One of the questions I am most often asked during coaching sessions is how to get promoted to the next level in an organisation. Often this is accompanied by great angst that others around are progressing or that the organisation is hiring into the role that the person in question perhaps aspires to and yet, even though this person has been in the organisation for a number of years and are doing a good job – they are still not being offered the opportunity to develop. Or, it could even be that they cannot see a space for them to progress into / a path that suits them. Does this sound like you or someone you know?

My first question is always – Why is this so important to you?

And then – What does this new role entail and what would your life look like if you got it?

Answers I have received to the first question vary from desires for: greater respect that comes with the new title; more money; increased responsibility; increased variety; acknowledgement of experience; wanting to know they are heading somewhere.

With regards the second question, although most have probably looked at the job spec of the role they are aspiring to, few have previously really visualised what this promotion would look like in reality for them. What difference it would make to their physical job functions; their relationships with their peers, superiors and other stakeholders; what it might mean in their personal life (for example if more travel is required or perhaps longer hours).

These may seem like strange questions, but so many of us seek promotion just because its ‘expected’ that that is what you do, you join an organisation and rise through the ranks right? But does this consider that the role directly ‘above’ the role you are in perhaps requires skills and talents that you not only do not possess but that you have no desire to aspire to? That it may make demands on other aspects of your life that you would not be prepared to compromise on.

For those that come back from the visualisation exercise with still positive expectations of such a promotion, the next key is to explore the ‘why’ – and often there is more than one ‘why’ in play. So, let’s take these one at a time and just assess whether a promotion in its own right will lay the ‘whys’ to rest…


For a Grander Title and More Respect

Where Title and/or respect are strong motivators for promotion then this is an indication that you have an external locus of control. That is, you rely on others to tell you that you are doing a good job and to validate your performance. 

According to his book ‘Smarter, Faster, Better,” Charles Duhigg suggests that those with an external locus of control are less likely to be able to motivate themselves – but rather need external motivation to act and make decisions. I am not making a judgement about this, but think about the role you are looking to move into – do you think this role will require you to not only motivate yourself but also others? Will you need to be able to make decisions quickly and without reference to others? In which case, is it reasonable to assume that your employer will be looking for these traits to be exhibited already in the person they are considering for this role? 

Now, you may still be promoted, even by default (time in the organisation) but will having the new title without addressing your dependence on others approval bring you the respect that you are hoping for? Studies suggest not – so how do you tackle this? Well, Duhigg in his book Smarter Faster Better, The Secrets of Being Productive provides evidence that through practising feeling in control and building habits that confirm that ‘you are in charge’ you can adjust the shift from what Stephen Covey calls dependence to independence.

In his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Covey gives examples of how just re framing your internal dialogue can re frame your meta programme. As an example:- 


Covey, S. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. London: Simon and Schuster UK

Learning how to shift your belief system so that you begin to take 100% responsibility and accountability for your life is another method by which you will automatically move from not only dependence to independence but then from independence to interdependence.


For More Money

Who would not like more money? However, key to remember here is that each job role will be graded in terms ‘value generator’. I am not for a second here saying that each role isn’t valued – everyone, no matter what their title or role might be, is valued – otherwise the role wouldn’t exist! However, value generators generally ‘add something extra’ to the company’s bottom line whether this is in additional sales – they are responsible for generating new business within current clients or even new clients; or perhaps it’s from an HR role – they are responsible for ensuring that resources and a supportive culture (whatever that might be for your organisation) to ensure your company can attract and retain the best staff and that work output is efficient; and this continues across into Finance; Risk, Marketing and Technology. 

Each business function will have its own price points where value generation affects the applicable salary increase and hence role expectations.

It’s really key to be realistic about where your passion lies before hankering for a role just for the money. My passion, for example, has never been in driving or developing new business and with a personality style (in the early days anyway) that sat more on the Driver/Analytical border, a day to day client facing role was never going to suit me. As my client facing peers were rising through the ranks, I realised that in order to achieve my own success, the best way I could add & generate tangible value to the organisation was to support those who were managing clients by reducing waste, streamlining their non-profit generating tasks whilst increasing the quality of the product/service . And so, using my own unique skills and capabilities, I set out to work out how to free the ‘Expressives and ‘Amiables’ up from what they saw as mundane tasks and which enabled them to sell more/develop more/produce more. What’s important to note here is that I did this in tandem with my existing role and did so willingly. I was motivated to make a difference in my own way. And sure enough promotion after promotion and the financial compensation followed – without me chasing it.


For Increased Responsibility

Why wait for promotion to take on increased responsibility or at least to show that you can take on a wider range of responsibilities? Perhaps during the visualisation of yourself in your new role you could see yourself having to handle a complex negotiation. Could you research effective negotiation techniques now and start to demonstrate these on a smaller scale? If your new role is managing and developing people – what articles are out there that may inspire you and can you use these techniques when working with team members now? What about your clients? Would you be able to add more value to them and have more meaningful conversations if you understood more about their organisational and industry challenges? Could you follow relevant experts in LinkedIn and see what articles they read? Could you read the press to keep abreast of their challenges and successes? It doesn’t matter what level you are at, there is always something we can learn in this fast-changing world. Just don’t wait to be led there. If you are ambitious you need to take the lead and this proactivity, and your new skills will be noticed!


For Increased Variety

Again, why wait for promotion? Gone are the days where departments work solely in isolation and employees are not encouraged to mix and collaborate. Become a child again, ask why, ask how, show an interest and take the opportunity to learn from colleagues with a wider remit. Explore their world; where do they get their inspiration? You may not be able to simply switch jobs BUT most roles now require a broad skill and competency base and your added knowledge and enthusiasm will shine through in your own role as you start to incorporate this broader thinking. It’s called innovation (or at least the sparks of) and it’s what every company is trying to promote. Chances are, your new approach is likely to be spotted and you may find your perfect role is created just for you, simply because you have already demonstrated the value you can add.


For Acknowledgement and Recognition of Experience

If you see promotion as ‘entitlement’ and truly believe that x number of years’ experience performing the role you are undertaking is reason for your employer to promote you then, harsh though it sounds, I worry for both you and the organisation. Sadly, it happens, though I wonder who benefits in the long run. It costs the organisation more to employ you and yet they are receiving no tangible benefit to offset this, and you are also not developing and growing your skills. Much as I am a staunch believer in ‘grow your own’, this is the rare occasion where I believe the cost of recruitment for the new ‘higher’ position is worth every penny. At least they will bring in new skills that can be passed along and may help you develop.


For General Development and Progression

This is the equivalent of leaving your career in the hands of someone else. Unless you have clear sight of what drives you and where you want to be, you can climb as many career ladders as people put in front of you – but how do you know they are the right ones for you? How do you know they are taking you in the right direction? I have seen this happen in organisations where ‘shining stars’ are identified and put on ‘fast track’ programmes. The problem is no-one knows to where. Everyone just gets caught up in the flattery of the situation, only to find at the end of the process that the destination is not what would have been chosen had the individual been able to experiment and explore all options and experience all the practicalities along the route. And the result? If a mismatch has been made, the individual often leaves to find their passion and ends up right where they started – at the bottom.


So, what is the magic bullet?

For those who are looking for the magic bullet, I would say, its right there inside of you. But it is for you to take action, for you to take responsibility and already act ‘as if’ you have the skills and competencies to fulfil the role you are after.

But consider this, what is it about the act of a promotion that is important to you?

Robin Sharma has it right in his book ‘The Leader Who Had No Title’ when he says

“For any organisation to thrive amid all the turbulence in the business world today, each one of us needs to assume personal responsibility by becoming the CEO of our own roles and leaders within our current positions…Every job is an important job….And regardless of whether you have a formal title or not, you get to have total control of how you show up in your current role…And when each of us choose peak performance and personal leadership…the organisation itself gets to world class speedily.”


By showing up in your current role, you will not only achieve personal fulfilment but you will, I guarantee, be recognised and compensated.

For more information on my services and to learn how I can support your business in achieving its goals or in maximising your own growth potential, I would love to hear from you at [email protected]

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