Getting Promoted:
How to Win the Rat Race – Without Being a Rat

By, Landy Chase, MBA, CSP

In the perfect work environment, whenever a promotion opportunity became available, the most qualified person would always be selected for the available promotion. Unfortunately, as you know, such an environment does not exist, it may seem to you that job promotions regularly go to people who are not always the most deserving. Well, to quote Clint Eastwood said in the classic Western, Unforgiven, “deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.” 

The biggest mistake that most employees make with regards to promotion opportunities is to consider them an entitlement. In other words, they assume that if they reasonably meet their employer’s productivity expectations, then they are “entitled” to a promotion. Making such an assumption is probably the worst career mistake you can make, because in most cases it simply doesn’t work that way.

Doing a good job does not “entitle” you to advancement. Instead, it qualifies you for consideration for advancement. Once you become qualified for consideration, a nasty little word creeps into the equation that, like it or not, plays a significant role in promotion decisions. That nasty little word is, of course, politics. Collectively, I define ‘politics’ as the other, subjective factors not directly related to job performance that either work for you or against you – and, like it or not, they can be a significant determining factor in promotion decisions. How does one learn to play – and win – at the game of promotional politics? Listed below are the most important political factors that come into play when evaluating a person for promotion:

  • Are you dependable? Next to loyalty, dependability is the most desirable attribute that an employee can have. For example, when your boss asks you to do something, does it always get done – on time, every time? Or do you have to be repeatedly asked, over and over, to get a task completed? All things being equal, the employee who has demonstrated dependability has a huge advantage over their peers when promotions become available.

  • Do you get along well with others? I once had a sales person on our team whose customers loved her and who was our top producer – and was a walking, talking nightmare to every other department in our office. Guess who, in spite of their sales performance, was always at the bottom of the list for promotions? I rest my case.

  • Are you a problem-solver? Companies today place a premium value on take-charge, motivated employees who confront problems in an organization and make a positive impact. Conversely, negativity is simply not tolerated, and for good reason.

  • Do you demonstrate leadership within the office? Are you looked at as a “go-to” source by the others who work with you? Do peers come to you for advice and counsel? Are you willing to take risks, even when the chance of failure exists? Are you fair and ethical in your dealings with your peers?

  • Is your workspace well-organized? My rule of thumb for promoting an employee into management is to take whatever is on their desk, multiply it by a factor of 10, and use this new figure to arrive at a reasonable estimate of what their desk will look like with the new responsibilities. How would your work-space measure up?

As a final point, never forget that the most important job that you have is to please the person that you work for, because no one has a more direct impact on your career advancement than your supervisor. Too many employees forget this simple but important point. Don’t be one of them.

Read other articles and learn more about Landy Chase, MBA, CSP.

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