A question I often get asked, being in a senior leadership position, is “How can I get promoted?” Reading between the lines, the time frame that is requested is often … – like the next day. There is no silver-bullet approach, but there are techniques that you can apply to make your wish come a little closer. I was recently given a more senior role in my organization; more global, more visible and definitely one that carries more weight, so I thought it was a good time to come back to this theme: How to get promoted, fast.
Some context first about why I think I’m qualified to speak about this.
I progressed fast in my career up to the C-suite of a 15.000 people listed company, all before the age of 38. It may seem old to you Chief Money Manners below 30, but anyone with experience in the world of business will tell you that is a bit on the young side to be joining the C-suite of a major, global company.
When I boil down my approach to getting to the C-suite, it all comes down to doing some things really well.
8 things in fact.
Let me outline what I think those should be. I call these my “rules” to getting promoted.
The most important one is focus, so let’s start with that.
1. Absolute focus on your goal
When you set out to do something in life, you need to know what that something is. Sure, we all go through those desolate years, coming out of high school, where we are expected to know what we want to do as adults, but have absolutely no idea.
I was one of those kids. But I had a slight difference that helped prod me along.
I knew I wanted to be rich.
I grew up in a country that had torn itself apart and where wealth was concentrated in the hands of the few. I was exposed to absolute poverty at a young age and that framed a very clear objective for me: I never wanted to go hungry or be worried about providing for myself or my family.
However, whilst I wanted to be rich, the path to get there wasn’t clear and it took me just over a decade finding out exactly what road I wanted to take.
Becoming part of the C-suite of a global company wasn’t an accident. I had a clear objective in mind before I joined the company whose C-suite I became a part of. I steadfastly worked to that objective for 5 years, before they finally promoted me to that role. I had to go up 2 levels and fend off more seasoned and more experienced executives along the way.
Some of those aspiring to the role were better than me technically. Some has deeper experienced. Some were better connected. Yet none of them knew all the other 7 things you need to do to get promoted.
2. Behave like you’re already in your next role
When I took my first role as a director in the company I would later lead, I quickly started looking to see how Vice Presidents of the company behaved.
I had already set my sights on becoming a Senior Vice President and I knew I had to get everything right to make it up through the Vice President ranks first. So to move quickly I knew I needed to behave like a VP even though I wasn’t yet one.
So I observed how they generally behaved.
All groups seem to have similar ways of behaving, similar ways of speaking, of holding themselves, even dressing. It is like an unwritten code. Check it out next time you’re at work. You have to observe closely. It might not be apparent at first, but you’ll soon see it.
We’re all creatures that like belonging and belonging means acting and behaving in a certain way, depending on the company or “tribe” you are part of.
So I did the logical thing that everyone needs to do to belong. I tried to behave just like them, dress just like them, lunch just like them. And it worked. I had people mistake me for a VP on numerous occasions.
When a VP role came open 3 years after I arrived in the company, it was almost as if I already had the role. My first objective on the road to the top was met.
However, this rule doesn’t work on its own, just like the rest of the rules don’t. Even if it is very powerful, almost as powerful as absolute focus, you need to also carefully follow the rules below.
3. Do your job well
Of course, there is no short-cut, no trick or no magic to getting promoted and one of the most fundamental elements of getting promoted is doing your job well. Yes, it is obvious, but it is also key.
You can’t do a poor job and hope to be promoted. You can’t make mistake after mistake and cause fight with everyone in the company and think that by following the other rules you’ll get promoted. Because you won’t.
You have to set yourself reasonable objectives in whatever planning cycle and manner your company uses and you have to achieve them and if you can, (this is better) outperform them. If you’re slipping behind, then you need to make sure you change your goals or remove them before the year end.
Doing your job well is the basic of the basic to getting a promotion. However, the next rule goes hand in hand with achieving your goals and is so closely linked that the two rules could almost be one.
4. Communicate what you do
This is one most people don’t get right.
Even the best performer could be seen as the worst if nobody knows what they are doing.
Ever heard: “If I do my job well then I am sure the company will promote me”? Guess what? Doesn’t happen.
You need to tell people what you are doing and how well you are doing it. You can not over communicate on this one. Every time you meet your boss, your Executive team, your Board, tell them about all the things you are doing well.
When that next role comes up, they will have you in mind and all the great work you are doing.
You also need to communicate all your good work to other senior leaders who may have a say in the decision as to who gets promoted next.
And to do that well, see the next rule.
5. Network with top leaders
To spread the word about how good you are at your job, you need to build relationships with senior leaders. Informal lunches, coffees or just a chat always work.
And you want to know a secret? Senior leaders like spending time with more junior staff, talking about the company vision, getting feedback on how great they are as leaders and asking how they can help you get better at your job.
Senior leadership can be lonely. Yes, we do have lots to do, but more often than not, others believe we have so much to do that we have no time to spare.
We love talking to other people in the corporation. It helps us keep in touch with what’s going on. We often learn things our direct reports don’t share with us.
This one takes time and effort – yes, just like the others – but this is different in that you have to force yourself to build a network at the same time you’re working hard to do your job and not offend anyone – least your boss, who sees you lunching with senior leaders.
6. Take care of your team
If you don’t take care of your teams, the organization will know about it. And that means senior leaders will know as well. In any organization, like any community, words spread faster than the speed of light. Especially words about someone being a dick.
Don’t ever believe your team won’t talk about it if you behave badly. Take care of your team, listen to their problems, be empathetic, and try your best to help them.
Organizations want leaders that care of their teams.
7. Fix the problems
Doing your job well is never enough. You also need to fix things that are broken, even if that isn’t part of your job description.
Don’t ignore the hard stuff.
If something is broken – fix it.
Don’t tell yourself that it isn’t your role. Don’t tell yourself that your boss should know about it and they should fix it.
If you find a problem, talk about it, and then set out to fix it. Tell your boss what you are planning to do and what you do.
Then on those informal talks (or formal presentations) with senior leaders, make it known.
Every company likes people who fix problems.
8. Don’t make enemies
I do acknowledge that this is sometimes difficult as corporations are made of scores of different personalities and not everyone gets along.
But please, do yourself a favor, do your best not to make enemies.
Be nice on emails. You can be firm but don’t misbehave or be rude.
Be cordial in discussions whether formal or informal.
The more people that like you in the organisation the more likely it is that you’ll be on the list of the next people to be promoted.
One last pointer as you contemplate these rules to follow to get promoted, fast. Make sure you let the people who make decisions about a role you are after, know that you want that role.
Senior leaders don’t always have nice tools that line people up to possible roles. senior leaders aren’t always the best spotters of talent.
They need to know what role you want. If you have a destination – then they can help you get there. If you don’t – then they’ll turn around in circles the same way you are.
The above rules, if applied correctly, can take you the distance to getting a promotion.
Now stop reading this and start preparing your game plan to get promoted!