Your Promotion—10 Sure Steps to Landing It

As an HR Executive I am often asked by friends, colleagues, and employees, "What must I do to get promoted?" or "How come I haven't been promoted?" The two are related because there are very specific skills and traits you need to develop to be “promotable.” Outlined below are ten steps that I always recommend working on, to make yourself more promotable. They are not guaranteed to land you every promotion you seek, but I can assure you that if you follow these steps, over time they will lead to significant career growth.

Okay, let’s get started:

1. Have a Vision
If you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you have arrived? When you say you want to be promoted, what specifically does that mean? Do you just want a bump in pay grade, or are you seeking a higher-level position? Ask yourself why you want the promotion.

Sure, we all want more pay, but do you also want more responsibility, possibly more travel, maybe an international assignment? A more impressive job title, and an office instead of a cubicle are great motivators, but understand benefits come with more responsibility. Technically, most of the benefits you receive are more functional—you may need more privacy in your conversations, hence you are given an office.

The point is having a vision is crucial in order to plan your specific goals that will lead to achieving that vision. Then the real question is how big a price are you willing to pay to achieve that vision? Are you willing to work extra hours, go back to school to finish your degree, achieve necessary certifications, and in general, "grind" your way to that promotion?

"...how big a price are you willing to pay to achieve that vision?"

As a high altitude climber, I often use mountaineering analogies to illustrate my point. People love to hear about my climbing experiences, and they love to hear about what my next trip might be. It sounds, exotic, adventurous and daring but what they may not realize is climbing is all about suffering. Suffering when you push yourself to the max just training for the climb—like getting up at 5:00 a.m. every morning to hike. Suffering from the cold, the wind, the altitude, and exposure (the risk of falling and dying) while on the mountain. Suffering from the mental stress of risking your life to achieve your goal, suffering from the loneliness of being stuck in a tent during a days-long blizzard, away from your family for weeks on end. That is the grind climbers go through to achieve their dream of reaching a high summit. On a different scale, getting that promotion you want may require you make similar sacrifices, although likely on a smaller scale.

Define your goal, and what it will take. Map out a plan to achieve it. Then ask yourself, “How badly do I want it? Am I willing to pay the price to get it?”

2. Persistence is Key
The promotion you want is likely not going to happen overnight. You must be willing to persist and make the decision to never quit. You may be excited, map out your vision, and dutifully follow all of these suggestions, yet nothing may happen for months on end. Don't quit. Keep grinding. Sometimes there are external circumstances beyond your control that affect your promotion. Things like budget restrictions, market downturns, or maybe nothing has opened up into which you can be promoted.

I know it can get tough, but you have to be patient and keep the vision. If you hold onto the vision, you will keep moving toward the goals, and ultimately you will get to where you want to be. Persist!!! You will be rewarded.

3. Associate With Positive people Who Will Push You to Achieve More
Over the course of my career, I have found that on average 20% of people in the workplace are highly motivated and engaged, 60% are moderately motivated and engaged, and the rest are disengaged and demotivated. If you want to be promoted, make sure you predominately associate with the 20% of people in your organization who are extremely engaged. Their enthusiasm and positive attitude will rub off on you, and that will be reflected in the quality of your work. Your work will then be noticed.

Many companies at least informally base promotional recommendations on a rank and rate tool that assesses employees on a two dimensional grid. This grid looks at performance and potential. Whether it is fair or not, engagement and enthusiasm play a large part in how an employee's "potential" is viewed. You also have to remember that in the workplace, "Perception is reality." If you are viewed as part of that highly engaged 20%, the company's perception of you will be much higher.

You are judged by the company you keep, so make sure you associate with the positive and motivated group in your organization. I read one study that claimed your income is the average of the income of the five people you most closely associate with, so associate with successful people.

4. Find a Mentor or Advisor
There are many twists and turns in the workplace. Politics are real. People's motives are not always what they seem. There are many overly ambitious people who will do whatever it takes to step over others to get where they want. Unfortunately, this is true in the for-profit, non-profit and even religious worlds (religious organizations can be some of the most political and cutthroat organizations in the world.)

There will be times you need some wise council. All of us do. If you can find someone to give you positive, constructive and thoughtful advice, definitely make use of them. Seek out a person like this if you don't have anyone already. If you trust your HR department, let them know you would like a mentor, and see if they can match you up with someone.

"There will be times you need some wise council. All of us do."

Make sure this person is positive, and hopefully successful in their own right. Never seek advice from someone who is in that disengaged 20%. When it comes to securing a promotion, a good mentor can be worth their weight in gold. Make a point to try to find one, whether it is within your organization, or outside. One suggestion is to hire a personal, career, or executive coach. A coach can be extremely useful in helping you map out a strategy, and hold you accountable to executing that strategy in terms of getting that promotion. A coach can often help you see through the confusion or distress you might be feeling, and help you to persist towards your goal. A good coach will be an unbiased sounding board off whom you can bounce ideas and frustrations.

However you do it, find a good mentor.

5. Treat Everyone with Dignity and Respect at the Workplace
No matter the level of the person, be nice to them and treat them as you want to be treated. Watch the tone of your emails, and always remember to say "Please" and "Thank you," especially in your emails. Never send an email when you are mad, or have just had a confrontation. If you are tempted to send a nasty email, my advice is this: Go ahead and type out the email, do not put the person’s email address in the “To” field yet, so you can BE EXTRA CAREFUL THAT YOU ONLY SAVE IT, AND DO NOT HIT “SEND.” Then, come back in a few hours, or preferably the next day, and re-read the email to see if it is still something you want to send. When I have done this, I inevitably decide not to send the email, or I rewrite it so the tone is much less hostile. Trust me, even if you fully believe you are in the right, this will save you much trouble in the workplace.

When making a request via email, always say "Would you…?" or "Could you…?" instead of “barking orders.” If you are following up on the status of an item, do it in a respectful manner. If someone requests something via email, even if you do not know the answer, or cannot get to their request for a certain period of time, give them the courtesy of replying to the email and simply say, "I do not know the answer, but I will try to find it for you." You can even say, "I will not be able to get to your request for a day or two, but I want to respond to let you know I received your email."

There is nothing worse than sending someone an email requesting something, then never hearing anything back from  person. You don't know if the person received the email, read it, or I just ignoring you, so you just have to wait, not knowing if you will receive a response.

Lastly, if you tend to have temper issues at the workplace, take a class on constructive confrontation (or crucial conversations,) where you can learn how to have constructive dialogue with your colleagues, even in situations where there is strong disagreement.

The bottom line is always treat others as you would like to be treated.

6. Go the Extra Mile
Most of these should be common sense, but many people need a reminder. Come to work early and make sure you show up for meetings early, or on time. Never get the reputation of someone who is not punctual. In addition, volunteer for assignments or projects, and work overtime if needed. Don't procrastinate on anything, especially if is a difficult task like giving a negative performance review, or terminating an employee.

Again, the question comes down to, “What price are you willing to pay to get that promotion?” Going the extra mile is usually a key.

Always be open to constructive criticism. Take that criticism to heart as a means of improving yourself to help you reach your promotional goals.

"Always be open to constructive criticism."

Lastly, be decisive. Indecision is a decision to fail. It is better to be decisive and have it be wrong, than to not make a decision at all.

7. Actively Listen but also Look for Ways to Be Heard
Good leaders are good listeners, and good leaders get promoted. If you feel you are not a good listener, take a course on active listening, or work with a coach. Listen before you speak, but don’t let that stop you from speaking up when you get the chance.

Be positive in what you say: don't focus on the problems, provide solutions. Learn the culture of your company, and also the style of your boss. How does your boss like to communicate (face to face, email, phone?) How does your boss like to get status reports? What is the culture of the company in terms of constructive confrontation, and crucial conversations?

You need to assess and understand these things if you want a promotion. Good leaders know how to listen, and know how to be heard.

8. Develop Yourself
People who stand out in companies and are promoted, rise above others by becoming subject matter experts. They get green or black belt certifications in lean six sigma, they get certified in change management, or maybe project management. If they work in Human Resources they get their SPHR certification. Whatever field you work in, look for ways to expand the value proposition you bring to the organization.

Be proactive, if your organization does not provide developmental opportunities, look for ways yourself. What courses can you take at your local community college? What organizations can you join? Or how about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking ability (especially if you have a phobia?)

There are even many free or inexpensive resources online like Udemy or Wolfram Alpha, to further your knowledge and subject matter expertise. This will greatly increase your value proposition to the company if you are willing to do some research, and step out of your comfort zone.

9. Help Your Boss Help You
Help your boss to succeed in their job, even if you don't like them. Yes, it will work for you. A rising tide will float all boats. Even if your boss is negative, make sure you are positive. Don't complain. Instead, become someone who is known as a problem solver, or a person who resolves issues for them. Become their "go to" person. Be there for them in high stress or crisis situations.

"A rising tide will float all boats. Even if your boss is negative, make sure you are positive."

If you are fortunate to have a boss you like and trust, share your vision with them. Let them know you want to be promoted, and have them help you map out a developmental plan or strategy to get that promotion. If you don't trust your boss, or feel like sharing your ambitions may be threatening to them, let your HR department know your goal is to be promoted, and work with them to map out a developmental strategy.

10. Dress for Success
I am not saying you need to wear a business suit to work every day, unless that is the norm for the organization in which you work. I am saying if you want to be promoted, you need to look the part based on the culture of your workplace. Your clothes can be casual, but should always be clean and odor free. Personal hygiene is extremely important. Dress like you care for whatever culture in which you work.

That’s it! Hopefully that created a few “Aha!” moments for you, and you will begin taking action.

Let me know what you think in the comments, or send me an email if you enjoyed this.

- Mark