Why can’t I get promoted?

What does it take to move up the corporate ladder?

First, you have to find it. In most companies, promotions are earned, not given. Many people, especially those young in their career, believe time in service is the rational for promotion. Not true. It is value add. Those who might promote you want to see candidates can take on more responsibility or add value in some other way. Otherwise, there is no reason to promote.

Do you know what your management needs to see to promote you? Did you invent it, make assumptions or did you ask?

A recent client complained he’d been in the same job for six years without a promotion. I asked him if he knew what he had to do to get a promotion. He was insulted with the question and repeated, he’d been in his job for six years and had good reviews, a few raises, but no promotion. “I am good at my job. Why can’t my manager see that?” I helped him see that doing his current job well wasn’t enough.

Here are the steps I suggested:

  1. Decide what you want your next role to be. Assess what makes you qualified for that role.
  2. Articulate what specific contributions you have made and will make to get there. Learn what is required in that new role and how your current experience/skills map to those requirements.
  3. Outline what you have to do or learn to do that next job well.
  4. Schedule a 30 minute meeting with your manager. Put them on notice the topic is career planning. Nothing more. Prepare with a script and key words. Do not complain, accuse or otherwise introduce any negativity into this conversation, no matter how annoyed you are that your manager hasn’t taken your promotion on as a priority.
  5. Begin your conversation with your manager with your success in your current role mentioning only outcomes of importance.
  6. State clearly your career goals. “I hope to be a Senior Director of Mobile Devices within the next 6 months. Please help me understand what you have to see in order to promote me to this position.” Ask for specifics and create a timeline.
  7. Do not expect an absolute commitment from your manager. Those sorts of promises are typically against company policy. Expect only that if you succeed in acquiring or accomplishing what they outline, you will be considered.
  8. Ask for advice and or introductions to prospective mentors who might help you acquire the skills listed. Follow up and manage that relationship with an open mind and no complaints.
  9. Keep your manager updated on your accomplishments per the outline of what you need to do.

Prepare for your conversation with a focus on value add. What is it you can do in the new role that you can’t do in your current role? What can you do that is unique, a high priority and or on target to the group/company mission? Don’t talk about your abilities. Only talk about your deliverables. Not sure? Talk to someone currently in that role. Learn how it is different from your current responsibilities and what it takes to be successful.

Once you ask, “What do you need to see to consider me for Senior Director?” Keep silent. Don’t explain or sell or otherwise dilute your request. The last thing your manager needs to hear from you are all the reasons you think you should have been promoted years ago. Focus only on what you can contribute in that new role that will make your manager look good and glad to have promoted you.

On the flip side. If your own people are clamoring for promotions, use the same policy. “Show me how and what value you will add in the new role.” Ask yourself, “What do I have to see to promote?” It’s an interesting drill to do before you enter into the conversation with your own manager.

Enter into the negotiations with a clean slate. After all, this may be the first time you have accepted full responsibility for your own career advancement in a formal and outcome-based manner. You are now in control of your career.


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