What I Learned From Landing 10 Promotions in My Career
Have you been up late at night stressing about how you’ll earn that upcoming promotion? Or maybe you’ve been passed over for a promotion and are wondering why?
I’ve been in both situations over my 24-year career, so I know how stressful they can be. Looking back on the 10 promotions I earned, the ones that I missed, and the experiences of my colleagues and coaching clients over the years, I realized I've learned quite a lot.
What it Takes to Get Promoted
First, the secret to getting promoted is to demonstrate to the right people that you have what it takes to move to the next level.
Second, getting promoted gets trickier the more senior you become — there are fewer seats, the stakes are higher and having what it takes is more nuanced.
Third, landing a promotion requires more than simply keeping your head down, working hard and doing a great job. You need to approach it as a campaign — like a marketing or political campaign where you are the product or candidate. Having an organized course of action gives you the best chance of getting promoted.
The good news is you can start your campaign at any time. Although sooner is always better, the key is to start. Here are the five requirements of a successful campaign that have helped me and the executives I coach earn promotions.
1. Understand the Promotion Process
I’ll never forget the time Ben came into my office to make the case for his promotion. As I listened to his impassioned speech on his great deal execution skills, it became clear that he didn’t know the key criteria for promotion — building client relationships and generating commercial results.
But worse than not knowing the criteria, Ben was too late. It was almost December and the final promotion list had already gone to top management for approval. Announcements would be made in a couple of weeks.
Make sure you know the criteria and timing of your organization’s promotion process.
2. Present the Right Product for the Role
Beth was a solid number two on the team. Clients trusted her, she had good judgment, and we could count on her to get things done.
But when it came time for promotion to a more senior level, we couldn’t make a credible case. None of us could envision her bringing in new business on her own. She hadn’t shown us she could be assertive in a negotiation. She lacked the presence we expected from a future leader.
Because she continued to do the same things the same way, there was a growing gap between Beth’s package of strengths, skills and accomplishments and what was expected at the next level.
Performing at your current role is not enough. Show people you have the potential to operate at the next level.
3. Make Sure Key People Know About You
When my manager presented my promotion case to a committee of people who didn’t know me, he ran into a wall of skepticism. And that wall was particularly high and wide because it was a bad year for the business. That was the first time I didn’t get promoted.
Keeping my head down and not making waves had worked against me. No one knew who I was. And that meant my boss was a lone voice in the wilderness trying to convince a senior committee that I was worthy.
Make sure key decision-makers and influencers know who you are and the value you bring.
4. Present the Right Positioning
I remember telling my parents how hard I’d worked, all the sacrifices I’d made, that I’d paid my dues; how it was my turn, and how it would be totally unfair for Harry to get promoted instead of me because he’s more junior. I did everything that was asked of me cheerfully and diligently. Surely I deserved promotion.
While that was a convincing case to my mother (who thinks everything I do is wonderful), it certainly wasn’t compelling to the firm. I didn’t get promoted that year.
To position myself well meant presenting my product to the right people in a way that they find compelling.
I needed to look at it from their perspective, not mine, and make the business case for my promotion. In other words, I had to frame it in terms of the results I’d delivered, my desire to contribute and lead at a higher level, and why it was in the company’s best interest to promote me.
Make sure you put together a compelling business case for your promotion, and share it with the people who matter.
5. Make a Plan and Work It
As with every successful campaign, you have to have a plan. Break it down into actionable steps so it doesn't feel overwhelming — after all, you still need to excel at your current job. Focus on the 2-3 things that will most move the needle if you did them right now.
And once you’ve got your plan, execute on it with confidence and vigor. You have the most to gain from acting on your plan, and the most to lose if you don’t. So go for it!
Start Your Promotion Campaign Now
Wherever you are in the promotion process, it’s a good time to get started. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you know the timing and criteria for your organization’s promotion process?
- What are you doing to show you can operate at the next level?
- Do key decision-makers and influencers know about you?
- What’s the business case for your promotion?
- What are the three actions that will most move the needle if you took them right now?
Don’t let your talent go to waste. Rise through the ranks and be the leader that only you can be.
May Busch is a sought-after executive coach, speaker, advisor, author, and former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe. Her passion is helping people succeed in their career and life – to be better, do more, and make the difference they are meant to make. Find her on MayBusch.com and follow her on Twitter at @maybusch.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
May Busch & Associates
Speaker, Executive Coach, Advisor, Author
My mission is to help leaders and their organizations achieve their full potential. In particular, I work with women in corporations and professional services to help them advance in their careers, and top managements who are serious about creating an environment where everyone can thrive and be their best. Most of my corporate clients are organizations where their greatest assets are people. Having successfully navigated a 24-year corporate career spanning two continents and nine different... Continue Reading
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