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  • Writer's pictureZmia Bertaud

Talent Management: Don't Take The Promotion

As much as I shy away from exposing my frailties and vulnerabilities, this article constitutes a 'must share'.

2005. Fairbanks, Alaska. Head on head collision that caused temporary memory loss. That was my plight at that moment in my life and it would define the way I allowed others to employ me in the future. Today, I suffer from short term and long term memory loss.

I realized that the memory loss was not only a huge setback, but an enormous gift. It made me learn something about myself as an employee and leader. It also made me learn something about my level of competence and incompetence. I could not go around telling my Army superiors that I had a memory problem. Instead, I methodically attempted to place myself in positions that accentuated my level of competence and would hide my memory problem. No way was I going to take a job that exposed me and honestly, I could not afford to lose the opportunity of retiring (that was roughly 12 years away). Me and my family needed the Army. Understanding competence is what saved me.

How does this scenario play into Talent Management? Hold on. Let me get the definition for you... Lewis and Heckman states in their 'Human Resource Management Review, 2006' that the practitioner-oriented literature describes “talent management” as “a mindset”; a key component to effective succession planning; and, an attempt to ensure that “everyone at all levels works to the top of their potential”. From the perspective of my situation, someone was in control of my next job, the employment of my skills, and positioning me for promotion. The Army, like many other massive organizations, operate a strong hierarchy system. A system that thrives on and insist the promotion of its members. Competent or incompetent, you'll make the cut. It is not about how skilled you are or your level of intelligence, it's a system that mandates promotion. Some way, somehow, I had to avoid it.

Many employees do not think this way until they have been promoted beyond their level of competence. They fail miserably, get demoted, or end up on the chopping block - fired. Talent management has little to do with the perspective of the employee. It's a strategy or an approach. For example, a superior from the division level in Fort Bliss, TX noticed my awesome work during a field exercise and later, found me in my battalion and offered me an upper-level management position in division. Refusing a promotion is quite offensive in the military, because there is a sense of pride and ego behind the decision-making process of employee selection. In other words, they may feel inadequate in their abilities as a high ranking supervisor to be told that their judgement of an employee is wrong.

Long story short, I took the job and just before I could fail miserably due to my memory problem, I got promoted to the next rank and it happened, again. I found myself in another upper-level management position that I sucked at, but no one knew. I hid it very very well. Explaining my strategy is another article or maybe a best selling novel on not taking the promotion. I could have simply refused the promotion, but I was scared and thought that it would make me become stagnant in my career. It would make me look like I did not want to further myself, when really... I was already in the right position and at my level of competence. Those promotions placed me in a level of incompetence and I know that I did not fulfill the responsibilities in those positions as someone with the correct level of competence.

Talent Management (TM) is a superb concept and is the forefront of the success of many organizations. Does TM look at the competence of a candidate before hiring or promoting? Do they ask the intimate questions of the candidate about their thoughts on elevating their job responsibilities? Will they red flag your file, if you politely refuse the position or a promotion? All rhetorical, but meant for brainstorming and hopefully, invigorating new approaches to TM. Instead of increasing the responsibilities of a kick ass employee, how about a pay raise. That may sound ludicrous to business analysts that idolizes the 'more pay, more responsibilities' ideal.

In all actuality, people are much more happier and much more productive when they are in their 'zone' or working at their level of competence. It accounts for the great and small of an organization's success. When people are promoted beyond their level of competence, they are more frustrated and not as productive as they were in their previous position. Thus being evident in the growth of an organization. Just because an employee rocks at cleaning pools doesn't mean they will rock at managing all of the other pool cleaners. It's not keeping people down, it's keeping people up. The organization can only benefit from an excess of competent workers and stepping away from promotion of responsibilities based solely on performance rather than competence.

The pool cleaner could use a raise, because in his/her 'zone', they are at their peak performance and giving all they've got. How do you capitalize on that? How about we introduce the pool cleaner to equipment that makes his job easier and more efficient for the customer, which attracts more customers. On the other hand, the pool cleaner and the Talent Management personnel can refuse to avoid the ultimate promotion. Then realize later, the awesome sauce pool cleaner does not know how to manage people.

To better scratch the surface of talent management, check out the Workday Staff Writers in the reference section. To get an in-depth understanding of employee promotion and competence, check out the book, "The Peter Principle".


Workday Staff Writers. (2020, November 24). Understanding the Basics: What Is Talent Management? Retreived from,retaining%2C%20and%20developing%20a%20workforce.&text=Companies%20need%20to%20build%20a,and%20managing%20and%20optimizing%20performance.

Lewis, R.L., & Heckman, R. J. (2006, June). Talent management: A critical review. Human Resource Management Review. Volume 16, Issue 2, Pages 139-154.

Disclaimer: This article may or may not be based on research results, but is a personal construct theory from personal observation and personal experience of current events. All articles of APM are to provoke thought and influence future research.

Author: M.A. Industrial & Organizational Psychology. Touro University Worldwide. 2021.

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