is a simple event where smiles, good wishes, and pats on the back abound. That is, unless you’ve ever worked in any business environment where three or more people are employed.

The truth is that promoting small business employees can turn into a sticky situation that leads to hurt feelings and resentment. If not handled in the right way, negative emotions like jealousy can slow, or even completely halt, the gears that keep your business moving forward. To minimize the fallout, be fair and consistent.

Set Minimum Standards

All employees need to know that you have minimum standards just for being employed with you. Some of those standards will be universal and apply to all employees, while others are limited to specific employees charged with carrying out specific functions. How employees live up to those standards should be the biggest factor in choosing who will be rewarded with greater responsibilities.

Put your minimum standards in writing, and explain that job performance greatly impacts the selection process for promotions. If you award promotions based on merit, employees should understand that those who go above and beyond the bare minimum will get top consideration.

Clearly Explain Advancement Criteria

The best place to put this information is in your company handbook. Do new hires need to be employed for two years before they qualify for a promotion? Do sales promotions require meeting a monthly quota? Spell it all out.

You should also inform employees what skills or knowledge are prerequisites for the position. You can include this in an official announcement for the promotion opportunity. If you have an opening for a bookkeeper and require a certain level of proficiency, those who are unqualified will know not to get their hopes up.

Notify Everyone of the Opportunity

One of the worst things you can do is fill the promotion in secret. Whether you intend to hide information from your entire team or you innocently think no one else will be interested, employees who are kept out of the loop will likely feel unappreciated or unimportant. Communicate to the entire team by posting the job description in a common area, or sending out an email.

Evaluate Candidates Based on Performance Reviews

If, after listing the job’s requirements, you still have more than one candidate suitable for the position, evaluate the candidates based on an established rubric, using their past performance reviews as a guide.

If a dispute arises, you can discuss each person’s reviews individually, praising their strengths and recommending areas for improvement. Remind any candidate who still feels he or she was treated unfairly that all past reviews were agreed to and signed.

Even when you’re as fair and consistent with your policies as any human can possibly be, interpersonal problems can still surface between co-workers. The goal is to minimize this risk by being honest and clear about your priorities and requirements from the very beginning. Hopefully, you can avoid unnecessary turnover and interpersonal problems entirely.