How to get promoted
Many of the people I coach want guidance on how to advance in their careers. Whether I'm coaching younger people starting out in their careers or more experienced individuals looking to move into bigger roles, my advice is often the same: that relationships frequently matter more than the tasks you do.
Here are five practical tips on getting promoted.
1. Understand the difference between requirements versus relationships
Most jobs have a job description attached to them, outlining the tasks and targets expected of the person doing the work. These formal requirements are often written down and constitute the official, explicit conditions for success in the role.
Perform all of these obligations and you will be judged to have done a good job. However, carrying out all of these duties well is unlikely to be enough for promotion.
To advance in your career, you also need to build friendly working relationships with your colleagues – and especially the decision makers who decide on who gets promoted. These informal relationships are rarely written down and constitute the unofficial, implicit conditions for success in the role.
The people who get promoted the most quickly tend to do well in terms of both delivering on formal requirements as well as developing informal relationships. In contrast, people who deliver only on the formal requirements often feel frustrated and wonder why they are not being promoted.
2. Invest in all of your relationships at work
In a famous research investigation, scientists Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo gathered data showing that workers more usually chose to collaborate with colleagues based on liking rather than those colleagues’ competence. In other words, the strength of informal relationships (liking) mattered more than people’s ability to perform their jobs’ formal requirements (competence).
The implication of these findings is that relationships – having people like you and want to work with you – really matters. In practical terms, consider these pointers for building positive working relationships with all of your colleagues.
- When interacting with colleagues, aim to come across as not just a competent professional but also a warm and likeable human. Get to know about your colleagues’ lives outside of work by politely showing an interest in their families, hobbies, sporting pursuits, favourite TV shows, and so on.
- Try to understand the broader context in which your colleagues work. Rather than dealing with your colleagues only when you need something from them, make an effort to understand their broader goals at work. Try asking questions such as ‘What projects are keeping you busy?’, ‘What’s going on in your team/department these days?’ and ‘What kind of pressures are you facing at the moment?’
- Observe colleagues who you judge to be good at making a sincere, positive impression. What do they do and say that makes them positive, promotable individuals? Try to analyse their mannerisms and ways of working. See if you can adopt some of these behaviours in order to develop for yourself a reputation as someone who is both competent at the job and likeable too.
3. Invest in your relationships with key decision makers
It’s a good idea to think about how you come across in all of your relationships. However, some relationships matter more than others. So, think about the people who are likely to be the key decision makers when it comes to giving you a promotion.
Your line manager is one critical decision maker. However, there may be others such as managers in other departments or your line manager’s line manager. To build your relationships with these key decision makers:
- Seek more opportunities to have conversations with decision makers rather than rely too much on written correspondence with them. Having decision makers see your face more often can be a simple way to start building relationships with them.
- Spend more time with important decision makers. For example, if you identify a topic or area of work that interests you, consider saying: ‘I’m interested in learning about this work you do and how you do it. May I shadow you? Are there any meetings you’re attending that I could observe please?’
- Listen to and learn from decision makers. Respect that senior individuals likely have knowledge and insights that you do not. You may not agree with everything they say or do, but make an effort to learn whatever you can from them – especially about the traditions and accepted ways of doing things within the organisation.
4. Prepare to make a positive impact
Being in meetings with decision makers is only a first step to building a positive reputation. Consider that your colleagues are not telepathic – they cannot tell how capable you are unless you speak up.
In a recent study, Canadian researchers Kyle Brykman and Jana Raver monitored real business meetings and how employees were judged by their managers. The data showed that managers’ evaluations were more influenced by the quality of employees’ opinions than their quantity. In other words, managers were impressed by smart observations and intelligent questions by employees more than merely how often those employees spoke up.
One implication is that you do not need to talk excessively in an attempt to dominate meetings and get noticed. However, you do need to make high-quality contributions.
- Prepare before all meetings. Think about the purpose of the meeting and therefore how you can usefully contribute. Be sure to familiarise yourself with key facts so that you can come across as professional rather than unprepared.
- Avoid simply reporting what has happened and instead think about why it matters. Rather than stating mere facts, try to figure out their implications. For example, if you spot that profit margins have worsened, aim also to identify before the meeting why margins may have deteriorated.
- Avoid disagreeing outright with colleagues. Instead, aim to ask open-ended questions. For instance, if you think that a colleague has quoted an incorrect statistic, rather than say ‘No, you’re wrong’, ask a question such as ‘That doesn’t seem to be the same figure as I have – where does your figure come from?’ or ‘If you don’t mind me asking, how did you arrive at that figure?’
5. Help the team and business to do better
Another way to signal that you are ready for promotion is to find ways to help the business to do things better. So, look for inefficiencies or problems that you personally can help to fix.
- Consider asking senior people how you can help. You could try saying something like: ‘I’ve finished what I need to do right now and have a little time spare. Is there anything I could help with?’
- Aim to be someone who is constructively critical as opposed to just critical. Simply pointing out problems or inefficiencies without suggesting how to fix them could make you look like a complainer. In order to be more useful to your colleagues, think about the steps you could take to deal with problems or inefficiencies – and what your personal contribution would be to fixing them.
- Ensure you have your colleagues’ backing. When you identify issues, be mindful that your colleagues may not always be supportive of your efforts to fix them – if fixing them would require them to do more work or change drastically how they do their work. If you detect too much resistance, consider dropping the idea and looking at something else you could improve instead.
Author: ACCA's career and performance psychologist Dr Rob Yeung | @RobYeung
This article was first published in Student Accountant in July 2021