Who gets promoted and why?

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I just read Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn't, and Why: 10 Things You'd Better Do If You Want to Get Ahead. It had an interesting way of looking at things, to help you be promotable. I  thought I would share my notes from the book with you – it’s a quick read, and may spark an insight.

The best points are bold, if you’re in a rush focus on those.

  • Doing your job well is the indisputable basis for getting promotions. But alone, it’s not enough. Doing your job and managing your career are separate tasks and you need to work on both. (With the majority of your time on the work, of course)
  • Promotion is about your future potential, not a reward for past loyalty or service. The past only applies as the indicator of your future actions
  • Businesses promote in a way that maximizes value: that includes looking at the downsides, benefits, and risks of promoting you vs. another option like hiring outside
  • HR rule of thumb: Hiring a new person, training them, and bringing then up to speed is ~1.5x their annual salary
  • You must minimize the risk/impact of promoting you. If you are invaluable or irreplaceable, that gives you job security. But also means they can’t afford to have you move on. Don’t become synonymous with your job. Have a process, have written procedures, able lieutenants who can take over; this lets them know they can get along without you
  • Also helps to gently give your boss the reality occasionally that you can/will move on someday. Subtly imply or mention the fact that you have other career goals and won't be here forever
  • Timing can be just as important as qualifications. If you’re in the middle of a key project and cannot be released, someone else who’s more available may be promoted instead of you. Yet another reason to be replaceable.
  • Keep a hidden “brag sheet” of your wins. Use it for your resume and other purposes. Include not just what you did, but how your accomplishments tie into the needs and goals of your overall business unit and company. Keep this up to date as it’s too easy to lose small details otherwise
  • Your internal, official "company" resume used when your company bids for work (as distinct from your personal job-hunting resume) should be considered “open to the public.” – Don’t include anything on the internal resume that you wouldn’t want your peers to see
  • Be likable: it helps. Especially if you get a “360 degree” review where your subordinates weight in on your performance
  • Take care of the clients and they’ll take care of your boss
  • Be a rainmaker: bring in the work. Or get as close as you can to the functions that are actually bringing in the money
  • Build a network of people resources. People > books, as they’re more current, flexible, helpful when solving problems
  • Show initiative: keep feelers out for problems and become part of the solution. If you can hear about a problem, develop a solution, and go to a boss with your pre-developed proposal, you can get the jump on a new opportunity. If you wait until the problem comes to a job posting, it may have a skillset or a vision in someone’s head that’s not you. When you lead the solution, that gives you the edge to define the solution in terms favourable to you and your skill-set
  • Train yourself before you need it: a few hours spent getting just the basic familiarity with a computer program may be enough to get you into a job, while waiting for training will let it get away
  • If the chance comes up, the make the effort to introduce yourself to the president/CEO. Ask to speak at a meeting even for just a minute, rather than just hold a card up. Get noticed
  • Periodically have “the conversation” with your boss about your career. Find out about career paths: does job A lead to B but not C? Is there a skillset required that you need? Who in the office can you talk to, to help you do your job? And ask for constructive criticism, even though it’s hard to hear: what can you do to do better? It’s important to have these career conversations even if they go badly: when they do go badly, you have more information, and can plan to react and leave your job if you must
  • Nail the crunch times in your job, and nail special projects. Most people cannot and should not work crazy hours day in and day out. However, sprinting hard at the really key crunch times counts for more than constant, steady, good output. When it’s crunch time, don’t complain, put up and do it
  • Avoid thankless jobs that are all downside: filing, where you get cricised for errors but not thanked for success. Quality assurance jobs where you are invisible when things go well (others take the credit) but you get all the flack when there’s a problem. Or I.T. reorganization jobs where you end up pissing some people off and pleasing no one
  • A tip to women going for management: make sure you get breadth, don’t just stick to H.R. or marketing. Get experience in a profit and loss, in leading production or technology
  • Learn to say no to impossible tasks: it’s hard, but better than failing at them
  • Arm your boss with accomplishments from your brag file at annual reviews. Possible note to your boss two months before the review: “I know that the review is coming up, so here’s a quick note on my progress the last X months.” List more strengths and accomplishments and how they tie into corporate goals, and if you have to mention failures do so in the best way possible
  • If you get a criticism, do something: either contest it, or show in a documented way you are improving and have a recovery plan to avoid future problems
  • Be an effective information filter to your boss: don’t ask them about every little thing, but don’t keep them in the dark. If you’re not sure, you can use the phrase “I’m not sure this is key info but I wanted to run it by you just in case...”
  • Make your boss look good so you look good. When people ask, always have a positive attitude about the company, your coworkers, etc.
  • When criticizing others, do it only where there’s a chance they can improve and they might actually take that chance. Save your breath otherwise. When you do criticize, use the sandwich method: praise them, offer the criticism softly, and praise again. “Great how you chaired that meeting, you’re always effective at getting everyone’s attention. It would help if you briefed Sue and I beforehand if you want us to give a talk in your meetings, that would really help us out. Oh also, good tip of  visiting Jojo’s restaurant at the end”
  • Consider tying your career to superstars: they create excitement and activity and they get promoted, creating organization changes and gaps that can need promotions to fill
  • If promotions involve moving, don’t be afraid. There’s a saying that you can only turn down two opportunities before you’re seen as difficult. (In some companies, only one.) Don’t turn down a move until you get all the details. If there are problems to your spouse’s career, to your children’s education, you may be able to get spouse career advisors, credits for private school, etc. negotiated. And salary should be the higher of either what you’re paid now, or what your position is typically paid in the new location. (Cost of living may be higher there)
  • Careful moving a lot when you have kids: studies show that children’s peers and environment is more powerful than their parents at shaping their behavior. If you move the kids to a rotten neighborhood even excellent parenting may not compensate
  • Alternate idea, especially for short assignments: leave the family at home, get an apartment there and work for four-day weeks, or 3 week months, or something
  • You can often negotiate flexibility in work schedules once you’re proven and valuable. Can ask for a day’s telecommuting, or flexible hours, etc. – first as a “temporary experiment.” But wait till you’re valuable and proven. When you’re new to your career play the game by the standard rulebook

That’s what I chose to write down; get the book if your curiosity is piqued.


2010-12-08: General clarity re-write.

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I own and run smartprocessdesign.com

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