Here’s How to Secure That Promotion

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One of my clients — let’s call her Kate — is kind, hardworking, and empathetic. In her mid 30’s, she has worked at three companies since finishing college and has only received promotions when accepting a more senior role with a new employer. Kate is happy working at her current job and would prefer to stay at this company and receive a promotion, rather than start the interviewing process again and leave for a new role. She came to me asking for guidance.

First, Kate needs to confirm that she and her boss are in alignment. Often, I find that we are not necessarily on the same page regarding our performance with those around us — boss, colleagues, or staff. I encouraged her to meet with her boss. It’s crucial that she understands how her boss views her performance in her current role and discusses her desire for a promotion, including what it would take to have her boss’s consideration. For this meeting to be successful, she needs to be receptive to feedback and genuinely curious about the promotion process, including fully understanding her boss’ recommendations. After they speak and assuming she can agree with her boss’s insight into her performance, she would then create a Promotion Achievement Plan. This is where she can outline her strategies for following her boss’ guidance, a timeline, and metrics, then review the plan with her supervisor to ensure they are in agreement. Another option is Kate could enroll her HR liaison on a parallel path to share her promotion goal, feedback from the meeting, and her Promotion Achievement Plan.

But let’s be honest, IRL promotion plans don’t necessarily go as smoothly as described above.

Here are some scenarios often encountered when seeking a promotion and suggestions on dealing with them:

1. Kate and her boss do not have a good working relationship. Receiving an endorsement and support for a promotion from a boss where you have a challenging relationship is almost impossible. In this situation, I would brainstorm options with Kate, including looking for a more senior role in other parts of her company. If she has enrolled her HR liaison, she could ask their guidance as well. Ultimately, looking for a senior position outside the company really may be her best option in this scenario.

2. Kate did not have a good working relationship with any of her previous bosses. Based on Kate’s personality, that would be highly unlikely, but if that were the case, I would encourage Kate to do some soul searching and reflection. She needs to understand where her relationship challenges lie and address those, starting with her current boss. It may be necessary to set her “promotion goal” aside until she has mastered building and maintaining relationships.

3. Kate disagrees with her boss’s feedback. Kate needs to give herself a couple of days to get over the sting of the feedback so that she can think about it objectively and without emotion. If she still disagrees with the feedback, she should consider looking for greener pastures, hopefully at the company and in another department.

4. The boss’s recommendations are not achievable. This is the actual scenario that my client Kate faced. She works from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. After speaking to her boss, she learned that her boss expects someone in this role to work beyond standard business hours in order to manage a team with urgent deadlines that are often outside her regular hours. Kate has a small child and has built her career while also prioritizing a healthy work/life balance.

Initially, after hearing the feedback from her boss, Kate was emotional and shut down rather than ideate options that could work. I told her, as I am reminding you, it is so important that we manage our emotions to free up our creativity for problem-solving. Together, we brainstormed options that could work for her. She chose to revisit the conversation with her boss, and together they found a creative solution that included a flexible schedule. Kate extended her availability to include the weekends to cover business needs and starts later or finishes earlier during the week.

Thankfully, Kate has a great working relationship with her boss, and they were able to find a compromise that benefitted all involved while supporting both Kate’s and the company’s needs. While that isn’t always the case, your best bet is to stay level-headed, know your options and resources, and be willing to get creative to get that promotion you deserve!

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Kim Martin