CEO Chronicles #12 : Six steps to your promotion

WhatsApp message [6:15 PM] : “Could you please call?”

WhatsApp message [6:18 PM] : “Why haven’t you called? Matter URGENT!”

WhatsApp message [6:20 PM] : “I really need to talk to you! They did not promote me! I worked so hard; I did everything they asked. I’ve stayed late almost every day. I really don’t know what to do…”

I did not need to read more. After all, it was a situation I had witnessed often and even personally experienced.

WhatsApp reply [6:50 PM] : “Hey, Isaac, sorry, was stuck in a meeting. Happy to speak now.”

Some Plain Speaking

Before we discuss the steps that can help us get a promotion, let’s clear up some misconceptions (so that we don’t waste time on futile arguments) –

• The world is not fair. This applies to the corporate world, too.
• Being good in your job lets you keep your job. That’s all. (in an increasingly disruptive world, even that is iffy)
• Punctuality, diligence, timely delivery – these are all great qualities. However, they don’t necessarily lead to promotions.
• Taking on more work is a good approach, but not if unseen and unnoticed.
• Staying late can be a double-edged sword – are you working hard or are you just inefficient?
• Being sincere and being naïve are two entirely different things.

Perception is Reality

Being promoted is as much about how you are seen, as about what you do.

Often, we get overlooked for promotion, because while we may be capable of doing more, our managers don’t believe so because they still see us in a particular role. Basically, their perception of us hasn’t evolved at the same pace as we feel we have. To use a simple metaphor, we feel we have become Ferraris; they think we are still Toyotas.

Sadly, perception is often reality. There’s no point blaming them or whining. We need to fix our personal brand and be seen for what we really are, thus altering perception. While we are doing so, we also need to validate our own beliefs – are we really Ferraris? Or just souped-up Toyotas?

So, how do we scale up our brand and be perceived as suitable for promotion? There are many approaches and routes. We are going to discuss six tried and tested ways –

1. Set goals. Communicate them

Many years ago, we recruited management trainees, and I was allocated two of them. One of them, Gerry, did not have the best educational credentials, but was smart, eager and driven.

“Sir,” he asked, on his third day at work, “What is the best way to become a business manager?” (That is what I was, at the time).

This was a very refreshing question, especially because this was the first time I had heard it from someone who had yet to complete his induction process.

I took Gerry’s request seriously. We allocated a time and a meeting room, and I took him through the role and responsibilities of the job, and the knowledge and skills required.

Three months later, Gerry asked me for an hour.

“Can you please allocate me a customer?” he asked. “I want to start learning how to deal with customers. I will do this over and above my present duties.”

“Why?” I asked, curiously.

“I want to be a business manager. You told me that I need to manage customers. So, I want to start learning now.”

“Good”, I said, impressed. “And where do you see yourself two years from now?”

“I have a plan”, he said, “I am hoping that you will help me achieve it. Two years from now, I want to be handling a product-market segment. And two years from then, I want to be product manager.”

“Those are really stretch targets”, I warned. “I hope you know that achieving these is not going to be easy.

“I know,” Gerry said, “I read somewhere that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching my goals; the tragedy is in not having goals to reach…”

Some points on goals

Here are some questions to think about when it comes to enhancing your brand:

• What’s your goal?
• What role would you like to be in two years from today?
• What are the competencies of your next role that distinguish it from your current job?
• Which of those competencies can you demonstrate now?
• What brand will you need to build now, in order to get there?

Then, sit down with your boss to set and discuss your professional career goals. Be open about where you see yourself a year or two years from now. Knowing these will allow your boss to help you achieve these goals by giving you opportunities to learn and grow.

Further, when you do get a chance to talk to colleagues about what you’re working on, emphasize the next-level competencies that you are deploying.

Also, look for high-visibility projects that allow you to use your next-level competencies, and showcase these skills to your leadership.

Know what you want. Then, let others know what you want.

2. Keep learning. Show Commitment

Coming back to my conversation with Gerry,

“Those are really stretch targets”, I warned. “How do you plan on achieving them?”

“Well,” he said, confidently. “One, I am already learning a lot by shadowing you and being part of the sales and operations meetings. Two, I have already enrolled for two courses – one on B2B sales management and one on sales forecasting.”

“Wow!” I said, “But, I didn’t see or approve a development plan request?”

“I am doing this personally, sir,” he said, “I know I am too new in the company to expect you to spend money on me.”

“Also,” he continued, “Are these the right courses? Could you advise me?”

Gerry’s passion brought to mind Mahatma Gandhi’s words – “Live like you are going to die tomorrow. Learn like you are going to live forever…”

Some lessons on learning

We need to show our boss and colleagues that we are committed to continuously improving and developing our skills by finding learning opportunities, both within the office and outside of it. We also need to prepare ourselves for the next stage of our growth.

Perhaps an online course? A monthly webinar? Possibly a conference or seminar once a quarter? Engaging as an observer or auditor on projects outside your department?

This does two things – one, it shows that you’re serious about your career and willing to invest your own time and money in it; two, it helps build your next-level competencies which you will need as your grow.

Stay ahead of the curve. Anticipate the next turn.

Venkatraman Sheshashayee

Venkatraman Sheshashayee (Shesh) is Managing Director of Radical Advice, a business transformation advisory based in Singapore. He has over 34 years of experience in manufacturing, shipping and offshore oil & gas. Shesh’s previous roles include CEO of Miclyn Express Offshore, CEO & ED of Jaya Holdings Limited and Managing Director of Greatship Global. In his new avatar, Shesh helps SMEs, start-ups and aspiring professionals achieve their potential.
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