Ep 4- If You Want a Promotion, “Head Down, Bum Up” is Terrible Advice

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I recently saw a commercial for a television show called Succession which peaked my interest. I haven’t watched the show, but a Google search revealed it is about a family that owns a large corporation. The father is unwell, and his family is fighting to determine who will be promoted and take control of the company.

This isn’t how succession planning is supposed to occur. Typically, companies proactively determine who will take the reins, when the transition of leadership will occur, and the chosen individual is trained to ensure they are prepared to do the job at hand.

Head Down, Bum Up is Terrible Advice

Many people believe focusing on their work is the best way to get their next promotion, pay raise, or recognition. Hard work is important. But, it will only get you so far.

Supervisors are not mind readers. They don’t know you want a promotion unless you tell them. They don’t expect everyone to want a promotion.

Not everyone wants or has the ability to handle more responsibility. If you are interested in being promoted it’s important to tell the right people BEFORE the opportunity arises. 

Applying for a Promotion “I Won’t Get”

I recently worked with a client named Chris. Chris’ company went through some restructuring. As part of the restructure they created a new position that would be a step above where Chris currently sits in the management hierarchy.

Chris wanted to apply for this promotion, but was confident he would not get it. He said his colleague had been groomed by the supervisor for the past year or two, and was a natural choice for this internal promotion.

I asked Chris why he was applying for the role if he was confident he wouldn’t get it. He told me he didn’t want his colleague to get the job easily. He also felt it was a good opportunity to signal to his boss that he had aspirations for more responsibility in the future.

It was interesting working with Chris because I never actually had a client come to me and say, “I want you to help me apply for this job that I know I’m not going to get!” It was an unusual situation, but I thought his reasoning was brilliant.  And to be honest, I’ve done the same thing myself.

The Time I Applied for a Job I Knew I Wouldn’t Get

When I was teaching, I applied for a Department Chair position. I knew I couldn’t be seriously considered because I was not yet a Full Professor and that was one of the primary requirements for the job. However, I got exactly what I wanted, and more…

The Dean called me at home and said she was glad I applied. She didn’t know much about my previous experience and was glad to know more about me and thought I had some great ideas. She even volunteered to mentor me because she wanted me to get my promotion to Full Professor and be eligible to become a Department Chair and work directly for her.

Ultimately, I left academia, so I never became Full or one of her Department Chairs, but I gained a lot from that experience.

How to Plan for a Promotion

If you want a promotion, what do you need to do?

First and foremost, indicate your interest to senior leadership. When doing this, make it company-centric as opposed to self-serving. An excellent way to do this is by asking for feedback on how you can improve. And tie it back to the company and the organisation’s strategic plan.

You might say to someone, “I love my job as a general manager and hope to obtain the position of VP someday soon. Do you have any feedback for me regarding what I can do to prepare for that position?”

By showing your dedication to the company and your desire to remain (and grow) within the organisation, it is more likely they will invest in you, your training and your future success.

If you haven’t yet told somebody in a position of authority about your desire to obtain a promotion you might be curious as to when and how you should go about doing this. This is not a one and done conversation.

At the very least, have this conversation annually, perhaps every six months or so. A good time to reiterate your promotion aspirations is during your annual review.

During your annual appraisal, your supervisor should review your accomplishments and give suggestions for areas of improvement. This is an excellent time to discuss your overall career objectives and how you intend to accomplish those.

Come into your annual review or any conversation that might involve the topic of promotion prepared. It’s important you build your case for why you deserve a promotion and why you are well suited to fill that type of position.

As you are discussing why you deserve and are qualified for a promotion, show you are currently going above and beyond what is expected. If you can demonstrate you’re already working at the next level, you are that much more likely to be promoted.

While you are demonstrating you can work at the next level, think about succession planning. Who can replace you when you receive the promotion?

By coming to the conversation with a proposed replacement for yourself, it shows your supervisor that in addition to thinking about your next step, you are still dedicated to your current department.

Having the name of someone who can fill your shoes shows you aren’t going to leave the team in the lurch and make filling your vacated role someone else’s problem. Instead, it confirms you have leadership qualities because you’ve already worked to develop someone else.

Not Getting a Promotion Doesn’t Have to be a Total Loss

As expected, Chris did not get the promotion. However, Chris did see some benefits as a result of applying.

His direct supervisor invited him in for a meeting. He told Chris he was shocked to see his application because he had no idea he had any interest in the job.

During the meeting, the boss asked Chris about a few of the ideas he touched on in his cover letter. This allowed Chris to highlight some of his accomplishments and responsibilities. It also gave Chris the chance to ask for some feedback and discuss the possibility of doing some additional training that would help him qualify for a future promotion.

Chris also told his boss how he was training two of his subordinates to do a number of his job duties and thought either one of them would be prepared in the next year or so to replace him if he was promoted.

The Take-Away

Did Chris get the promotion? No. But, he did receive an 8% salary increase because his boss now understands some of the additional duties he completes that weren’t originally part of his scope of work when he took the job.

He is also going to start heading up a new project. As part of that project, Chris will receive training in two systems he’s never worked with previously. Both of these are systems he needs to understand and confidently use in order to meet the qualifications for a promotion.

Ultimately Chris came away with a lot of positive feedback, some professional development opportunities, and a significant financial gain. He didn’t get the promotion right now, but he knows he is well placed to get the next one.

His boss’ initial reaction says it all. When his boss said “I had no idea you were interested in a promotion,” that proves you can’t just keep your head down and bum up and expect the promotions to roll in. Instead, you need to tell the right people, get support to grow your skills, and put a plan in place to prepare you for that promotion.