Take up Big Roles on Your Own to Win Promotions at Work

By Supratik Bhattacharyya 

It’s often after the performance appraisal cycle that I’ve heard comments like “I’m not the one they’d promote anyway”, or “they didn’t promote me even this year”. I’ve sometimes engaged in counseling on why it didn’t happen, and more often than not I realized that the responses have always been the same.

We are culturally wired to view a promotion at workplace as a reward. We fail to distinguish between an increment, a bonus, and a promotion. We expect that a good performance must essentially be rewarded with a promotion every few years. And some of us even plan our careers based on what we establish these ‘few years’ to be. When this flawed plan falls apart, we end up crestfallen, with a feeling of being wronged and not recognized. Almost instantly follows our search for recruitment consultants, who seem to be the only ones who can help us find the right position that we deserve, in another company of course! No wonder an executive search consultant gets the highest number of calls from candidates soon after the appraisal cycles have sealed their fates. I am only proposing a shift in the way we look at this.

While an increment or a bonus are dependent and directly proportional to one’s individual and organizational performance, a promotion is not. Exceeding a target makes one eligible for a higher bonus, but not a promotion. Therein lies the challenge.

We all seem to know what translates into high performance in our respective areas of work, but we do not know what makes us promotable. We look at just-promoted peers with either awe or disdain, and deny ourselves the ability to see what they did differently. I’ve had bright people argue with me, citing their impeccable qualifications, their tenure, their industry, where they came from and where their peers were. And each time I’ve had to break their hearts by saying that these were factors that aid the decision to promote, not determine it.

What determines promotion is ‘promotability’. I define this as the ability to take on larger responsibilities and deliver at a higher level to produce a superior impact. It’s important to remember that great performance and other factors described above may precede a promotion, but will rarely determine it.

Simply said, promotability is a behavior of reaching beyond and doing larger things than what your existing job demands of you. If you are the regional sales manager (RSM) and want to be the VP of sales, then start doing what he does. For example, the VP strategizes, segments his market, optimizes his team’s efforts, promotes safe behavior, coaches people, focuses on cost, doesn’t say ‘me’ too often, doesn’t cry hoarse against the operations guys if a delivery goes wrong but works with them cohesively to fix it, has this overarching general interest in his mind which you mostly find irritating, and so on. Please, don’t wait for a promotion to start this behavior, but start leading differently from where you are right now.

I’m a great proponent of people having an honest chat with their line managers and HR business partner about where they want to be. Identify the skills that you need, record them in your development plan, and own its actions. Take a step back and also identify how differently you’ll have to behave once you’re promoted, and start that behavior right away.

Remember, it is what you are now that will determine where you will go. Do the larger stuff in addition to what you are doing today. Help your colleagues who are not as bright as you are. Spread ease and joy in the workplace, not stress. Work with other departments towards the larger goal. Raise your hand and be the first one to offer help. If something works well for you, share it and let others benefit from it. Stay away from politics and bad-mouthing — you’ll be surprised how immediately you’ll feel the difference. And when you’ve succeeded in doing some of these and more, in addition to sustaining your great performance, simply get ready for the magic to enter your life. Happy promotion to you!