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  • Lokajit Tikayatray

All You Need to Know About How Promotions Truly Work

You want the promotion badly.

You have heard your boss or peers saying you deserve it. They assure you that you are on the right path for career advancement.

But you are not getting it.

For reasons beyond your control, the opportunity hasn’t come your way.

Why are you not getting the promotion despite your tireless efforts, hard work, and dedication to the company?

Is your manager playing favoritism?

Is it time to quit?

These are common questions that often perplex employees who have been long-time contributors to the company. They are frustrated with the lack of upward mobility in their career path and ask themselves — 

“Why can’t I get promoted?”

The short answer is you probably don’t deserve the promotion yet. Or your company is not ready for the next-level designation.

I can totally understand the emotion. It can be highly demotivating when you are sure you should have gotten the promotion already.

But getting frustrated or desperate will do more harm than good for your career.

It is, therefore, crucial to know how promotions truly work. Understanding the process can give you clarity about your situation. It can help you take the appropriate next step to ensure you actually get the desired role.

Misconceptions Around How Promotions Work

Most individual contributors believe promotions are given based on performance only.

They often assume that working hard, delivering on time, exceeding expectations sometimes, and frequently taking up stretch goals should fast-track their growth to the next career level.

The misconception is so embedded among some people that they feel entitled to promotion just by being good at their current role.

People often see someone else getting promoted and start comparing their performance. These comparisons are mainly at the surface level, void of any facts that leaders use to give the promotion.

Such a mentality only causes heartburn and further demotivates the employee. It induces conspiracy theories to justify why someone else got the promotion instead of them. These negative emotions lead the individual to feel let down and betrayed by their managers.

How Promotions Truly Work and What You Can Do to Get Promoted

Now you know, promotions are not given to people who simply got good reviews, outperformed their peers, or have a bunch of positive feedback. These are the bare minimum requirements for getting considered for a next-level role.

However, meeting these criteria does not entitle you to a promotion.

Let’s look at a couple of significant factors that influence leaders’ decisions while considering employees for promotions.

What makes you deserving of the role?

A promotion reflects how much value a person brings to the company and whether they are ready to take up new challenges as part of the next-level role.

Being exceptional in your current role can assure you the best rating or a good salary hike in appraisals. But they are not the proper parameters to base the promotion decision on.

A capable woman software engineer

To get promoted, you need to prove you are ready for the position. Your manager has to be sure of your abilities. They have to justify that you can perform at the next level to their leaders.

Many employees don’t want to go the extra mile to prove their capabilities. They want the official designation first, and only then will they do the required jobs for the role.

However, the biggest fear of any leader is to promote someone who is not ready.

Hence, the best way to convince your manager and help make a case for your promotion is to proactively perform at the next level even before getting the designation.

What can you do?

  • Discuss the company’s expectations from the next-level role with your manager.

  • Tag along with a person who is already in the desired position. Assist them in their daily activities. It can make you gain first-hand experience and allow you to see if you are genuinely ready to take up the responsibilities.

  • Continue discussing your aspirations with your leader. While doing so, use your performance as proof of your readiness for leveling up.

  • Never stop giving your best, even if your promotion is getting delayed. Otherwise, it will prove that you don’t have the required emotional intelligence to be in a senior role.

Always remember, if you have to fight for a promotion, you most likely don’t deserve it, or your manager does not think you are ready for the role.

If you are thinking, “I would have preferred it if they told me I am not ready for the promotion”, then it means you are not yet prepared.

Does your company have the requirements for the desired role?

In most organizations, a significant part of the decision of whether you will get promoted or not depends on whether your company needs a person in the role.

This criterion might not be apparent in lower designations. A company can accommodate more junior-level employees. Hence people can quickly get promoted within that group of positions just based on performance.

A software developer at his work table

However, when you move up the ladder and reach senior positions, you will realize the impact more and more. Companies cannot have a lot of people in the senior position if there is no need for that many senior members.

For example, you can have only one architect for every ten or twenty developers. You need one senior manager for a certain number of junior managers. And so on.

Suppose there is already someone in the position you desire to get promoted. And the person can handle the workload just fine with the required quality.

In such a case, why would your team want one more person doing the same tasks without more work to be done for the role?

What can you do?

  • Discuss your expectations with your manager.

  • Ask them if there is room for one more member in the next role.

  • If not immediately, find out if the company can create a post in the future for you to get promoted. Often, companies can create positions to retain their exceptional contributors.

  • If there is no hope within the team, ask your manager to refer you to similar positions in other units. I have seen my colleagues getting promoted by finding the right team where there is a need for the next-level role.

Final Thoughts

Most individual contributors can relate to the misconception discussed in this article. I don’t blame them for having the wrong opinion about how promotions work.

Often, the companies and their leaders do not put the required effort to make their team understand the expectations.

Some managers deliberately avoid being transparent as they fear a performing team member might leave because there is no open position to level up in their career.

Due to their ignorance or lack of transparency, people generally don’t know how promotions work in their organizations. This causes them to get frustrated, doubt their abilities, distrust their managers, and lose motivation in continued efforts to get promoted.

Hence, the leaders need to be more transparent about the promotion process across all designations. It would make their teams feel comfortable, valued, and secure while working hard for what they love doing.

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