I am frequently asked, “How do I get promoted?”. I’m not an HR specialist, so what follows is nothing more than my humble opinion, but over the past few years I have become increasingly involved in mentorship and managing a range of teams. Mentees will often enthuse along these lines: “I’ve worked hard all year so I deserve a promotion, right?”. “Person A got promoted last year, and I don’t see them working as late as me. I should be in line for a promotion, right?”
No. This line of questioning/positioning is where the crux of the problem starts.
So how do we overcome it? Firstly, remember your job description. This is what you get paid a salary to do, or at least I hope you do. Doing the same thing you did last year, even if you worked hard at it and learnt some more efficient techniques, doesn’t mean you deserve a promotion. Similarly, working overtime occasionally and putting in that extra effort to finish an important project is what a bonus scheme is for. This extra effort also doesn’t equal a promotion.
So what can you do to get ahead?
I ask all my reports and their down lines these three questions:
1. What is your job description, and how does it work in practice?
2. What is your total remuneration package?
3. What are you doing to advance, professionally and personally?
In cases where employees resign, or are unhappy, or are struggling to get promoted, I often find that one of the above is either missing, out of sync with the others, or misaligned between employee and employer.
For example, if you feel that you should be paid more for your current duties, then you are out of sync, and problems are likely to arise, often unrelated to a promotion. Similarly, if you are looking for a promotion, but have not defined the third question, you will likely get stuck in a loop, doing the same job, year in, year out, and continue to receive the same pay and benefits.
It’s important to recognise that promotion works differently at different stages in your career.
Early in my career, I considered myself a fixer (I still do in some respects). I wasn’t focused on my title or other aspects, I just wanted to help as many colleagues and contacts as possible. This is not to be mistaken with a desire to be liked. I wanted to fix their corporate problems. This has opened a number of doors for me when looking for different opportunities to progress when the timing has been right.
Being a fixer has continued to be important as I’ve progressed through my career, but it hasn’t been much of a driver for promotions as I’ve progressed into more senior positions. As you progress, the most important aspect is a mindset change; understanding the importance of continuous learning, being more strategic, and most importantly, bringing the wider team on the journey to meet both short and long-term objectives. This last point is not to be confused with delegating. Delegating everything is not a management or leadership trait that translates well for promotion. What stands out is being able to balance time and effort, and supporting the wider team to achieve objectives.
How long you have been in a role is also an important factor. Completing tasks A, B, and C on your list can take three months for example, but you often can’t make the necessary mindset changes or learn from these experiences in such a short period of time. To think otherwise will actually work against you in a promotion discussion. “I’ve done everything that has been asked of me, and I’ve learnt everything I need for the next level,” is a naïve perspective and I hope nobody reading this will ever fall into that trap.
Leaving an employer, with a view to coming back again later at a higher position, is riskier than a lot of people realise. This approach might work early in your career, but it becomes less and less desirable as you advance up the corporate ladder, and is often a fast-track to getting stuck at a particular level.
The quickest route to promotion is to set up your own company and declare yourself CEO
I have a lot of respect for people who do this, assuming they have a solid business idea/plan, but hopefully, as a simple statement, it illustrates the absurdity of thinking that you can do something similar in a corporate environment that has a hierarchy or matrix structure developed over many years.Earn the respect of your peers over time, as you would expect from your own direct reports.
It’s important to think about your next promotion in a different way than your previous promotion and acknowledge that you need to progress and develop through each band/grade differently. Talk to your manager about what they expect you to achieve, both from a project/task perspective, but equally in areas of personal and professional development. What do you need to work on to move up? For some people, this can be a very hard question to ask, but you’re only holding yourself back by not asking. I also strongly suggest not comparing yourself to others. It’s impossible, I agree, but the more you can ignore this train of thought the better.
Lastly, promotions are not always fair. External factors will always play a part, whether the direction of the business or reorganisation of a team. Being adaptable and open to new ways of working will always be an asset. In the long-term, most promotions are awarded to those who deserve them, and they have progressed by doing it smartly, and with integrity.
To summarise, or if you skipped the article and just want the pointers, I suggest anyone looking to get promoted to consider the following:
1. Always add value to your team and the business
2. Amplify your successes and manage your challenges through continuous learning
3. Seek ongoing feedback along the way
I hope some of these points help you structure your next development review, set your objectives, have a clearer discussion with your manager, and, ultimately, navigate your career in a fun and enjoyable way. It’s your journey, so make sure you enjoy it.
As an entrepreneur, employee, and mentor, I’m fascinated by personal development and helping people achieve their personal and professional objectives. I post related content regularly, so please follow The UnExtraordinaries to receive updates. If you enjoyed this article, consider giving it a Like or sharing it, to help it reach a wider audience. If you want to get in touch, feel free to contact me here or on LinkedIn.
Have a great day!