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.
- Create Standard Operating Procedures. Every role has certain key activities. Documenting the process will help your successor to learn.
- 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.
- Jack Welch says doing these 2 things will get you a big promotion. Welch’s career success at GE stands out because he delivered significant results over decades including his time as CEO. He shares two great tips in this Fortune article.