Get Promoted. Start By Understanding Your Company’s Requirements

Get Promoted
You are ready for more responsibility and bigger challenges. You’ve been working hard, killing it and feel like you're confidently performing at the next level. You are ready for a promotion!

Maybe you’ve just started thinking about it or you’ve already been passed up for a promotion. I want to support you in getting your next opportunity, raise or job so I’m going to be honest about what’s going on behind the scenes at some companies so you can move forward in your career.

Before we get started, it's important to know every company has different standards and processes for promotions, which could change at different levels. What's appropriate for a new manager can be different for Directors and higher. In this article, I’ll share with you a behind the scenes view of promotions in Technology and Product companies I’ve worked at paired with what I know from my HR network in the bay area. After reading this article you'll know more about promotions and be ready to talk to your manager about the realities of promotion at your company.

The Leadership Ladder

Before we look at promotions from your company's perspective, let’s set the stage by talking about what's expected of leaders. Human Resources uses the term job ladder to describe the progression of jobs. It's an easy way to demonstrate the hierarchy of a role, like engineer or manager, and how the responsibilities and requirements change at each level. The changes can include the scope and impact of your work, the number of people you manage, the level of the people you manage, or it could be something completely different. What’s important to know is that as leaders at different levels have different expectations and requirements. Just being good at one level doesn't mean you are ready for a promotion. Here are some of the aspects of leadership that change:
  • complexity of problems
  • solving your own problems, finding problems and being proactive to propose solutions
  • experience with projects and products with different lifetimes.  Brainstorming new ideas, delivering on them over time, and sunsetting older products
  • working across organization boundaries to accomplish goals
  • developing a team, of different levels, and help them progress in their careers
  • managing teams of different sizes
  • influence process and policy in your organization and across the company
  • balance of operational and strategic skills
  • balance of relationships and getting work done
  • experience managing a budget
  • sponsorship at multiple levels across the company
  • represent your company externally
  • patents, innovative ideas, and repeated business impact

Readiness for the Next Level

When you were hired, there’s a good chance that you read a job description with a list of responsibilities, job requirements, and preferred experiences. Each job has it's place on a job ladder.  A management ladder may look like Manager 1, Manager 2, Sr. Manager, Director, Sr. Director, VP, Sr. VP, and C Suite. Each step of the ladder has unique requirements that are documented in job descriptions, like the one you applied for. I mention this because the same is true for promotions.

You may be rocking it at your level, but that’s not enough for a promotion. The first thing your manager will consider is if you have the requirements to perform at the next level. Often, they’ll give you challenges and work at the next level for 6 months or a year to test that you are ready. To know if you are ready for the next level, compare your credentials to the job descriptions posted at the next level and talk to your manager. Once any gaps have been identified, create a career development plan to capture the skills and experiences you want to develop.

Company Need & Budget

You are ready for a promotion. You've got the skills. You've got the experience. You are performing at the next level; however, your company may not have or need a role at the next level. Depending on the projects, the number of people on a team, and complexity of work; it’s possible that they don’t need another Director. Think of it this way, there aren’t two CTO’s at a company.

Not having business need can happen.  This isn’t a sign that you aren’t ready, but a time to talk to your manager about the timeline for new opportunities. Then you can decide if it's worth staying or if it's time to move to another team or company to continue to grow.

Even if there is need, companies must also consider the impact to their budget. A promotion is an added expense for salary, bonuses, and any other added expenses for events and training at the next level. Companies don't always have the budget to promote everyone who is ready and sometimes have to prioritize who gets promoted.

Potential and Performance

Another dimension companies will look at is past performance and future potential. Every team may have a different opinion on which is more important and how potential is defined. Usually, potential is evaluated by looking at your potential to perform well at the next level. "New level, new devil". At each level, there are new requirements and responsibilities and a new group of peers. It's a disservice to you to promote you when you aren't ready for the new scope of challenges.

One note to my female and male readers, this is an area where gender bias sneaks in. We tend to lean forward on potential for men and lean back for women, requiring women to demonstrate their ability to perform longer than men. We also tend to hold mistakes made by women against them longer, than men. As we promote people it's important to have clear criteria and to check our decisions to eliminate bias.

Now that you better understand a companies point of view on promotions, it's time to prepare your case for promotion. Part of this is learning how promotions work at your company and finding out what skills are required for your next role.


About the Author

Kim-Elisha Proctor is an Executive Coach, teacher, and writer. For over 15 years, she has worked with companies at all stages of growth and understands the complexity of organizations and leadership that is needed for success. Whether one-on-one coaching, with groups or delivering leadership development programs, her passion is the same: to support leaders to enhance their performance, impact, purpose & well-being to create communities they long to belong to.

Kim-ElishaAgency, Lead Smarter