This is quite a big question and it is one that I have thought a lot about over the last few days. One suggestion was that maybe people should aim a little lower, but as I am always a fan of people aiming high, go for the big goals, that’s not something I would agree with.
I think there can be many reasons as to why people get overlooked for promotion, and I think it would be difficult to give an answer that covers every situation, so what i wanted to do was to give 5 tips on what people could do to improve their promotion prospects.
We’d all like to think we work in a meritocracy where talent is the most important aspect when it comes to getting promoted, but unfortunately it’s not true. The saying ‘it’s not what you know but who you know that’s important’ is sadly much more accurate.
So the more you network, the more people you will know and the more people will know you, and also the more opportunities you will hear about. In many companies I have worked in positions were often not advertised, they were just offered to people who the manager knew. I had one great friend who is probably the best IT infrastructure person I have ever worked with, but the first time he knew about a job for which he would have been perfect was when it was announced that it had already been filled. When you don’t know about a position, the only way you will be considered is if the person looking to fill the role knows you.
So network, network, network.
Just because you are doing a good job don’t assume that everyone knows about it. Managers are often too busy, and are also often only involved in fixing problem areas, so if you are doing a good job in an area that is not experiencing problems, your good efforts might go unknown.
This doesn’t mean be arrogant about what you have done, but be sure that what you do is reported, and if you have the chance to present to senior management on what you have done, then take it.
I did a great job on cutting IT costs by $20m, but it wasn’t until I presented this to senior management that people realised that it was because of me that the savings had been achieved, my involvement was known, but not the extent of it. Once this was known then I was immediately included in promotion discussions.
This will give both you and your results visibility. If you have the chance to publish in any external magazines or industry blogs, then take that too, as this will also give visibility to you outside your own company, and lets face it promotion opportunities are available both internally and externally, and you need to be considered for both.
Remember: if you don’t stand out, then you can’t be considered to be outstanding!
Just doing a good job is not enough, it’s actually expected, so you need to look to add value. Look for opportunities to improve things; to increase productivity; reduce costs; or come up with innovative ideas. People who add value stand out and people who standout get promoted, and if you can make your boss look good then this will really stand you in good stead.
The more influence you have the easier you will find it to lead people, and as you progress your ability to lead becomes more important and also a bigger differentiator. There are many ways to increase influence: we can do this through our actions where we inspire people; we can do this through our knowledge and expertise, if you can increase this and become the go-to person for a subject then this will really help; providing support and assistance to people is a real bonus and also gets them talking about you; and then lastly build relationship with external suppliers, the better your relationship with them the more influence you have.
As we build influence it really helps to build our reputation and strong relationships, which will be beneficial to us.
As we progress up the management leader into leadership work gets harder and more intense not easier, so we need to see people who are capable of being able to take on the extra burden, and volunteering is one way of doing this. Also, when you volunteer it can add value, especially if you are taking tasks off of your boss, which they will appreciate, and you can then become a trusted pair of hands, where the boss looks to seek you out for new tasks, which can lead to promotions, or at least get you into the discussions for promotions.
Often when I speak with people and they tell me that they have been looked over for promotion, I ask them what extra they have done to get that promotion and when I do that I am often met with a bemused look. You have to do more than just a good job, and if you do follow any of the advice above you will increase your chance of promotion.
I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has been promoted and what it was that they did extra, which helped them achieve that promotion.