Fixer: Was new manager promoted prematurely?

CEO has taken a shine to a relatively new employee with no formal qualifications

I was recently recruited as an HR manager in a small family-owned business. There are only seven employees, but the managing director seems to have taken a shine to one account manager and has promoted her within nine months of her starting her role. She is now sales and operations manager and I am expected to report to her. She has no formal qualifications and in my opinion has bitten off more than she can chew. How do I challenge her promotion without sounding bitter?

Try to see this situation from the view of others involved and also test your own judgement. Let’s begin with the promotion: ask yourself why you want to challenge it and what you are trying to solve. If the reason is linked to fairness and equity and developing an organisational approach to promotions and reward, it seems a reasonable conversation to have. The aspect of sounding bitter is ultimately down to your CEO’s perception. Your reasons for challenging it should be objective, not personal. Given the decision has already been made, it may be better to say to the CEO that you are happy to give advice in the future about any promotions they are thinking about, as this fits with HR’s remit.

Use reporting to this person as an opportunity. There are pros and cons to reporting to a manager who is not an HR specialist. Focus on the pros of being able to indirectly teach her about good practice, and you’ll be able to shape how HR looks in the company; you wouldn’t get this opportunity if you were reporting to another HR person. To be a manager, you don’t have to be a specialist in the field; good managers can be comfortable in managing others and relying on their expertise while they focus on the non-technical side. Give her a chance and work with her to show your ability, as I’m sure she’ll in turn be wondering how to manage an HR person. It’s important to judge things over time with working relationships – there will be bumps, but you could be pleasantly surprised.

An experienced HR professional, Idris Arshad is currently a people and inclusion partner at south-east London-based hospice St Christopher’s. He has previously worked with a number of faith-based charities, as well as with housing and homelessness organisations, and also lectured on a part-time basis at London Metropolitan University. He was recently mentored as part of CIPD’s Aspiring HR Director Mentoring programme. 

His replies are written in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of People Management or the CIPD, nor are they a substitute for professional legal advice. Not all queries submitted can be answered, and personal replies are not possible. To pose an anonymous query, visit