What does it actually take to get promoted to a bigger job?
I’ve been in a lot of conversations about that question over the years. Often the question comes from a high potential leader looking for advice. Sometimes it comes up with a manager who wants advice on how to answer that question from an ambitious team member. As a public service to both groups, I’ll share my own observations drawn from a few decades worth of experience as an executive, executive coach and someone who’s written a book about what it takes to be successful at the next level.
The first thing to understand is that if you’re going for any job at the leader of leaders levels, your promotion is almost certainly going to be decided by a committee of executives in your organization. Your manager should be in a position to advocate for you but they’re not going to make the decision by themselves. Above a certain level, promotions are viewed as enterprise-wide or business unit wide decisions, not just functional decisions.
With that setup in mind, here are five tips for high performing, high potentials who actually want to get promoted:
Absolutely nail it – Nailing the execution of your current role is the price of admission for being promoted to a bigger role. If you and your team are not delivering on your current responsibilities, you’re not going to generate the trust needed to promote you into bigger responsibilities. You’ve got to nail the deliverables of your current job to get promoted to a bigger one.
Raise your hand – Once you’re consistently nailing it in your current job, start raising your hand. Raise your hand to help out on special projects that have a degree of visibility across the enterprise or business unit. Typical opportunities could be new product or service launches, implementing a new system across the business, or playing a key role in integrating an acquired business into your company. Be aware that the visibility associated with these kinds of assignments incurs a degree of risk. Remember, no risk, no reward.
Act “as if” – One of the best interviews I did for the original edition of The Next Level was with Lucian Alziari, a highly experienced chief human resources officer who is currently in that role with Prudential Financial. He told me that earlier in his career when he was at Pepsi that the best way to get promoted to vice president there was to operate as if you were already a VP. What he meant by that was to emulate the behaviors of the most respected VPs in terms of things like collaboration, initiative, credibility, and accountability. That way when your name was raised in the promotion council, people would respond with “What? I thought she was already a VP. Of course, we should promote her!” If you want to be promoted, pay attention to what the top performers at that level are doing every day and act as if you’re one of them.
Ask your advocate – If you want to do something big, it almost always helps to ask people who have been there how to do it. In the case of getting promoted, the first person you want to ask is your manager since, if you’re going to be promoted, it’s going to be in large part because of their advocacy for you. Ask your manager what sort of talking and proof points you need to equip them with so they can successfully make the case for you the next time promotions are discussed. Then spend your time and effort on actually creating those proof points.
Make it easy for your advocate – Finally, you want to make it as easy as possible for your advocate to make your case. You do that by collaborating and creating value with your peers, speaking for your team’s work in a way that keeps colleagues both informed and appreciative, and looking for opportunities to make your team, your peers, your manager and your manager’s peers successful. Doing things like this can create such a wave of authentic momentum for your case that you make it easy for your manager to advocate for you because as soon as they start speaking for you, they’re interrupted by a bunch of their colleagues who want to promote you by acclamation. None of this is quick hit stuff. It takes time and consistently excellent performance to establish the track record you need to be promoted. And it’s really about the journey as much as it is the destination. When people do the things they need to do to actually get promoted, they tend to find that their work is a lot more fun and fulfilling.
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