How to get that promotion

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How to get that promotion

In my extensive corporate experience, I have observed that probably the most professionally sensitive issue in the workplace is promotion. Perhaps, it is because it involves ego and self-image; to a degree self-respect also factors in.

If passed over you also look around and wonder what others are thinking of you, especially your department colleagues. Are you not good enough? Have you worked less hard than others? Are you not smart enough?

So what is it that will get you promoted? And what is it that you need to do?

I was very clear in what I wanted from my subordinates if they wanted to rise up the ladder. Thankfully, when I was heading the Marketing, I had a couple of vacancies in brand management, while in other functions that I had created — Event Management, Out of Home and Research — there was much to aspire for by the team. So, there were opportunities but also some good competition for them. Then when I was CEO I was reengineering the company so there was an element of self-discovery that I wanted my people to get into for several positions that were created or were redefined. But that still led to the precondition that only the person with the right credentials would slot up. The mistake that I had made a couple of times in my supervisory role early into my leadership years was to bring in someone hardworking but half-baked to give them a chance to earn that position.

Another mistake I made in my formative years was to not look at all the elements that go into a leadership role, ironically elements that had been judged in me when I was promoted.


Those were my learning years and I made sure that when I was in a CEO position I would ensure that I not only would inform in advance my promotion criteria to all the contenders face-to-face, I would have an empathetic word with those who hadn’t made the cut why they hadn’t been given that position.

It’s important to note here that not all promotions are to leadership positions. Some promotions are through re-designations or moving into a higher grade. Those carry different criteria. Hard work, loyalty to organisation, meeting deadlines, positive results for example are involved.

But the real deal is when you’re aiming for a leadership position, either your first or moving further up with a higher headcount reporting to you. Almost always added levels too, unless it’s a fairly flat structure.

So, what is it that you need to do to get that leadership role? And equally importantly, why is it that you haven’t got it yet when a colleague has. Or a friend in another company. Based on my experiences of 23 years (and another 13 as a management consultant where I’ve worked closely with the people at all levels) here’s a brief (not exhaustive) listing that you need to keep in mind. In fact write it down and read it every Monday.

Have you talked to your supervising manager about it? This is extremely important. People often make the mistake of assuming they’re doing exactly what is expected of us at the next level. We also assume that our performance is being watched closely. Both can be far from reality.

Often the immediate supervisor has a high number of subordinates and cannot keep track of everyone’s achievements. Best to have a word with him/her once a quarter about how you’ve done and to politely mention why you’re excited at what you’ve achieved. And that you’re looking for more responsibility.


Mention it in passing to your HR Head or a colleague in HR who has the HR Head’s ear. If you’re mid-level, look for the opportunity to mention it to your Head of Department.

Have you asked your most trusted friend in office to evaluate you? Doesn’t matter if s/he’s in the same department but important that s/he isn’t competing for your position. And especially good if that friend is in a leadership role already.

Share your JD and ask where you stand. Maybe even handover a performance appraisal form. Then share the JD of the position that you’re aspiring for and be evaluated. There’s nothing like a candid evaluation from someone whom you trust to be fair and speaking in your interest.

Interact as often as you can with senior executives (even heads) of other departments. We often compartmentalise our role. It’s important that you are viewed as an important executive in your department. Often those who are or will evaluate you are influenced by some good words coming in about your competency and initiative from other department seniors.

I’ll give my persona; example. When I was in my first year as Brand Manager I would often go to the GM Production and ask for my brand to be put on the machines if I felt it might not get preference in monthly targets. I had no idea that he would put in a word for me when head of brand management was considered saying that anyone with the initiative to come over and fight for his brand should be given more responsibility.

Be honest with yourself. This is the most crucial, the most important element in getting you promoted. We often fall on self-pity and office conspiracies and complaints of being disliked by the boss. While this does happen but often it is a result of our own faults. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that our actions or decisions may influence against that promotion.


Yes, talking to your boss and trusted friend and that senior colleague or interacting with other departmental heads will help. But unless you are willing to have a close hard look at what you have done wrong last week or where you are lacking, all else will fail.

I have seen well-educated and groomed people who were confident of being promoted get passed over. Sometimes, a new hire is brought in for that position they were aspiring for.

You have to closely see your shortcomings and work towards it even if it means spending on evening courses. I once got my entire staff an English tutor coming to office three times a week after office hours because the people I inherited were good in their work but couldn’t draft a good email. That would make them ineligible for any senior position where communication was the key.

I also know of a peon who would ask for sponsorship of his books for his
matric and then inter studies. One day, while serving me tea he asked in fluent English if I would like anything else. Seeing my astonishment he said he’s also been taking English classes in evenings. A year later, I was visiting my former company and saw him at a desk in Accounts Department where he revealed he’d applied for and got accepted purely on merit.

I ask you all now. If a peon with all his tough life can elevate himself how much do we spend on upgrading our skills? And I just don’t mean through courses. I mean through evaluating where we are and what we need to be to reach where we feel our potential can take us.


This applies to even C-Suite positions, where you can often be passed for promotion even for having bit of a crude eating habit. Or the wrong sense in dressing.

Then ask yourself if you’re too inflexible in your principles or too sure of yourself. Yes don’t compromise on the fundamental ethics but are you too fixed in what needs to be a priority? Are you too much into giving priority to tasks that are too menial for your position? Are you losing the bigger picture of employee development and delegation?

To be sure empathetic man management and effective one in that is the basic element that you need. In the Management 101 the first thing we read about a manager is that he get things done. Add to that he gets it done in time and to the right acceptable degree and you’ve got yourself in a good position to get that senior leadership role.

Again, not the list to end all lists. Far from that. Just that these are often traits or aspects of a job that we lose sight of in our quest to complete our daily tasks and chasing whatever key performance indicators and targets we have. But important that you step back once in a while and take a good hard look at yourself. In the end you’re the only one in your life who can effect that promotion.

Courtesy:  Sohaib Alvi

(The writer is a Corporate Consultant and Coach and former CEO with over 35 years of experience in building brands and organisational strategy. He now advises on Business Strategy, Marketing, HR and Media Management)




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