How to Get Promoted

Some people get lucky, but how the heck can you work at that?  Let’s focus on the ways to get promoted that you can control.  The following is based on my personal experience of how people get promoted to managerial roles.  Following this advice doesn’t guaruntee anything, but it will give you the best chance of success.  There are always exceptions to these rules.

Have many fans and few enemies
Creating fans is straight-forward.  Find a damsel in distress and save her…or him.  People have stress all the time at work.  There are difficult problems people have to deal with.  Go out of your way to help someone.  Listen to their problems and see if there is something you can do to help.  Ask them if you can help.

We all have day jobs, but if you want to succeed, you have to go above and beyond.  Put in extra time helping someone else.  If you create a fan, they will promote your virtues when a manager asks.

Enemies are more sticky.  One can piss off a colleague in any number of ways.  They key here is to realize when someone doesn’t like you and try to remedy it.  Go to them and tell them, “I think I got on your bad side.  I am really sorry.  Is there something I can do to fix it?”  Be humble, try to mend the fence.  Talk to the other person and let them vent at you. Don’t be defensive.  Take it and apologize.  Enemies are bad things in an organization.  They will block your promotion in various ways.

Every organization has Hercules’ and Atlas’ who bear the weight of the world on their shoulders.  They do all the work themselves.  Their attitude is like Boxer from Animal Farm. “I will work harder”.  The problem with this approach is that managers typically rely on these people to actually get work done.  How can they promote you to a manager if you are doing all the work.  The reality is that managers do less individual contributing that the person managed.

Prove that you can get other people to do work.  Get an intern and make them very productive.  Get a co-worker to do some of the work.  Figure out ways to scale and be efficient.  There is a little bit of chicken/egg here.  If you don’t have anyone to delegate to, how can you prove you can delegate.  This is a problem, but not insurmountable.  Do a good job yourself, but always be in the mindset of how you could do more with someone assisting you.  Sometimes a vendor is the perfect entry to this.

If you are a middle manager and you want to be promoted again, you have to delegate everything to your team.  Make sure your team is a success.  Guide them and lead them, but if you have to do the work yourself, then you are not scaling with your team.

Ask for it
Sometimes managers do not understand or acknowledge your ambitions.  Don’t assume they know you want to be promoted.  You have to ask for the job, just like a politician has to ask for your vote.  Sometimes one asks for a promotion that CLEARLY you aren’t going to get.  Never be disappointed.  Always be positive.  There WILL be a next time.

Generally, timing matters for this.  Wait until your star is on the rise.  Right after an “attaboy!” moment.  People think things in motion will stay in motion.  If you are doing well, you will do better.  If you are doing bad, you will do worse.  Never ask for a promotion right after a failure.  Timing is key.

Ask for the title bump, not the raise
This is a controversial thing, but I believe it is right. In many companies, the title is critically important.  The money will come, but the title is really important.  If you switch jobs, they will gauge you for the position based almost exclusively on your title.  Also, the title lines you up for more management responsibility.  If you and a peer each get something: You, a raise and the other a title bump.  You may make more money, but they are the senior employee and will get further promotions easier.

Have a vision
If you are in a department and the leader is fired, upper management has a choice.  Either promote someone on the team or hire from the outside.  They will talk to you on the team. This is your chance.  You must have a vision of what the department could do.  Something attainable, but impressive.  This is your chance to inspire.  If you do, they will give you a chance.  If you seem like you just want power or to be in charge, they won’t be inspired.  Paint a picture for them.

Be patient, or not
Depending on your industry and skill level, you have to make tough choices.  The most important choice is: Stay here or go there?  HERE you have built up some equity with the people and the company.  THERE is a fresh start and the green grass.  THERE is also the unknown and risk.

There is no right answer.  At my job, I decided to leave and then came back 9 months later.  It has been a great run since then.  I don’t think my “second act” would have worked at all if I hadn’t left.  Sometimes you have to go with your gut and see where life takes you.  You make a horrible mistake or you might get lucky.  Be decisive.  You rarely get something handed to you on a silver platter.  Managers want to promote decisive people.

This doesn’t mean you should quit every time you don’t get what you want.  Sometimes a little strategic patience goes a long way.  If your boss is failing, then keep working hard/smart.  Failing bosses don’t last forever.

Again, there is no sure-fire method.  Hopefully, these ideas are thought provoking and help at least one person out there.

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