I've counseled many people over the years on their frustration about not being promoted in the workplace. Whether it's friends, peers, or co-workers, we've all lamented at some point about our lack of promotional opportunities or how they are too far in between to our liking or if they even happen at all. I've seen every type of person struggle with this at some point and in many different fields of work. Promotions for some seem tough to come by, whereas others seem to get promoted every 2 or 3 years with ease. What's the magic recipe? The secret sauce? Honestly, I don't think it's as secretive and magical as we think. I believe there are elements to the promotion process that the majority of employees don't understand, and our own inaction contributes to the problem as well. This is where a trusty friend in HR comes in handy! (Disclaimer: yes bias, discrimination, and unfairness can happen in the workplace. This isn't THAT discussion!) Now this may be a tough pill to swallow, but as an HR pro, here's what I know:
Your manager hasn't teed you up for a promotion and you don't know why because you haven't asked.
You're in the wrong job but don't realize it or are too comfortable to admit it - and your manager sees that.
Your manager hasn't given you the direct feedback about why you aren't ready to be promoted, and you haven't asked, so you don't know what to take action on.
You don't believe the direct feedback you've received from your manager about why you aren't ready to be promoted, and take no action.
You've become complacent and think you've peaked in the job and are waiting on your promotion.
You think you're owed a promotion.
Your work delivery is inconsistent and is based on your feelings about your role given any day or week to week.
Your personal career aspirations are more important than what's important to the company and your boss recognizes that.
You've met the terms of the job description and think you've checked all the boxes to being promoted.
You're waiting on your boss or someone to hand you your next step in career development.
You've asked about career development, been frustrated with the answer, and are waiting on a better answer.
You have no personal board of directors, mentor, or someone who speaks to your greatness on your behalf.
Your productivity and / or work product really needs some ramping up but you're not sure how.
Your thinking in terms of a "step up" for a promotion and missing the value of a lateral move.
You've mentally checked out of work because you haven't been promoted.
I could go on...
From what I've observed working in multiple Fortune 500 companies across the country, the fundamental parts of achieving a promotion are ambition, consistency, and patience. Those are the basics. The harder pieces are image, exposure, and support. Performance and your skill set are a given. Meaning, you can have a great skill set, but if you're not getting the exposure, that's not helping you. If you have a great image, but aren't doing the work, that's not helping you. You have amazing ambition, but it's overshadowing and because you're so driven and not thinking in bigger terms about the team/company goals. The Logistics of a Promotion
There are many behind the scenes logistics that go into promotions. Some employees don't take into consideration that your manager isn't the only decision maker to determine if you get promoted or not.
One company I worked for, all Director and above positions had to be approved by the Chief Operating Officer. Many organizations have a promotion board, quarterly promotion review, or have an executive to sign off on who should get promoted and why. Who on the that Board knows YOU? Who knows of your work and what you've produced? Did you schedule that last one on one with your manager to specifically discuss your accomplishments? ACCOMPLISHMENTS. NOT day to day activities. That's a key difference. There is frequently a (long) discussion regarding the budget and how your new salary will be paid for either this fiscal year or next. In many cases, the extra dollars for a promotion aren't included in the budget during a fiscal year. That's not to be confused with merit increases which typically are included in the annual budget. That means your manager has to go account for that money by using other funds that may be slotted for training, travel, or other expenses that impact the entire department. Does it still make sense that your personal career aspirations are superseding what's important for the company? Lastly, many times a comprehensive review of employees who are all in that same position or that same level are reviewed collectively. Management and HR strive to have a process that is fair and equitable. So it stands to reason that they would assess others in the role and who exactly is contributing better, bigger, and faster. Is that person you? Lots to Unpack
This is a lot of information to unpack. Let's discuss. What have been your challenges and obstacles with promotions? How did you get there? What was the turning point? Has this given you any aha moments about your own role as an employee? In my next blog post, I'll specifically address some of the issues above and how to overcome them. Now let's go do more, better, bigger, faster!