5 Unspoken Rules To Promotion

Dec 05, 2014 1 Min Read


A different ball game to get people to promote you

We all aspire to get promoted at one point or another in our careers. We want it not just because it means better salaries and bigger responsibilities, but more so because it validates our worth in the company.

After all, most of us thrive on recognition and praise.

However, how do you nail down that coveted position when you are already working your hardest? How do you ensure that this role will be given to you?

Missing a promotion that you think you deserve is painful (it is also a typical reason for people leaving their jobs).

Remember, working your hardest to get that promotion should be easy. On the other hand, getting people to promote you is a different story.

If you are that high-flyer who thinks that your option is to get a promotion, here are some “unspoken” pointers that you may need to seal the deal:

1. Show that you want it

My first call to order with my boss every time I land a new role is to vocalise my aspirations in the company: why I am here, and what’s my goal in the next three, five and 10 years.

I clearly state during my first one-on-one discussion that I’m the most absorbent sponge my employer will ever use, and that’s because I’m keen to climb the corporate ladder.

Indeed, the first step to getting promoted is to make your boss fully aware that you are expecting it. Just like any marriage or business contract, the key is to be clear with what you want from the very start.

When you show that you want something and work hard for it, people around you will behave with that in mind. They will pave the way, and the universe will happily conspire.

Of course, the conservative Asian workplace setting is not a big fan of people who vocalise or assert what they want.

In some companies, people may find you “too competitive that you start becoming a threat to them. There is a clear line between being “desperate to be promoted” versus “deserving to get promoted”.

In these occasions, be mindful to work even closer with your team because you will need them. Offer a helping hand to your counterparts when needed, and never keep information all to yourself.

You want people who will support your promotion campaign, not people who will give you bad feedback when the human resources (HR) people ask.

Finally, if you’re stuck in companies that promote people based on nepotism or favouritism, channel the “Harvey Specter” in you and show your boss that you’re his or her ally in getting the same thing he or she wants – to also get promoted.

Good talent will never be easily brushed aside no matter how bad a company is. People will notice what you’re up to, and if your boss realises that he or she can only get the job done thanks to you, then the battle is already half won.

2. Agree on your deliverables

You’re fortunate if you work in world-class multinational companies that have advanced structures which quantify soft skills (leadership, influence) and hard skills (business acumen, achievement of sales targets).

They use a point system that grades competencies from a junior to a senior role. However, if you work for a start-up company that doesn’t have a formal employee appraisal, you will likely need to set that up yourself.

In my personal experience, I engage my boss (I see myself growing in this company and I’d like to know what it will take to get to a senior role) and agree on a contract (If I excel in No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 deliverables, then I can be considered for promotion).

But don’t just stop with a one-time, big-time discussion. Catch up with your manager ideally every three months to check your progress.

Are you meeting his or her expectations? What do your other colleagues think about your work output?

Always keep score because it’s better to know early what needs to get fixed before it’s too late.

3. Don’t just be good today; show that you can be good tomorrow

The “Peter Principle” is a management theory by Dr Laurence Peter which claims that a good-performing employee will keep on getting promoted up to the point that he or she becomes incompetent in the new position.

Let’s take Matthew, a hard-working designer dubbed as the most creative in the company and well-loved by clients, for example.

The company promotes Matthew as a team manager but realises months later that he is failing in his role.
Matthew was a design deity, but lacked leadership and business acumen which are required of managers, and not necessarily of designers.

Managers today are aware of the Peter Principle, and their goal is to stop that from happening. They promote employees not just because they are brilliant in their current job, but because they are ready for a bigger role.

Promotable employees initiate tasks beyond what is needed, and with minimal supervision. They start showing signs that they can strategise, and not just execute.

They start exhibiting behaviours of a leader, and not just of a doer. In every bit of their actions, they start wearing a corporate hat and think about the company’s welfare, and not just their own careers.

When vying for a promotion, your message should be clear: I am ready for the unknown.

4. Manage the politics

Your promotion doesn’t rest solely in your boss’s hands, especially if you are in a big company. The boss of your boss will need to approve your promotion. The boss of the boss of your boss will likely need to approve it too.

Representatives from the HR department will also be there on the day of deliberations (and yes, most companies have promotion boards in which department heads or managers deliberate and loosely vote).

Ask yourself: How much do these guys know about you? Do they know that you’re the department’s rockstar? Do they know that you’ve been managing your team well whenever your boss is on leave?

These things matter because promotion boards decide largely on anecdotes – events and experiences that you have been involved in the past that indicate your readiness to take on the new position.

When aiming for the prize, make sure your visibility and presence are consistently felt in the organisation.

You don’t need to spread your peacock feathers to get yourself known, but take a proactive role to engage your leaders when the moment is apt.

Those times when you had the opportunity to reply to an e-mail, or contribute meaningful ideas during a meeting – will helpfully remind them why you’re worth it.

5. Keep your boss accountable

I personally believe that there are two reasons why an employee fails to get promoted even when the time is due: the employee’s manager failed to develop him or her, or he or she was wrongly hired. The first case happens more often than not.

Here’s the gist: your boss should know if you’re ripe for promotion, but that doesn’t mean he or she is just going to sit around and watch you grow.

Ultimately, your boss is responsible for your learning and development journey. Just like Hollywood, your boss is a talent manager and you are the star. You are “Luke Skywalker” and he or she is “Obi-Wan Kenobi”.

Your boss should be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses. He or she should be exposing you to projects that will stretch your abilities so that you are ready for a bigger role and so that you don’t become a victim of the “Peter Principle”.

Your boss should be increasing your visibility in the company. Did you help your boss make some slides for a presentation?

Your boss should be tasking you to present them so that your boss’ superior will finally get a taste of your brilliance.

The next time you have a one-on-one discussion with your boss, ask him or her about a development plan and the time frame for you. It’s an altogether different story (and different article) if he or she doesn’t have one.

In the final analysis

Never feel ashamed to talk about a promotion because it is your right and responsibility to manage your career.
Remember, you’re not asking a favour from your company. You are simply reminding the responsible parties that you deserve career development.

You deserve the credit for what it’s worth. And when you do get promoted, don’t forget to pass it on to the one next in line.

To engage Jonathan for organisational work in your organisation, email us at training@leaderonomics.com or drop us a line or two in the comment box provided.

Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 6 December 2014

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Jonathan is the winner of The Apprentice Asia and is currently based in Kuala Lumpur as the managing director of The JY Ventures & Consultancy. He is also an author of the book From Grit to Great, and a Leaderonomics faculty partner.

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