You can improve your odds of getting promoted by first setting the stage: show that you’re ready for the role, differentiate yourself by demonstrating leadership and build supportive stakeholder relationships. In addition, ensure that they’re thinking about you as promotion material by having “the promotion conversation” with your boss. Let’s dive into each of these four areas.
1. Show that you’re ready for the promotion.
Demonstrate your readiness by both acing your current responsibilities and seeking out opportunities to tackle additional responsibilities related to the promotion. For example, one of my clients, an SVP of Marketing, wanted the Chief Marketing Officer role that had just opened up. He was facing stiff competition, however, from external candidates who already had that the CMO title. Fortunately he had worked hard in the prior months to be seen as a true partner to the C-suite. He ensured he was invited to the right strategy meetings and maneuvered to get appointing to an executive operating committee. This committee appointment landed him a highly visible leadership role in formulating an organization-wide re-branding strategy, which he executed successfully. All this careful preparation paid off, and he got the role.
Another client, an individual contributor, was seeking a Director role with management responsibilities. She successfully made the case for this promotion by taking on the “right” assignments well in advance. For example, she sought out opportunities to manage projects that involved motivating and holding accountable colleagues and stakeholders. She also volunteered to run a division-wide “Employee Engagement” committee.
2. Get key stakeholders on your side.
You want the buzz about you to be super positive, so take stock of your relationships. Are there any problematic relationships that can hurt your chances? To thoroughly assess all your key relationships that could influence a promotion, create a stakeholder map that considers those above you, at your level and below your level as well (even if they don’t formally report to you).
Are the individual relationships as strong as they could be? If not, come up with a strategy to improve them. Sometimes just a simple “good morning” can make a big difference. Other times it’s harder and you’ll need a more sophisticated strategy. One of my clients, when looking at her stakeholder map, realized that she didn’t have much of a relationship with a key influencer in the promotion decision. So, she set out to build one, starting with a lunch meeting to discuss department synergies. Her effort paid off when this influencer was consulted on the promotion decision.
3. Demonstrate leadership.
Leadership means taking initiative to develop a vision for a better way of doing things, influencing others to get on board and ultimately showing results. Employees who show leadership differentiate themselves in the best possible way. And, you can demonstrate leadership at any level; you don’t need to manage staff to lead.
For example, my client, a junior level employee, took initiative in the first few months of his new role to go beyond his job responsibility of producing and distributing reports. He came up with a vision for a better reporting structure, got the stakeholders who would use the reports behind it and successfully made the case to both his boss and his boss’s boss. This leadership initiative was a major reason why he received a promotion after only a year in his role.
4. Have “the promotion conversation.”
Your manager may not be aware of your desire to move up in the organization and may even take you for granted in your current role. To change your manager’s thinking about you from “status quo” to “promotion material,” set up a meeting to discuss your career trajectory.
Choose your time wisely. Make sure your boss already thinks highly of you before having this conversation. If something you were recently involved in turned out badly, even if it wasn’t your fault, you may want to wait. If you have a performance review coming up, make sure it’s a good one and have the conversation immediately after the review. If you know your boss will soon move to another department and you’ll have a new manager, you may need to accelerate the timing; make the case for a promotion to your current boss who knows you well.
Request a meeting to discuss your career path. Get some time on your manager’s calendar. If you need to provide a subject for the meeting, say something like “Discuss my career trajectory at X Company.”
Make your case at the meeting. Think of the promotion conversation as the start of a negotiation. As such, introduce these six elements:
- Provide positive framing: start off by saying something positive about your boss, colleagues and the organization. For example, say “I enjoy working for you and appreciate your leadership, as well as the leadership vision of the senior executives.” Sharing this context helps enlist your boss as an ally in your quest. Reinforce that you’re on the same side of the table as them.
- Remind them about your accomplishments. For example, say something like “I’m glad I was able to get X done which directly improved our bottom line.”
- Bring up your desire for a promotion and tie it into your broader career aspirations.
- Share research to bolster your case. For example, you can mention others who’ve gotten promoted with less experience or capability, people who work for you that you want to promote but can’t because of your level, or examples of other firms that post job titles higher than your current title but with the same responsibilities that you have.
- Try to make your case even stronger by showing how promoting you would be good for the organization. For example, my client made the case that getting promoted from a director to a vice president would enable her to be a more effective advocate for the resources that her department needed, since resource decision-makers would pay more attention to vice president requests.
- Agree on a plan with a time frame. If the result of the conversation feels inconclusive, say something like “can we agree to revisit this topic in one month?” Be careful about threatening to leave (you might involuntarily hasten your exit) but bring up a timeline to both underscore the importance of the promotion to you and imply that you may not be around forever.
You can do all these things and still not get the promotion, by the way, because you’re not in the right place at the right time. Luck does play a role. Regardless, when the opportunity finally presents itself, you’ll be ready to seize it because you’ll have conducted your promotion due-diligence by addressing these four areas.