The real reason why you aren’t getting promoted.

I talk with people every week who are frustrated because they feel they are stuck in their career or doing something wrong because they can’t seem to get promoted. In this episode, we are going to look at the problem we are up against in getting promoted, look behind the scenes of the promotion process, understand why your current strategy probably isn’t working and give you a new way of looking at how to build your career to get better results.

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This week I want to talk about your career once again. But this time, I want to have an honest conversation about why your career is probably stuck, or you aren’t getting promoted as often as you think you should be. Here again, this show comes from the fact that week after week, I get emails and talk to people who same the exact same things – I’m stuck in my career, I frustrated, what am I doing wrong, show I do something else, or I can’t get promoted. 

I will be clear that this isn’t a one size fits all answer, but I think most people don’t tale the time to under the process, understand what they need to do and how to build a career that builds on itself across jobs and over the years. In this episode, we are going to look at the problem we are up against, look behind the scenes of the promotion process, understand why your current strategy probably isn’t working and give you a new way of looking at how to build your career to get better results.

The problem

The problem is we have all been lied to and think that the foundation of how to be successful works – it doesn’t. We all believe that being a good working, doing what you are told, and follow that plan of what your superiors tell you to do is the path to success.

This is true when you start your career, but as you so along, becoming more senior, taking on more leadership and looking to climb a ladder with fewer and fewer opportunities, it doesn’t work at all – but no one told us that. As I have said in previous episodes, you can tell this is the truth and that in some cases, your actual skill becomes less relevant as I know people who are in very senior positions who have no real skills outside of hitting deadlines and kissing ass.

We can pause for a moment to rage over the fact that this happens, and many of you know this is a true statement and just thought of someone who exemplifies this problem. Good work and dedication should count for more. Leadership should have more of a connection to what is actually going on in their teams and reward the people who are really doing the work.

Let’s start by looking behind the scenes of how this process works at most companies to get a better understanding of where this problem comes from.

A look behind the scenes

Here is how the promotion process goes at most companies. Once or twice a year, a window opens for promotions within your company or division. All the directors, VP’s or higher-ups meet with discuss who they want to promote, and there are only going to be a certain number of promotions that are going to happen. Think about this like the hunger games, but the life of your career is at stake.

A few things are then at play here. How much respect your boss have effects on how many people they are going to get through. How hard they are willing to fight is also going to be a factor. But it is also about to do the other leaders know who you are, what you have done, and why you are worthy of the promotion.

The problem is that if this is the first time they have heard your name, that probably isn’t going too well for you. So this Hunger Games round table plays out, everyone debates, fights, and plays politics to come to a find decision.

There are a few obvious problems here, and the biggest one is that your career is being decided without you being in the room by a bunch of people who probably don’t know you or your work. But this process is what also allows those people with no talent to get promoted.

I describe this as the Shepard Fairey effect – I will, of course, explain what that means. If most people world knows one street artist, it is Shepard Fairey from his Obey Giant brand, his Obama poster, and the resulting lawsuit from the AP over the use of their photo or has seen his street art all over the world. This is relevant here if you look at how he started his brand. It was as simple as he realized that as with any propaganda is people start seeing it everywhere they think it is something important. So he made a ton Andre has a Posse and the Obey logo stickers and started putting them up everywhere and guess what – people thought it was a thing and started to try to find out more about to because they thought that there were missing out on something. Sadly this approach works for business too.

What happens is that some leader or person at works goes on their own propaganda campaign. They take some achievement big or small, real or even exaggerated, and they start spending months telling everyone about it. So before long like these stickers, leaders are talking about it, asking about it because they are hearing about it everywhere, and they assume that because there is this buzz that this person must be doing great things.

The fatal flaw is that no one ever takes the time to see if the achievement, story, project, etc. is real and had the impact that the person claims because most leaders at large companies don’t take the time to get a real pulse and connection to their teams. So it doesn’t matter who that person stepped on, lied about, screwed over, what projects didn’t deliver because they got their promotion with potentially no real talent or work. This happens all the time – of course not, but it is an extreme example to illustrate how the process can break down, and the wrong people get promoted. But when this happens, you throw your hands up in the air frustrated about what the hell do you need to do to get ahead.

Why your career strategy probably isn’t working

Knowing that this is the process and you are frustrated, why is what you are doing probably not working, and you are probably finding the same frustration job after job? For most people, you have been at a job a while, been putting in the work and not getting the recognition and feel stuck.

And most people solve this problem by thinking it is the companies fault, which it partially is, and you solve the problem by taking a new job. That feels great for a while as you have a fresh start and fresh possibilities, but then over time, you slowly slide back into the same old feeling with the same old problem, and the cycle repeats itself. I see this cycle so often, so let’s talk about why it isn’t working and how you need to approach this problem differently.

Building your career brand

We understand that because of the process, you are going to need to get your name known, build a story, and be known for something. And this story is going to be heard and judged in a place where you are not going to be in the room to tell it. Here again – you need to build a brand because this is pretty much the textbook definition of what a brand strategy is. I keep harping on the need for you to understand and build your brand so much for a reason.

Focus on what you want to be known for
• These things need to be authentic to you and what matters to you – not what you think the company wants
• It is a huge mistake when I see people who try to build their brand to please their latest boss or c suite executive because these people leave and when you haven’t build your own point of view, you usually don’t get behind them swept out with the old regime.
• Like any brand, I would recommend that be no more than 3 things.

Tell the story clearly and often
• When you are clear on what you want to know for you need to look at your position, projects, relationships, etc. and see how you can align and tell a story that supports those brand qualities.
• Give your boss and other people the stories, slides, charts, screenshots, or whatever else to tell your story.
• As women, we tend to be inherently reticent to advocate for ourselves based on how we were (or are) conditioned to think about opportunity and growth. Many of us think of career growth through the lens of undying gratefulness, intense humility, and adorable shyness.

Have two-way goals
• At most companies, your boss gives you goals, but you talk to them about what you can hold them accountable to?
• What are the things you need to work on to get promoted?
• This is so important because you need to be able to hold them accountable for your career progress.
• When you work on these outstanding issues and have done the things that get you to the next level, then they need to be held accountable.
• Many leaders and companies will resist this because like only one-way accountability.

This lets you build on your brand with each new position and job
Instead of starting over with a new job and not building any brand equity, this process will let you talk about your skills, find jobs that will let you build on them and let you continue to grow your career over the span of your whole career.

Final thought

Like everything else, this is a balancing act. On the one hand, the idea that you do good work and will get recognized doesn’t work. Companies want people who can get things done, and that is what they will reward – often no matter how they behave or who they screw over. I’ve never had a promotion I didn’t have to take by force. But your brand and your plan can’t blind you to feedback and growth. You are going to have to kill the “tell me what to do” mentality that was the foundation of your career.

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