Thursday, July 29, 2010

"How do I get promoted?" Part II: How to approach your manager

Once you and your mentee have concluded that a promotion is the best way forward how do you advise them to proceed?

First allow me to reveal some "managerial dirty little secrets" (or phrased more positively, some lesser known facts):

Dirty little secret #1: In the old days a person's boss was really the be all and end all of an employee's destiny. Today most organizations work on management issues in committees especially when it comes to performance reviews and its accompanying activity promotional reviews. The good news is that nowadays a person's boss is not necessarily the sole determining factor in a person's career advancement as peers might come to the manager to suggest they have a candidate that's ready for the next level. The bad news is that an employee can no longer just "kiss up to" one or two people to move up the ladder but in fact must impress most everyone at their boss' level in addition to their own boss. Being able to work successfully and effectively across teams and divisions becomes key here. I would ask the mentee if they feel their boss' peers know who they are and how their contributions help the company's bottom line.

Dirty little secret #2: While the role nowadays of someone's manager is no longer as singularly important for advancement still every promotion needs a champion and it's best that the champion be the manager. I would ask the mentee if they feel their manager is or can easily become their champion.

Dirty little secret #3: So based on secret #1 the promotional game is kinda "who you know" because the more managers the mentee knows and interacts with then the more those managers can discuss the mentee's qualifications in those promotional review committees and support advancement. If most managers don't know the mentee and stay silent during the promotional review discussion that's almost as bad as someone saying something negative about the mentee's prospects for advancement. And it's actually more than "who you know" but more like "who you've helped". If the mentee has found a way to be a constructive part of other people's/team's success they will certainly be looked favorably upon at review and promotion time.

Dirty little secret #4: And it's also kinda "who knows you". You want to make sure the mentee is the "go to" person in their organization and to achieve that people have to:
1. know who the mentee is
2. know what the mentee's area of expertise is and
3. recognize the mentee as the local expert and feel they are approachable enough to "go to" for questions and  correct answers.

Below is the conversation I've had and would have with my own mentee outlining a set of steps to follow when approaching a manager about a promotion. But it should also be used as a checklist by the mentee to 1. ensure these things do in fact right true for them and 2. better prepare for the all important conversation.
1. At your next 1:1 meeting with your manager calmly and clearly state your desire for a promotion. While it may be obvious to you that you want and deserve a promotion you can't assume your manager can read your mind. I personally have encountered very, very few managers that could read minds and those that could sometimes would ignore the information they received.

2. Managers feel much better promoting someone who is already operating at the next level. Be prepared to define what kind of performance you feel is required at the next level. (Remember that your manager could have a different perception than you so be open to learning about what your manager feels is required!) Be prepared to demonstrate that you are already operating at that level by telling stories, bringing emails of recognition and succinctly reminding your manager of the positive impact you've already had on the team.

3. Describe clearly how promoting you to the next level will benefit the team/division/company. This is critical and most often forgotten. While the promotion feels like it's all about you, you are only going to get promoted if it truly benefits the company's bottom line. You have to make it clear that this promotion is not necessarily "good for you" but rather critical to the team/division/company's success. For example, are you the "go to" person - the person everyone comes to when they have business or technical problems they can't solve themselves?

4. Finally, be open to feedback from your manager. If your manager happily agrees with you about your readiness politely inquire what are the next steps that need to be taken by your manager or yourself to push ahead with your candidacy. If however the manager is hinting that you are not ready be sure to accept this information with an open mind and ask what you can do differently or better so that you can advance in the near future. Periodically check in with your manager to ensure you are making progress towards your goal. Once you're ready to approach your manager again start these steps over but mention the earlier conversation and bring proof of your progress.

There are a myriad of reasons why you may not get a promotion or if you are ready for one, why you may not get one immediately. These reasons range from you're just not ready to there's no budget for it to it's not the right time of the year (promotions are given within performance review cycles) to there's currently no need for someone at the next level despite your readiness, etc., etc. Even if you get this type of feedback you have still taken the critical first step towards advancement by having this crucial conversation with your manager. Your manager is now aware and you both can partner together to achieve your career goals.
I hope you find the above "sample conversation" useful as a framework for your own mentoring discussions. If I've left anything out please let me know!

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