4 Ways To Get Ready For Promotion


Winning a promotion is a key discipline in career management. Without promotions, career progression tends to fade into simply having a job with each year feeling like the last. Even worse, a lack of progression and growth makes it more likely than you will be forgotten compared to highly dynamic people in the workplace.

The Two Types of Promotion

According to “The Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers,” by James M. Citrin and Richard A. Smith, successful executives regularly use two promotion strategies. First, they seek potential based promotions where a senior leader decides to place a bet on the person’s potential (most common at earlier career stages). Second, they seek to leverage proven experience and major accomplishments and make the case that they can achieve similar results again. It is important to recognize the uncertainty involved with both options for the professional and the employer. Let’s explore how to set yourself up for promotion.

Four Foundations For Promotion

1. Deliver a major accomplishment

In the project world, there is a distinction between “run the company” projects and “transform the company” projects. If you are seeking a promotion, projects that make an major impact are the best area to focus on. Citrin and Smith share the example of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) taking a company public as an example. A successful IPO is a fantastic achievement yet that may not be in the cards for you. What other options are there?

Here are four other examples of significant accomplishments:

  • Revenue Growth. In sales and marketing roles, demonstrating a major accomplishment is usually straight forward. For example, you can state $10,000 earned in 2015, $40,000 earned in 2016 and so forth.
  • User Growth. For apps, web services and other technology roles, significantly increasing the number of users may count. Even better, connect this technical data to business fundamentals such as revenues and expenses.
  • Project Delivery Success. Delivering a project ahead of schedule and receiving high marks from the end customer is often a great accomplishment. Of course, the value of this accomplishment is relative. If everyone delivers on time, then distinguish yourself in a different way (e.g. improved cost performance).

2. Be ready to move

We all know somebody who is “too valuable” in their current job to leave. This challenge is addressed in two ways. First, pursue cross-training for other staff on your critical activities (a good practice in any case so that you can take vacations with peace of mind). Second, top performing managers frequently train a “second in command” person who is capable of performing many of their functions. Remember – training others on your activities equips them to grow in their career and learn more about the organization.

Use these techniques to be prepared to move.

  • Stay In Control With Reviews. Use the Weekly Review process to stay in control of your calendar and avoid loose ends.

3. Boost your visibility

Without visibility, it is difficult to attract opportunities. Some professionals already know the value of personal brand development and promotion. Others – especially those in technical and back office roles – may be less familiar with the concept. We start with the premise that you are already delivering excellent work. Now the question becomes sharing your success with others. Here are a few approaches to share your story:

  • Writing. Writing an article for your website, LinkedIn or an industry newsletter is an excellent way to get started in promoting your brand.
  • Speaking. Delivering a speech at a professional association or industry conference is another well known way to increase your visibility.
  • Volunteer At A Charitable Organizations. Many charitable organizations have executives and other high level professionals on their boards to provide advice, connections and other contributions. Start by finding an organization you care about (e.g. if education and development interest you, consider Room To Read) and then think of ways you can contribute. For example, most boards need accounting and financial expertise as well as help with fundraising.
  • Resource: Read Stand Out by Dorie Clark. It is an excellent resource to learn how to develop a substantial personal brand and grow your career.

4. Take thoughtful risks

There are no certain paths to success especially as the pace of change continues to increase. In some circles, risk is considered to be a “four letter word.” That’s a dysfunctional way to think about uncertainty. Instead, look for small risks to take and gradually expand your appetite for uncertainty. After all, if you are seeking to lead at an executive level, it is vital to become comfortable with taking risks.

  • Evaluate the risk appetite. If you are in an organization, it is useful to know the context. Points to consider: how does the organization encourage innovation and what happens when novel ideas fail? As a general observation, smaller and younger organizations tend to take on more risks.
  • Try something new in a safe context. To build your confidence, start by taking small risks in a safe area. If you are highly confident with a certain sport, take a risk by experimenting with new techniques.
  • Resource: Read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield to discover a whole new perspective on risk and fear. I discovered Pressfield through Seth Godin a few years ago and I’m glad I did! Pressfield’s focus is on writers and artists, yet the insights certainly apply to other situations.

Further Resources For Promotions

Explore these additional resources for more insights on how to get ready for promotions and make the most of the opportunity.

  • The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael Watkins. I read this book earlier in 2016 and found it a useful read. Watkins provides useful models to understand your current environment (e.g. the value of using different strategies in a turnaround vs a sustaining success role). It is also interesting to note that the majority of highly successful executives move to a new role (or a significantly change the content of their current role) every 1-2 years.
  • The Manager Tools Promotion Standard: 150%. Limiting yourself to your job description means you are unlikely to get promoted. This excellent guidance from Manager Tools encourages you to take on more responsibility. When possible, there is great value in seeking to perform some of your manager’s tasks so that you grow into that role.

What To Do When You Are Passed Over For Promotion

Image Credit: Figures by ed_davad (Pixabay.com)

Image Credit: Figures by ed_davad (Pixabay.com)

Years of work have led to the big moment. Waiting for the promotion email! Yet, sometimes the promotion simply doesn’t happen. It’s a frustrating experience that many of us have experienced. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • No Partnership. Consulting, accounting and law firms are often organized as partnerships. Receiving a promotion to partner means greater responsibility, the requirement to land new clients and often a significant income increase. However, partnership decisions are driven by a number of factors including several outside of your control such as changes to firm strategy or buy-in requirements.
  • No Promotion to Management. In companies, governments and other organizations, landing your first manager position is a major career milestone. The organization grants you additional authority and expects you to contribute at a higher level. Unfortunately, sometimes your quality is not understood and appreciated by the organization.
  • No C-Suite Promotion. Making the leap to the executive level is a major turning point. The high risk decisions executives make mean that organizations often use elaborate procedures to govern executive promotion. If you didn’t make it to the corner office, there are plenty of reasons for that to happen.

Why You Did Not Receive The Promotion

Before you start working on improvement strategies, it makes sense to spend some time understanding what was behind the decision. In many cases, you will probably not receive a direct answer. Hiring managers and committees are often reluctant to answer directly due to the fear of lawsuits. In 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported over three hundred lawsuits were filed in American federal courts. Right or wrong, there is a perception that providing feedback regarding hiring (or promotion) decisions increases the chance of a lawsuit. Given that situation, you will need to gather information and make an educated guess.

  • Soft Skills. The higher you rise in an organization, soft skills become highly important. For example, do you know how to run an effective meeting?
  • Hard Skills. In some roles, specific hard skills are absolutely a requirement. For example, many jobs at the Government of Canada require a person to be fluent in English and French. In other roles, you may be required to know a specific methodology (e.g. Agile) or programming language.
  • Poor Performance During Interviews. Your performance and attitude during the interview is important. That’s why I purchased the Interview Series from Manager Tools. If you are an internal candidate, all the usual interviewing rules apply.
  • Not Meeting Unspoken Norms. Some organizations have conventions needed for promotion. For example, many companies effectively require senior managers and executives to earn a MBA degree from a highly ranked university in order to be promoted. In a global organization, senior managers may be expected to have at least one successful international assignment.
  • Not Meeting Time on Job Requirements. If you have only been in your job for a few months, seeking a promotion is not a wise idea. As a general rule of thumb, you will need to spend 12-24 months in a job before you seek promotion.

Though by no means an exhaustive list, the above factors are often at play in promotion decisions. If any of those problems sound familiar,  you’re in luck. We’re going to cover how to solve some of those problems in the next section of this article.

Preparing For The Next Round of Promotions

Getting ready for promotion after you have been passed over once is a daunting situation to be in. There are several approaches you can take to move your career ahead following such a disappointment. For the best results, experiment with multiple strategies as your time and resources permit.

Evaluate Your Prospects At The Organization

Some organizations offer better opportunities than others. Did you know that there are companies that are rapidly hiring new people and taking on more customers? Rapid growth companies offer excellent potential for promotion. The INC 5,000 List is a great resource – many of the companies have annual revenue growth over 100%. If your organization is in decline – cutting staff, seeing reduced revenue – you may still choose to stay. In that case, keep in mind you may have to wait a long time for another opportunity to come up.

Discover The Unwritten Rules of Promotion

As Jim Rohn said, “success leaves clues.” That principle applies to promotions and hiring decisions. If you are seeking a promotion to program manager, find people who are in that job today. Searching your company’s intranet or employee directory is one way to find these people. You can also use Linkedin Advanced Search. When you meet with these people, ask them how they got their current job. In my experience, most people are happy to share their experience.

Develop More Skills

Your skills make it possible for you to achieve in the work place. If lack of skills are holding you back, you are living in the golden age of learning. The main challenge is to decide where to apply your learning energy first. If you are seeking a project management job, then I suggest studying for the PMP (here are my lessons learned in studying for the PMP certification). If you are focused on going for a management job, then you will probably want to focus your efforts on interpersonal skills, leadership and related points.

If you’re looking for a variety of ideas for learning, start with this guide: 51 Training Resources For Project Managers.

Explore Exit Opportunities

At a certain point, promotion may not be a viable strategy. You could be stuck in a job (or “job family”) with no significant advancement potential. Or you may simply be looking for new challenges. If you are seeking to break out to new opportunities, look for ways to translate your skills to new roles. Mergers and Inquisitions, an outstanding career website for bankers, frequently explores the question of exit opportunities for bankers. If you’re planning for a radical shift in career, expect to struggle longer to meet success.

Question & Action:

What positive actions have you taken after learning that you did not obtain the promotion of your dreams?

Career Advancement CPR: Are You Ready To Move To Management?

Image Credit: First Aid by Succo (Pixabay.com)

Image Credit: First Aid by Succo (Pixabay.com)

CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is a key technique that people learn in first aid courses. Out in the field, you have limited time to take action. There is also very limited resources and equipment available. As the Mayo Clinic explains, “a lifesaving technique useful in many emergencies, including heart attack or near drowning.” This emergency skill set matters because 80% of heart attacks happen at home.

As you work on your career advancement project, there are a lot of questions to consider. Moving up the ladder to management is often the logical next step. Making that move without the proper foundation increases your risk of failure (e.g. being fired, being demoted or be cut out from important decisions). Make enough mistakes as a new manager and you will need some career CPR to get back on track.

Whether you have been asked to apply for a management role or simply came across an interesting job posting, pause and reflect on it. Going through thes steps will help you to prepare an effective application, prepare for the interview and get ready for your first ninety days.

Competence: Deliver The Goods And Expand Your Horizons

Do you know the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service? It comes in the following phrase which is carved into the stone of the post office at New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from  the swift completion of  their appointed rounds”

As a long time student of history, I also have to add that the quote was first written by the ancient Greek historian  Herodotus in his book The Histories.

This unofficial motto defines success for couriers clearly. That leads into the first few points below.

1. Define Success In Your Current Role

Going through the usual routine is easy, especially if you have been in a role for a long time. However, you may have lost track of the definition of success in your role. Take the time to write a short definition of success and validate it with your manager.

2. Deliver The Goods For A Year

Building up a track record of success and consistent delivery shows that you are competent and capable. Living out this principle shows that you can go define success and then carry it out.

Why deliver the goods for a year? Changing jobs in less than a year may be misunderstood by other reading your resume in the future. In addition, many jobs have cycles of activity (e.g. certain activities are only done monthly, quarterly or annually) and you want the chance to successfully complete all of those activities.

An Exception: If you have accepted a role far below your capacity as a short term measure, you may be able to demonstrate exceptional results in less time.

3. Write The Brag Sheet To Record Your Results

Earlier this month, I wrote How To Write A Brag Sheet To Get Promoted. To reiterate, this document summarizes your achievements and results. Whenever possible, look for ways to add numbers to your brag sheet (dollars saved, revenue generated etc). You can also add positive emails and notes from stakeholders, customers and others.

4. Expand Your Job To Demonstrate Your Initiative

From time to time, seeking a promotion or a new job is not the right move. In those cases, use the Expand Your Job strategy. By adding new responsibilities to your job, you show that you are willing and able to make a greater contribution to the organization.

Not sure where to get started in taking on new responsibilities? Ask around your department to see if anyone is planning to go on vacation. I have also learned new skills, systems and skills in order to provide coverage for a coworker who has gone on vacation. It is a great win-win strategy (your coworker gets peace of mind on vacation and you get to learn new skills)

People: How Good Are You With People?

In a famous scene on the 1999 movie “Office Space,” (the link is a Youtube clip with the scene) a character is asked to explain how he contributes to the company. He soon becomes angry and starts shouting that he has “people skills.” Needless to say, his outburst sends mixed messages.

To grow in your career, you need to do better with people. Use these steps to get started.

5. Learn A Systematic Approach

Without a systematic approach to dealing with people, you are likely to fall into a classic trap. What’s the trap? Treating everyone like yourself in terms of communication and style. For example, you may avoid the phone and seek to complete all of your communication by email. That approach may frustrate people who prefer to connect by phone.

I suggest using the DISC framework to improve your understanding of people. I suggest purchasing the DISC Profile from Manager Tools. You can then deepen your understanding with Manager Tools’s outstanding podcasts that explain DISC.

Note: Of course, every person is unique in their own way. Using tools like DISC simply speeds up the process of getting to know people and helps you manage your blindspots.

6. Learn What Motivates People

Understanding motivation is vital for those moving to a management role. Why? While your formal authority means you have the power to issue orders, there are limits to that authority. If you only use formal power, you will rarely inspire people to add new ideas.

Use these resources to get started:

7. Do Kind Things

Getting along with people includes doing thoughtful gestures. Use the cookie hack to connect with someone at your office. Here are a few other ways to do kind things for people in the office:

  • Organize A Farewell Party. Earlier in August, I organized a farewell party for someone who left the organization. I booked the restaurant, circulated a card and bought a gift. I like to mark occasions and the effort was appreciated.
  • Listen For Frustration. In the close quarters of cubicle land, it is difficult to avoid overhearing other people. If you hear people curse under the breath, stand up and ask them about it. Depending on the situation, you may be able to offer a solution or simply acknowledge their suffering.

Readiness To Start Over: Cultivate Beginner’s Mind

Moving to a management role means you have plenty to learn. There is a whole new set of skills to be learned and mastered. This change also requires an adjustment to your outlook. Moving to a management role is like your first year of university – you have a lot to learn and some of those high school habits will need to go.

8. Prepare For Discomfort

Learning how to perform a new job means discomfort. Specifically, you have to admit how much you do not know. If you have moved to a new department or new company, be ready to be full of questions. Most people are glad to help you if you make an effort.

Tip: Ask plenty of questions and note down important answers in a notebook as you work through your first weeks and months on the job.

9. Redefine Success As A Manager

As an individual contributor, your success or failure is largely within your control. That starts to change when you move to a management role. For example, managers are measured on their ability to develop staff, delegate work effectively and contribute ideas at a strategic level.

As you get started in your first management role, take the time to learn how success will be measured. The single best person to ask about this is your boss: the VP, the director or whoever you report to.

10. Start 1-on-1 Meetings

Building your relationship with your staff takes time and effort. You can make the process easier by regularly having 1-on-1 meetings with each person. For detailed guidance on starting and running 1-on-1 meetings as a manger, I refer you to Manager Tools (e.g. One-on-Ones Part 1).

8 Habits of Highly Effective Communicators

Winston Churchill giving a public speech.

Winston Churchill giving a public speech.

Communication is a skill we use every day. Yet, there is incredible room for improvement. Professional speakers, lawyers, and many others have long known that presenting and speeches bring more business. What about project managers? Improving your communication skills is one of the best training and development decisions you will ever make. As you continue to advance in your career, you will rely on communication and presenting more than technical skills. Communication makes you easier to promote and easier for you to lead.

Let’s explore a few of the benefits of better communication:

  • Respect. Delivering good presentations will win you more respect from your peers.
  • More Opportunities. Presenting well inside and outside your company sets you apart from everyone else, especially if you hustle for the speaking opportunity.
  • Income. Delivering presentations is a key sales skill that you can use in sales roles. Strong presentation skills are also needed to take projects through the full cycle.
  • Grow Your Network. When you deliver a presentation, people will often reach out to afterwards to follow up.
  • Improve Productivity. Strong communication skills means you will be understood the first time.

If there is still any doubt in your mind about improving your communication skills, consider the advice from billionaire Warren Buffet gave to business students. He suggested that skilled professionals can improve their value by 50% by improving their communication skills. Buffet himself credits the Dale Carnegie Course for much of his business success. That’s a compelling example that should inspire all of us to improve communication.

 Listening Skills For Communication

Listening well is the foundation of communication. While I have made progress in this area, I still see much room for improvement. Starting with listening is important because it helps you to connect to the other person. Listening well is also a way to signal respect. Unfortunately, a study from the 1980s reports that, “the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency.”

1. They Listen With Their Body Language

The way you move your body is a key way to signal your interest and respect while listening. For example, you may nod your head occasionally as the person speaks. You may also turn your head and torso toward the person who is speaking. I often like to hold a pen in my hand while listening in a meeting because it helps me to focus.

2. They Listen To The Words

The words people choose to use make a difference. Does a colleague use “we” and other team oriented language? Language use often signals a speaker’s level of confidence in what they are saying. If a person prefaces their comments with words such as “Perhaps” or “Maybe,” then they likely have low confidence in what they are saying. This is useful information because you can follow up for clarification. Likewise, if someone uses highly detailed examples and numbers in all of their comments, that is a cue that the person prefers to focus on hard numbers and data.

3. They Listen For Emotion

Listening for emotion adds a depth of understanding and connection to communication. Some aspects of this listening are likely to come to you naturally. If someone is yelling at you about a problem, they are probably angry. For further guidance on reading body language and voice tone, I suggest looking at the Science of People (e.g. 10 Ways Body Language Can Help Women Be More Powerful or 5 Nonverbal Blunders to Avoid in Your Next Sales Meeting.)

4. They Take Notes

Taking notes is helpful for several reasons. In order to take notes, you have to focus on the other person. Taking notes from what someone is saying also helps you to check your understanding. For example, you write down “software quality test report due on Aug 31, 2015.” You can then review that deadline and the scope of that activity later on. Taking notes for names, dates and tasks is a great way to get more out of meetings.

Presentation Skills For Communication

Presenting your message is an important way to communicate your message to the world. Whether you are leading a project kick off meeting or making the pitch to a customer, presenting well matters. Let’s consider a few habits that will improve your presentations.

5. They Focus on The Audience

Everything starts with the audience. Here are two ways to connect better with an audience. First, learn about their common language (e.g. accountants and bankers would like examples that spell out the dollars and cents of the message). You can find out their language by meeting with some of the people in advance (i.e. the pre-wire strategy). Next, seek to understand the audience’s problems. That’s another question to ask about

6. They Keep To Their Time Limits

In governments around the world, there is a tradition of filibusters to protest measures. In the 1950s, U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes to protest the The Civil Rights Act of 1957 (for more examples, read 5 Famous Filibusters from Mental Floss). Needless to say, 99% of the time, avoid filibusters! Instead, closely observe start and end times for communication. When you follow the time limits, your audience is more likely to pay attention.

7. They Study The Best Communicators

Leadership expert and author John C Maxwell regularly studies and observes top notch communicators and speakers. In the process, he has learned better ways to learn humor. He also learned how to communicate effectively with a translator. As a result of his studies and dedication to improvement, Maxwell has become one of the most popular and effective speakers in the world.

Where do you start? I recommend starting with one of my favorites – Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” speech of 1940. I have learned the importance of repeating key points several times from Churchill. I have also learned the value of communicating with a memorable metaphor such as The Iron Curtain.

8. They Know How To Use Visual Aids

Sometimes words alone are not enough to communicate your message. That’s when it is time to use visual aids. Martin Luther King Jr used architecture – the Lincoln Memorial – to support and enhance his famous I Have A Dream speech. What if you have to give a presentation in an office building that may not inspire you? Read Presentation Zen (the blog and the book) for advice on designing visually memorable presentations.

9. They Prepare For Each Presentation

The Boy Scout motto of “Always prepared” is a great habit for effective communicators to adapt. How exactly can you prepare to improve your presentation? You can prepare speaking notes and make sure you have copies. You can give the presentation to a practice audience. Finally, you can visit the presentation room in advance and learn how it is laid out. In a pinch for time? Make sure to arrive early so that you can test the AV equipment and take a few deep breaths before you speak.

Question & Action

What will you will do this week to improve your communication?

8 Bad Habits That Quietly Kill Your Chances of Promotion

Image Credit: Typing On A Computer by StartupStockPhotos (Pixabay.com)

Image Credit: Typing On A Computer by StartupStockPhotos (Pixabay.com)

Are your habits at world holding you back?

The key word is quietly. You may not realize how your habits – those daily actions (or inactions) – are holding you back. Newly hired professionals may have bad habits from their student days. Older professionals may have created habits to suit a specific manager. According to scientific research reported at Science Daily, habits account for 40% of our daily activities. Researchers have identified two modes of thinking: our intentional mind (where we make a choice and then follow through) and our habitual mind: “when the habitual mind is engaged, our habits function largely outside of awareness.”

Your habits, good and bad, are shaping your performance at work. Let’s start by eliminating these 8 career killing bad habits.

Laying the Foundation: Are You A Professional?

These five bad habits collectively mark you as unprofessional. Any one of these bad habits will make it harder to build a good reputation. Keep in mind the definition of habits: “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”

1. Lateness

Film maker Woody Allen famously remarked that “80% of success is showing up.” The foundation of showing up is bring there on time. Failing to be punctual hurts your chances of promotion in three ways.

  • Disrespect. Walking on late signals a lack of respect for everyone. You need allies to be promoted. Disrespectful behaviour will eventually cost you allies.
  • Information gap. Late arrival means you are likely to miss two types of information. First, you will miss the informal pre-meeting discussions where trends and news are shared. Second, you will miss part of the meeting’s formal agenda. Interrupting the meeting and demanding to be briefed only exacerbates the disrespect problem.

Habit solution: aim to arrive 3-5 minutes early to your next five meetings.

2. Abusive language

The words you use matter. Consider the fact that accountants, lawyers and physicians all specialized language. Such knowledge is part of what marks them out as professionals. In contrast, abusive language reveals you to be unprofessional. Abusive language takes several forms:

  • Cursing. All the words that are banned from television? Those should not be heard at the office. If the temptation comes on you, count to ten silently. That tactic will help you get through the moment.
  • Character attacks. Remember the rule to “assume positive intent?” That means assuming people are seeking to do well. Calling done a liar or lazy is rarely helpful.

Habit solution. Cultivate the positive comment habit. Leadership author and entrepreneur John C Maxwell makes a habit of making a positive comment to team members within a minute of seeing them.

3. Fighting for a fiefdom

Building your own empire within a larger organization has long been a risky strategy. This practice does yield some benefits in the short term. You can create loyal lieutenants by rewarding them. You can overcome your enemies. However, focus on fiefdom building outs you at odds with the organization as a whole. Consider these other fiefdom problems:

  • Information flow. By building a fiefdom, you will spend less time on seeking out information about activity in the rest of the organization.
  • Disconnect from strategy. Empire builders are likely perceived as ignoring the company’s big picture strategy. Before long it will be clear that you are not a team player. Your fiefdom (and you, by extension) are likely to be perceived as irrelevant

Improvement tip. Look for at least one corporate project to support in the coming year that is connected to the company’s strategy. If you company strategy emphasizes community, then lead a volunteer day at a local charity. Such actions demonstrate you are concerned about broader issues and problems.

4. No tracking and organization system

Forgetting tasks, details and appointments may be taken for granted with students or those at early career stages. Once you are seeking a significant promotion such as your first management role, such activity will raise questions. If senior management perceives you as incapable of handling your current load, then they will be reluctant to assign greater responsibility to you. This bad habit hurts you in the following ways

  • Increased stress and discomfort. When you frequently forget tasks and assignments, life becomes more stressful and unpleasant surprises become a way of life.
  • Mental fog. When you have no tracking system in place, it is easy to drift into a mental fog of confusion and short term “what’s hot right now?” work. A long term mental fog makes it difficult to focus on the important.

I recommend Leading Yourself With Getting Things Done to put an organization system in place.

Communication Habits

According to the Project Management Institute’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession report, ” 55% of project managers agree that effective communications to all stakeholders is the most critical success factor in project management.”

5. Relying on One Communication Method (e.g. Do You Only Use Email?)

As the old saying goes, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Many organizations have developed an “email culture” where nearly all communication happens over email. Using any one tool to the exclusion of others will hold you back. Here are two other communication methods to master in order to win a promotion.

  • Phone Meetings. This communication method is often a great approach for problem solving rather than sending emails back and forth. Once a solution is developed, the decision and results can be summarized by email.
  • Presentations. Delivering a presentation to a group of people is a key skill that executives and senior managers use every day. For inspiration on the power of great presentations, I suggest viewing the most popular TED talks of all time (Dan Pink’s “The puzzle of motivation” is one of my favorites).

6. Weak Listening Skills

Listening skills are one of the most underrated areas of communication. Many of us are so eager to share our ideas that we forget the other side. As you lead projects and get work done with other people, listening skills are vital to develop. Here are two tips to improve your listening.

  • Look At The Speaker. When you are interacting with someone in person, focus on them while they speak. For added benefit, you may adjust your chair or lean in their direction.
  • Take Notes. Taking down a few key points as a person speaks shows you value what they are saying. Relying on your memory and having to follow up to be briefed is less professional.

7. Failure to “Speak Their Language” With Different People

Some project managers fail because they cannot connect with executives and other important people on their project. A failure to speak in “their language” is often at fault. Use these two tips to better align your language with the people you work with.

  • Use results language. Asking an executive to understand each and every change request usually doesn’t make sense. Instead, focus your communication on results they care about. For example, “Project A will make our customers happier because it reduces shipping time which is the number one complaint we receive.”
  • Reduce jargon to a minimum. As project management professionals, we have a great deal of specialized knowledge. However, much of that knowledge and specialized concepts only confuse the other person. As a general rule of thumb, reduce technology and project management jargon as much as possible.

8. Unclear Business Writing

Bad writing is frustrating. Bad writing slows everyone down. Improving your writing is a challenge. In fact, you could start a summer project at work to sharpen your business writing skills. Start by using these tips to improve.

  • Direct Requests. Do you want someone to do something? Make a direct request. Hints and indirect requests are harder to understand and less likely to be acted on.

Further Reading

When I flip through books at the bookstore, I often go directly to the “further reading” section at the back. I’m always curious to see what resources the author recommends to readers. In that spirit, I’m going to share a few resources with you. There’s a growing number of researchers and authors have explained how habits work.

  • “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. This was the first book I read about habits
  • “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” by Gretchen Rubin.
  • BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits Program. Starting doesn’t have to be frustrating. The Tiny Habits program helped me to standardize my flossing habit and make other improvements.

Question & Action:

What bad habits have you seen in the workplace? If you could change only one habit this week, what would you change?

How To Write A Brag Sheet To Get Promoted

Office Notes

Image Credit: Office Notes by StartupStockPhotos (Pixabay.com)


Bragging? That may sound a bit off-putting to some of you. Fortunately, there is no shouting or arrogant behavior required. A brag sheet is a resource you create to document and present your career accomplishments. It is time to learn the art of self promotion. The first step is to create a record of all your great work – a brag sheet!

Why Do I Need A Brag Sheet?

There are three main reasons to create a brag sheet of your accomplishments. It all comes down to actively managing your career. As former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani  famously said, “hope is not a strategy.” By the same token, you cannot rely on your manager’s memory (or your own) to keep a full inventory of all the great work you do.

  • Managing your current job better. You can use it to share your accomplishments in meetings with your boss and during performance reviews. The brag sheet is also a resource for those who have recurring monthly or weekly meetings with their boss.
  • Improved Job Hunting Results. The brag sheet helps you to prepare your resume and prepare answers for job interviews. Trying to recall the details of a project you completed a year or two ago is much easier if you have a short summary to prompt your memory.
  • Mental Boost. We all have difficult days from time to time. One answer to such days is to read Stoic philosophy. Reviewing your past success – as documented in the brag sheet – is another way to boost your spirits.

What You Need To Write Your Brag Sheet

As with any project, there are a number of inputs you need to gather in order to write and maintain a useful brag sheet. Let’s review the main points that go into this document. If this process looks overwhelming, break it down into steps. You could even make a summer project at work to better document your career accomplishments.

  • Create Folder or Document For Your Brag Sheet. Use Evernote, a folder on your computer or your word processing software of choice to collect all the material in one place. If you create this document on your office computer, make sure to print a copy (or make a digital copy) for your records at home.
  • Read You Job Description. Reviewing your job description is an excellent way to get the right language for your brag sheet. For example, your job posting may use the term “continuous process improvement.” If so, you can use that as one of the headings in your brag sheet.
  • Track Your Numbers. As the Career Tools podcast has explained, it is vital to track your results at your work. In sales, you can track revenue, number of customer meetings and more. In project management, you can track customer satisfaction through surveys, budget management and other factors. You may also want to compare how your results this y ear compare to last year.
  • Review and Add Comments From Customers, Peers & Others. Have you ever received a thank you note from a peer or a customer for work you did? That is great material to include in your Brag Sheet files. If you receive verbal thanks, ask for the person to send you a short (1-3 sentence is great) email so you can add it to your files.
  • Review Your Calendar For Accomplishments. Your calendar is a rich source of data. In this process, review your past month of calendar in Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar or your calendar tool of choice. Look for meetings, appointments with yourself and other entries where key decisions were made. Remember that well run meetings are a key way to build professional relationships.
  • Read Your Annual Review & Meetings With Your Manager. Meetings with your manager are a rich source of information about your responsibilities. In particular, look for those “oh, can you do this piece of work?” one off assignments. It is easy to lose track of these points. In addition, take note of feedback your manager has given you. If you can document how you have put the feedback into action, you will show your commitment to improve.
  • Review Email for Evidence of Accomplishments. Email remains the workhorse of the professional world. Start by reviewing the emails you have sent over the past month. I recommend starting with sent emails because they are likely to contain reports and other work products. That is more material to add to your Brag Sheet files.

How To Use Your Brag Sheet To Get Promoted

Once you have assembled your brag sheet files, it is time to put that resource into action. Here are a few tips to use your brag sheet to win your next promotion. Your brag sheet gives you a full picture of your accomplishments. With that information in place, you can grow to your next role.

1. Decide on a Target Job Title

In order to be promoted, you need to have some idea of what job you like to have. For example, do you want to be promoted to a manager role in your current department? Or are you looking at switching to a senior role in a different division? Aim to come up with at least two possible job titles (e.g. IT Project Manager, Change Management Manager or Program Manager).

Tip: Use Indeed.com to search for job postings if you cannot find any through your current organization.

2. Check Off The Basics First

Before you start a campaign for promotion, review the basics of your career. Are you delivering on your current job’s responsibilities to an acceptable (or better) level? Regarding the targeted job title, look for the hard requirements such as required education and certifications (e.g. do you need to earn the PMP certification to get promoted?).

3. Link Your Brag Sheet To The Target Title

It is time to go into analysis mode! Read a job description for your target job title and compare that to your brag sheet. Many professionals use the job expansion strategy to add new responsibilities over time. As a result, you may already be doing some of the activities needed to be promoted.

4. Validate Your Analysis With Your Network

Once you have your brag sheet and analysis of your target job title in place, it is time to validate your analysis. Contact two or three people in your network to seek their advice. For the best results, ask 2-3 focused questions such as “how do I show evidence of financial management skills?” or “how do I explain my management approach?”


The Observation Strategy: 4 ways to understand your boss

Image Credit: Hand by Geralt (Pixabay.com)

Image Credit: Hand by Geralt (Pixabay.com)

What if there was one person at the office who had the ability and authority to promote you? Increase your flexibility. Fund your MBA studies. According to the 80/20 principle, sustaining and growing your relationship with that person will pay significant dividends, more than any other single person.

Who is that person?

They have different titles at different organizations. Boss, manager, supervisor, director and vice-president are some of the common titles. They write your annual performance review, influence your work assignments, impact the opportunities you receive and play a key role in your ability to seek a promotion.

Yet too many of us have a negative, confrontational or hostile attitude to our managers. Films such as “Office Space” (a modern comedy classic!) and “Bad Bosses” have encouraged this dysfunctional perspective. Operating under this negative mindset significantly or fatal undermines your opportunities for promotion, development and growth.

Today, I will lay out a framework you can use to build a positive working relationship with your manager. If you have a negative traction ship with your manager, this process will still work though it will take longer and require more effort on your part. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Observation: Knowing is half the battle

In his classic book “The Seven Habits of High Effective People,” Stephen Covet shared a piece of timeless wisdom: seek first to understand, then to be understood. That habit is essential to understanding your manager better. Observe and seek to understand these five aspects of your manager to get started.

1. Time habits: are they a master of the clock?

A manager’s approach to time management provides insights to help us work with them better. Start by observing your manager’s arrival and departure times from the office. Next, look at their pattern for meetings – are they generally early or late? Finally, note whether they are falling into the trap of double booking themselves – a sure fire way to guarantee confusion and stress. Once you have these basic points in hand, align yourself with your manager’s good habits.

2. Say What: observe manager communications

It has been said that project managers spend 80% of their time on communication. This pattern holds true for most managers. Done well, effective communicators inspire, engage and help their people. Poor communication is frustrating or even destructive. Observe the following communication habits over a few weeks:

  • Speed of response to email: some people emphasize fast responses while others take a longer approach (note that many managers prioritize their communication with their managers or important stakeholders so your experience may need to be taken with a grain of salt).
  • Reading or listening: observe how your manager functions best in taking in new information. For example, when faced with a new problem or opportunity so they prefer to review a detailed written document or a live meeting.
  • Level of formality. Some managers refer to take a formal approach and focus their communication predominantly on business matters. Others are more at rates with jokes, banter and occasional share details about their life beyond the office.

3. Observation: excitement and anger triggers

Learning thread your manager’s emotional state helps you relate to them better. Emotional intelligence is a complex topic. Today, you will discover two simple signs to look for in your manager. Excitement – smiles, faster talking and other signs – suggests what topics, goals and activities that excite him. Anger – shouting and worse – suggest areas to avoid or increased potential for conflict. Let’s go deeper in both of these points.

Excitement triggers

Of all her responsibilities and projects, which activities spark excitement? When someone is excited at work, you can sense their increased energy. These topics are areas that you can connect with your manager on easily. Working on a project that excites your manager is a great example of win-win thinking. Excitement is all about potential and anticipation. Start with these two excitement triggers.

  • Tone of voice. Detect excite run by listing gut changes in tone of voice. This tip is especially  helpful if your manager tends to have an then or monotone speaking style.
  • Vocabulary. Listen and look fit words such as “my top priority”, “my passion” or “I’m excited to start. These words generally signal excitement. Take note of these comments during meetings.

Anger triggers

Anger happens in the workplace. Your boss may be frustrated with a slow system, a missed deadline or something else. Noticing anger triggers will help you better understand how to communicate with your manager.

  • Angry body language. Angry thoughts come out in different ways. You might hear passive aggressive comments. Or you may encounter physical actions – pounding on a table or desk. Such moments often reveal the person’s hot buttons. It’s painful to e counter these moments. However, observe and take note to improve next time.
  • Verbal abuse. Being subjected to verbal abuse is painful. However there is a useful signal in that angry noise if you reflect on what your hear. An angry manager is frustrating. If you see a continuing stream of angry outbursts, start to look for a new job. In the meantime, look for patterns and aim to avoid the anger land mines.

There is one other way to make positive change from angry outbursts. Make a note of the worst cases in your Delta File. When you are promoted to management, these observations will help you to do better. In the short term, use mindfulness techniques such as breathing exercises and the 5 Minute Journal to stay calm and collected.

4. Diplomat or dictator: observing meeting style

Project managers and other professionals recognize that central importance of meetings. A well run meeting achieves results, builds trust and moves the organization forward. Participating in meetings with your manager matters. Here are a few items to observe in meetings.

  • Interruptions. Does your manager interrupt frequently? This may be a sign of disrespect if the pattern is repeated regularly.
  • Agenda focus. Observe how closely  your manager follows the agenda. Following a clear agenda is a key habit of highly effective meetings.
  • Conflict management. Conflicts happen in meetings, even simple differences of opinion. It’s valuable to know how your manager handles conflict in the heat of the moment.

As you observe meetings, look for good ideas you can copy. I have learned certain phrases and behaviours that signal active learning. A meeting, even a poorly run one, has lessons to teach you if you seek to observe and learn.

Action challenge. Understanding how your manager behaves is essential to learning how to work with her effectively. Which if the above observation strategies will you use?

Who Gets Promoted: An Interview with Career Expert Donald Asher

Have you ever wondered why your friends get promoted and you’re left working away in obscurity? Promotions are a key way to grow your career and yet they often seem like a black box.

Today’s guest is Donald Asher, author of “Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why.” Donald has consulted with executives and other professionals on career matters for over 20 years. Donald Asher’s books on careers include The Overnight Resume, Cracking the Hidden Job Market and How To Get Any Job. He has some thoughtful answers to help project managers climb the corporate ladder. His articles have appeared in various publications including the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals (NAGAP).

PHoto of Donald Asher

PHoto of Donald Asher


1. Why did you write a book called “Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why” and who is it for?

The book is based on my experience of advising clients on their careers for the past twenty years. If you are an ambitious careerist on the fast track – getting promoted every year – this is the perfect book for you. If you’re smart and ambitious to grow your career, you can benefit from reading Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why.

What is the most significant misconception you encounter regarding promotions?

The major misconception is that promotion is a reward for past performance. Instead, promotion is about your potential to deliver in the future. Simply waiting to be recognized and given a promotion is not a good strategy.

2. What is your perspective on designing a career plan vs maintaining openness to new opportunities?

Above all, here is my advice: go to the meeting, take the call and check out any offer or interview you are offered.

In the investment world, we can’t predict the future though we can make reasonable plans based on our risk tolerance. Understanding your risk tolerance and willingness to stretch for new roles are key components to designing your career plan.

Getting Promoted To Management

4. A number of my readers are interested in seeking a promotion to their first project management role. What is the first step on the road to promotion?

The first question to ask is whether your formal credentials are in order. If you are seeking a project manager role, the question will be whether or not you have the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

To break out of an individual contributor role, there are a few approaches. First, talk to your boss about your career goals – they can’t read your mind. Next, look for stretch assignments that give you the opportunity to build new skills and deliver results. In addition, look for task forces and special committees where you can achieve results and work with people from a variety of departments.

5. What are your recommendations for accessing the “hidden job market” (i.e jobs that are not advertised publicly), especially for management and project management roles?

Research shows that 50-80% of all jobs go to someone who did not respond to a posted opening. In fact, there are hidden job markets inside large companies. To access the hidden job market, constantly seek out new people and opportunities (rather than waiting until you are desperate for a new opportunity). Recommendations from current staff are a key factor in hearing about new jobs.

Editor’s Note: For additional insight on the hidden job market, look into Donald Asher’s book Cracking the Hidden Job Market.

6. What resources – courses, books and so on – would you recommend to new managers?

For technical skills, there are many great courses offered through Lynda and Udemy. The great advantage of those platforms is that you can obtain targeted information for a specific skill you need. Professionals that can direct their own learning have an advantage over those who wait to be put into a training course.

Getting Promoted To The Executive Ranks

7. What skills are particularly important for project managers and middle managers seeking to move to executive roles?

To be a successful executive, you have be comfortable making decisions with data. In most cases, executives achieve results by working through structure and making data-based decisions. If you do not have an affinity for making significant decisions, stay away from executive roles.

8. Many project managers work with executives on their projects. How can they make the most of these relationships to grow their careers?

When you have contact with an executive, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your skillset to the executive. You may initially come into contact with the executive during a project – that’s only the beginning. If you’re also skilled in foreign languages, graphic design, sales or another skill set, share that information. In addition, be clear about your career interests. Executives are busy people and can’t be expected to read your mind.

Career Repair and Crisis

9. In your book, you discuss the concept of career repair. Can you define the term?

Recovering from any kind of career setback or delay is the focus of career repair. Situations you face include being out of the workforce for an extended period of time (e.g. taking care of children) or coming back from a layoff.

To repair your career, you have to be willing to make changes quickly. Your first job may be far below your capabilities but you take it to get back in the game. Continue the job hunting process and take advantage of new job offers that come around. During this process, you may have to resign from a position after a few months when a better opportunity comes along.

Resource: To help people going through a career crisis, I provide the Career Repair chapter from “Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why” for free on my website.

Getting in touch

10. What is the best way for readers to get in touch with you and find out more about your work?

The best way for readers to contact me is through my website: DonaldAsher.com. I am also open to receiving email directly from readers. My email address is don AT  donaldasher DOT com.