Anonymous Career Advice

Broken Promotion Track

This week’s anonymous career advice column is closely connected to a previous question submitted is playing the game necessary?

Dear focus, at my company the promotion track is broken. It seems to be who shouts the loudest and who has more time with the local CEO. What can I do? 

This is one of the questions I am asked in different ways quite a lot in my coaching

Interestingly as much from those at ‘the top of their hierarchy’ to those in Heads of and Director roles. 

For context: C-suite execs are asking how they go about understanding their companies promotion track in more detail (I prefer to say in a fairer way).

Department leads want to understand how to remove some bias around who they have better relationships with than those who maybe are on the promotional track. 

Levels Aren’t Without Issues

Unless you work in a business with levels (Google, Amazon and the like) it can be extremely challenging to understand how you go about receiving a promotion and how you can demonstrate what your next steps are or should be. 

For what it is worth, levels can actually add a layer of complexity and frustration, especially if you cannot move from an L6 to L7 due to length of service or perceived external values.

The Success Formula?

There is a saying, doing your job and excelling will get you promoted. It can be true, however, the way many businesses are set up even with more modern models, you need your work to do the talking + being visible and showing your presence. 

It is important to know this isn’t always the case however in competitive environments this is often the way people get ahead. 

Some businesses organisational health is shaped around the promotional track and keeping their top talent, their hidden leaders, their business catalysts and uncovering the company’s secret weapons.

Play The Game Is A Choice

Playing the game and being part of the game are two slightly different avenues to take but a secret many won’t tell you is playing the game is key the higher up you go. It’s unfortunate but 85% of the time the truth. 

Here are 3 steps for you to take: 

  1. Understand how decisions are made within your company, particularly around promotions and promotional tracks. Understand who makes the decisions, how and when.
    Many businesses are reducing their risk of losing key staff currently so it is important to understand how this factors in. Ask your manager and the HR team to show you and document it.
  2. Work out if your boss has the final say or does your business have a track they have to follow? Some managers have the ability to go to HR and their bosses to request a promotion or a raise but more frequent promotions and pay rises are happening at set times of the year or reviewed annually 
  3. Map out five of the recent promotions and understand their steps, this is not always easy to map out if you do not keep track or do not have a well-connected work-graph, you will likely be able to understand from their hierarchy and their behaviours if they are promoted based on their work, based on their presence or based on a combination.
    If they have more face time or preserved face time with the local CEO this is might be a play you make and ensure they understand your work, your value and that you add value to the company and quite possibly that local CEO’s company-wide brand. If it is still unclear which of the above it is, it is likely a blend. 

The next steps are not going to be easy for you to decide the route you take, is it:

  • Get your work in front of new people,
  • Is it increase the emails you send with the most valuable information to the right groups of people (versus potentially just sending it to your boss)
  • Or speaking up and having strong backed-up opinions to help the business progress.

The key here is to ensure the move you make is seen as a positive step and you are doing it for the right reasons and pushing the company forward. 

Adam Grant has a famous talk around givers and takers, it can relate well here, especially within the business context.

Internal politics aka playing the game is an ugly truth many people don’t want to play but it is likely the step you need to take to help you specifically.

Raise The Issue Internally?

If you are a manager or have senior influence you can raise this and bring this to the local CEO attention, it is likely best to rally some support here.

If your findings are clear and can map out the behaviours you could raise to HR however this is a decision you would need to make and understand unfortunately how this could impact you – especially if you call out the local lead. 

Good luck with your decision to move forward.