Years ago, Tim A. and Tim B. were assistant produce managers for our chain.
Each had been put on the produce manager list about the same time. Each had good, comparable product knowledge as well as most of the other attributes and skills that a company looks for when considering who to promote.
Tim A. had worked in the same store for more than 15 years and was an assistant for the last five.
Meanwhile, Tim B. had been an assistant produce manager for two years and with the company for just six.
A produce manager position eventually became available, and we offered the job to Tim B.
Tim A. was furious and demanded a meeting.
“I should have got the offer before Tim B.,” he said. “I’ve been with the company nine years longer than him, therefore I have more experience.”
Although Tim A. made a reasonable argument, it had a major flaw: His idea of what “experience” means.
Tim A. believed that simply by virtue of spending a lot of time in a single position at the same store that this gave him the upper hand in our choosing between him and Tim B., who had less seniority.
We told Tim A., who had every right to an explanation, that our decision was indeed, based on experience, but not in the sense he perceived. We promoted Tim B. first because over the past year we saw something more in Tim B. than merely tenure. We saw a desire to do more.
“Do you remember last summer when we needed someone to manage store No. 101 for two weeks while that produce manager was out for surgery?” I asked.
“You declined because it was too inconvenient of a commute, while Tim B. accepted without complaint. Or how about last Christmas when we asked for someone to work the fruit basket special project? Tim B. volunteered for the task while you remained silent.”
To us, experience included having a track record of tackling many jobs within a company. When Tim B. covered for the cross-town manager, he gained valuable experience, running a store that was different from his own. Tim B. was motivated to get out of his comfort zone to manage the special project and making sacrifices that demanded more time with no extra pay.
Because of this, Tim B. earned our gratitude and favor.
Although Tim A. eventually got promoted to produce manager, and did a fine job, we hoped the lesson was understood by him and other aspiring produce managers: Time served doesn’t necessarily equate to real-life experience — or automatic promotions.