According to the latest survey from the Work-Life Policy in New York, Gen-Yers rate the prospect for advancement, including a steady rate of advancement and promotion, as among their most valued forms of reward. Based on the demographics, (Gen-X is half the size of Gen-Y), plenty of Gen-Yers will get their wish. So how do you best strategize to get a promotion? It's a question I'm regularly asked about.
A search of the web reveals three approaches. One group emphasizes work performance: work diligently at your tasks and become an effective problem solver and team player. A second group of strategies concerns itself with managing your boss: don't ask question you can answer, impress your boss with your hard work and try to get projects that gain you visibility with your boss. The final group of recommendations is oriented to handling your emotions: manage your frustrations, deal with your impatience, and don't whine.
Although there is some truth to most of those approaches, there is overweening research that finds that the people who are most successful at gaining a promotion build it on the quality of their network. Jeff Pfeffer of Stanford Business School once explained to a group of execs in a leadership seminar that one of the most important and difficult tasks is to forget what they learned in school--not the substance, but the practice. School is an individual matter. You study, take tests, write papers, state opinions in class, and are graded as an individual. But, he went on to say, continue that practice in the corporate world and you've got the career potential of live bait. Working and coordinating with others is the primary business model.
You are recruited, reviewed and rewarded for what you can accomplish with other people.
Inevitably, network studies reveal that the people with rich networks of great diversity, have the upper hand in promotions. That's because rich networks are built upon not merely what you know but upon how you've worked with others--what you've accomplished with other people across an organization.
Let's put it this way: it's not your boss who promotes you, but your peers and your subordinates. Or, if you're not yet supervising people, it's your colleagues who promote you. The traditional view was to work hard and manage your boss and you'll get a promotion. That never was true. Bosses promote the people who work well with others, both support and exert leadership in their team, help others learn and grow, and can get things done with others outside their immediate group. Bosses need that kind of people to get their own work done.
So the person who gets promoted is the IT guy who sales thinks walks on water because of all the support and time he has given them, the marketing research woman who responds quickly to the needs of sales or marketing staff, or the technical research person who pays attention to the needs of his manufacturing colleagues and is always available to help when needed.
About ten years ago, the COO of a major corporation let me know that one of his directors had asked to work with me, and that that was a done deal. No way was he going to refuse that director. I knew the director was a nice guy: warm and extremely competent. My new client told me that what he really wanted to know was whether he was going to get a promotion or whether he should start looking outside the firm. As a developmental coach, I began the process by interviewing about 20 people for my client, subordinates, colleagues, people outside his division and even some vendors. The overwhelming message I got was that my client was a great guy, but the second was the kicker. He's a fabulous coach, will help you out in trouble, will share whatever information he's got, and actually looks out for you. This guy had a built in WOW factor!
When I took that info to the COO (with permission of the director), his first response was to the effect that the promotions would be coming--immediately. The COO was actually fearful of losing that expertise. The following week my client was promoted to vice-president.
By the end of the first year of work, most people know more than enough to be helpful to their colleagues. You don't have to be a director to understand those issues. By then, hopefully, you will have learned to work with a diverse group of people, gained enough insight to the organization and are starting to make genuine contributions to their colleagues. That puts the onus of coaching on every worker.
You don't get promoted on the backs of your colleagues, you get promoted because your colleagues want to reward you for all the support and help you've provided. You're the kind of boss they'd like to work for.
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