The Venn of Promotability

It’s that time, again, isn’t?!

We’re more than midway through the year…which means that budget time is a-comin’!!

Which also means that it’ll soon be time to make your pitch for a promotion…and others will be pitching you for their promotions, too, by the way.

Now if you’re like most people who think about asking for a promotion, you’re likely feeling some combination of deservedness and dread. (And if you’re thinking about being on the receiving end of one or more such requests, you’re likely feeling some combination of annoyance and discomfort!)

Demystifying The Process

The process is actually far less arbitrary than many believe. But that sense largely results from those asking not having a compelling enough rationale. No, “Because I Want It!” (BIWI) rarely works. “Because I deserve it!” rarely works, either. Not by themselves, anyway.

What’s needed is a three-pronged justification:

  1. Readiness – that is, a track record of growth and development that makes it clear that you (or whomever is asking) has fully-demonstrated an ability to ably perform at a significantly higher level. (Yes, at a significantly higher level.)
    • At a level that others already at that higher level routinely demonstrate. Often that’s based, in large part, on how the responsibilities of your current position have grown. (Read Justifying Title and Salary Upgrades for more on this line of reasoning.)
    • Readiness also involves having a champion or sponsor. Research shows, in fact, that even if you’re not currently promotable, sponsorship can give up to a 30% boost in stretch assignments and pay increases.
    • So, your being ready, and others being ready for you, are often both necessary, and prerequisite, but rarely sufficient.
  2. Need – that is, that there exists a sufficient business-based justification for the promotion. In other words, why is it, precisely, in the company’s best interest to promote you?
    • Sometimes it’s simply based on filling a now vacant, higher-titled, position. (But if there’s no such opening, it’s rare that a precedent-setting promotion will be authorized without significantly more validation.)
    • Other times it’s based on wanting a higher-level title to be able to blame if something goes wrong! Think about it: When something gets screwed up and the higher-ups (or key customers) want someone to be held accountable, admonishing a low- or even mid-level manager will not suffice. No, to be able show the matter is being taken seriously, blaming someone with a higher-level title shows precisely that, whether you feel it makes sense or not.
    • Another (albeit lesser, but rather clever) example of business need might involve maintaining the integrity of titles and reporting relationships in the organizational hierarchy. Say what you will, but I know an executive who got promoted by giving his heir direct reports the same title as he had (because of that ‘blame’ thing, mentioned above) and then recommended his own promotion, on these grounds, shortly thereafter. Lo and behold, within six months, he, himself, was given title upgrade to restore title vis-à-vis authority alignment! True story!!
    • Who you regularly deal with can also suitably justify a promotion. Executives like to interact with other executives. So, as example, a vendor launching a new strategic product or service might promote a sales manager to Director of Sales because the company wants to show greater respect for customers and prospects s/he’s selling to. Or sometimes, a vendor will upgrade a title just to justify a price increase! (Yes, again, a true story!)
    • So, being able to articulate a justifiable business need for a promotion is also key. And, similarly, it’s often necessary and prerequisite, along with the person’s readiness, but still insufficient.
  3. Timing – that is, you need to be able to answer the question, WHY NOW?
    • Time of year is a common reason, such as it’s being planned for as part of an annual review or budget cycle.
    • Often, it’s a result of the successful completion of a major project or initiative. (Which is why it’s ALWAYS important to align yourself as directly as possible with major, core business plans and priorities.)
    • And, of course, sometimes, promotions are given to prevent someone from leaving, although not as often as you’d think.
    • Generally, though, the closer a promotion request can be directly tied to a person’s stunning success, the better. (Yes, stunning!!)

So, if you’re looking for a promotion, later this year, or anytime soon for that matter, you’re advised to get your Readiness, Need, and Timing rationales firmly in place. Having one, or two, might do the trick, but having all three can dramatically increase your odds of success.

It Works Both Ways

Let’s look, now, at how you might respond to promotion requests from, or through, your direct reports – and what you’re likely to face in making your own request.

The best way I’ve found to do that is simply this: Tell whomever that before you can even consider it, you need them to submit a clear, crisp, and compelling written explanation as to why. One that not only articulates, but fully-justifies, precisely why the person IS ready, what the business need IS and why it’s real, and that the timing IS right. And who is willing to sponsor such a request, besides themselves. (Yes, sponsors mater!)

If they can’t or won’t? Then it’s simply a hard ‘no’.

And if they can and do? Then ask them to review it with you before deciding if it’s something you’re interested in supporting, or not.

There are countless reasons for not wanting to support someone being promoted. Maybe you find the argument they’re making just isn’t compelling enough. Or maybe you’re privy to something about the person, the business need, or the timing that changes the calculus (e.g. you see a prerequisite developmental need of the individual, or you know that similar requests by your peers have been recently rejected, or that other the climate isn’t right, or some other things have to happen first).

But remember: Even a ‘no’ NOW doesn’t mean a no EVER. So, don’t lose heart, if it’s you who’s doing the asking, or if you think whoever’s asking you has a legitimate chance down the line.

Promotability is Often, a Longer Play

A well-timed promotion can do wonders for morale, productivity, and reputation. But just because someone asks for a promotion, doesn’t mean it’s something that can – or even should – be automatically authorized.

Sometimes, it can take a good period of time to get one’s ducks in a row.

In the meantime, think about your preparations in terms of another Venn, the Elements of Executive Excellence.

Likely, there’s still work to be done.

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