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How to Become More Promotable

Conventional wisdom says that if employees work hard and do their jobs well, they are likely to be promoted. However, today, good performance alone is no longer a guarantee of career advancement.

In an uncertain and rapidly changing business environment, companies all around the world are looking to invest in their current talent to ensure that their most valuable resource—their people—maximize strengths and help the company compete in the global marketplace. They use leadership and employee development programs to enhance their internal talent pool.

Once we examine companies’ efforts to prepare their high-potential employees for advancement, it becomes clear that employees themselves can act to enhance their position in the organization, line themselves up for employee development programs, and ultimately, for potential promotion.

Here are some strategies that will increase your chances of being promoted:

  • Don’t expect others to tell you how to contribute. Moving ahead takes more than just meeting expectations and fulfilling your basic job responsibilities. Many talented managers and professionals ask their boss, “What exactly do I need to do to get promoted?” That’s a dangerously passive mindset that can actually hinder a person’s prospects for promotion. Those who successfully rise up through the ranks know how to proactively manage their personal brand. They don’t wait for someone else to define the road map for them, but rather they aggressively seek ways to stand out. Asking what you can do for your company shows a lack of initiative.
  • Do your homework. Look for alternative methods for streamlining processes. Once you’ve done the research and have proven success and metrics to back up your ideas, present your findings to management and try to sell them on your ideas. These action position you as an innovator and visionary.
  • Showcase your capabilities. Participating in and taking the lead on intradepartmental projects or initiatives is a first step toward showcasing your capabilities—not only to team members but also to supervisors and managers. If your team values your contributions, they are likely to become some of your strongest advocates.
  • Communicate your accomplishments constructively. Accomplishments never speak for themselves. They require a spokesperson: you. You need to “toot your own horn”—but constructively and selectively. If your accomplishments are invisible to your boss or higher-level executives, your perceived promotability will be much lower than that of peers with comparable accomplishments who know how to promote their achievements. However, take care not to come across as self-serving, as that could create rifts in your corporate relationships. If you have successfully engaged in a project win, be sure to acknowledge your involvement, as well as others who contributed to the project’s success. Not only will this create a team-oriented and collaborative dynamic, but it will also showcase your capabilities in a professional way.
  • Expand your internal network. Most people recognize the importance of building an external network for their career success but fail to give sufficient attention to building their internal network. As with external networking, the key here is to “give before you get” by being helpful to others. This approach will enhance your visibility and reputation and go a long way toward increasing your career advancement prospects. In contrast, a self-serving “what’s-in-it-for me” approach to internal networking will be transparent to others and diminish your reputation. As the old adage goes, “There’s no ‘I’ in team,” so it’s very rare that a single employee is able to accomplish anything on his own without help from a colleague or team. Be sure to acknowledge the assistance you receive and reach out to people who can help you advance in your goals and in your attempts to sell your ideas. A collaborative dynamic that is rich in give-and-take will help you create a strong internal network of supporters.
  • Adopt an expanded definition of your role. Simply filling your job description is no longer enough. When the economy was at its worst, many people found themselves wearing numerous hats to help their company move forward. These days, roles are dynamic; tasks and projects change constantly. Show that you are willing to engage in high discretionary effort outside of your “day job” (e.g., volunteer for a committee or task force).
  • Be a good corporate citizen. Find ways to “give back” to the organization. Consider becoming a mentor to a younger employee outside of your department. Additionally, helping co-workers with their own projects, while providing some type of mentorship in the process, can position you as a valid resource in advancing the company’s efforts. Once colleagues are able to recognize this kind of value in certain colleagues, the opportunity to create a positive reputation in the organization makes itself readily apparent.

Basically, increasing your promotability is simply a matter of increasing your professional visibility. This involves connecting with your fellow team members, offering assistance and mentorship where needed, and communicating your accomplishments in a constructive way. Your own career aspirations and core strengths will help determine how to best position yourself in the company. Not all people are appropriate for management. In fact, not all employees even want to become managers. Valuable employees who show true engagement in their jobs are the ones who will stand out.

About the Author(s)

Herb Greenberg, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of Caliper, (http://www.calipercorp.com/) an international management consulting firm. He coauthored the New York Times bestseller Succeed on Your Own Terms as well as How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer, both published by McGraw-Hill. He also cohosted the nationally syndicated radio program "Winning in Business."