The Proactive Way to Promote From Within

Promoting from within seems to be one of those subjects that business owners either avoid or embrace fully, depending upon their own experience. Here at the Bavarian Inn Lodge, we recognize potential challenges owners face when they promote someone to a leadership position from within the ranks; but we embrace the practice. We believe we have developed a method which avoids the common pitfalls.

In our view, it is almost always easier to promote within as the staff member will have the powerful advantage of having an overall knowledge of the business environment and be familiar with the processes in the specific department. So why would a business owner avoid the practice? The most common reason is that there can be friction on the part of employees who suddenly find themselves reporting to a manager who was a co-worker and friend just the day before.

We see how this would be disruptive and we’ve taken some steps to avoid it with our staff. Our policy for promotion from within is proactive. From the beginning of their employment with us, we encourage our staff members to have the goal of learning every aspect of their job and performing it to the best of their abilities. We also ask them to always be thinking about the next step they would like to achieve within our business. My motto is:

“You don’t have to wait until you have a title to be a leader. Be a leader now amongst your peers and it will be noticed.”

Once we have identified an individual with leadership potential, we try to give them opportunities to put those skills to use. One way might be leading a designated shift when the regular Supervisor is needed elsewhere. It might be speaking on a topic at a departmental meeting, taking responsibility for a unique task within their area, attending educational events, shadowing a manager to learn more, or presenting an idea for improving a process. Most of our departments have “lead” positions available and our goal is for all the employees to reach that position. Some may think that it is unreasonable to encourage all employees to aim for the “Lead” position in their department. We have discovered that if someone can be a leader in one department, they can often transition to a leadership position elsewhere within the organization.

Many of the senior level managers at Bavarian Inn Lodge & Convention Center have been promoted from within. Our COO, Jim Engel, has worked for the company for 40 years and began as a dish washer while he was still in high school. It’s a similar story for our General Manager, who began as one of our bartenders. This story is very common amongst our staff.

We have experienced an unexpected benefit for having a proactive policy for promotion from within. A guest can usually ask any staff member a question and that guest will either get the answer they needed or be introduced to the person who can best resolve their concern. The guest never hears “That’s not my job” or “Sorry, I can’t help you.” Our policy of promoting from within serves to underscore each employee’s feeling of being part of the “family,” which helps foster success when working in a family business. It reinforces each member’s commitment to the common goal of providing the best overall experience for our guests and visitors.

Judy Zehnder Keller is president of the Bavarian Inn Lodge and Convention Center in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Nestled along the Cass River in one of Michigan’s top tourist locations – Frankenmuth – the Lodge has 360 European-themed guest rooms, including whirlpool and family suites, four indoor pools, three whirlpools, two water slides, a miniature golf course, two gift shops, two lounges and two restaurants — all under one roof. In addition to being president of the lodge, Judy is also president of the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus and the Frankenmuth Gift Shop. She is recognized statewide for her leadership in promoting tourism in Michigan.


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