Want to get promoted? 5 tips to ensure the right people know you
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
In my last role in a FTSE100 company, I would frequently find employees I hadn’t met scheduling time in my diary – on the pretext of “I’m going to be in your location, it would be great to meet” – but always it was with the purpose of raising their visibility and trying to impress me. As the global head of Talent Management I was the guardian of the company’s promotion and succession processes for the most senior leadership roles in the organisation, so I had a say in who advanced. What was interesting about these conversations was that they were almost always with men. Judging them on their performance and contribution, some of these men were extremely talented and others were perhaps more mediocre. But what these men had in common was they understood that to get ahead they needed to be known by the people involved in the promotion process.
In contrast, women tended only to schedule time with me if there was a more obvious business purpose, rather than a mere ‘coffee catchup’. My current work with women shows this pattern playing out time and time again. More often than not, my clients tell me they don’t like to engage in networking and self-promotion. It feels uncomfortable, distasteful and self-aggrandising. This is no surprise when you consider that girls are socialised from a young age to be supportive, caring and nurture others, not to take the limelight or be seen as assertive or pushy.
The unfortunate reality is that you have to be seen and known by the right people in order to progress. Sitting in a corner working your socks off and waiting for someone to reward your efforts with a promotion is a fantasy that Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb call Tiara Syndrome. If you wait for someone to come and place a ‘tiara’ on your head you might just be waiting forever. Working hard and doing a good job counts for nothing if the people who are making promotion decisions don’t know about it.
Who are the decision makers?
You need to identify the key stakeholders who will be influential in determining whether your achieve that promotion. Often decisions for senior role are made by panel or committee. Who is involved in this decision? Your boss? Your boss’s boss? The managing partner or CEO? Who are the primary decision makers? And who are the people who may not make the final call but whose input could be influential? Do they know you? If not, this is something to address now. Think about who influences these people, and also consider the strength of your relationships with those people – would they be likely to speak positively about you to others? Getting known by and building positive relationships with the people who will ultimately determine your next career step is important.
Tips for raising your profile with key decision makers
Once you’ve identified the people you need to be known to, there are various ways to raise your profile. Consider the following:
Nail a high-profile project – this means putting your hand up for projects which are strategically important and visible, and then landing them well. Choose your projects wisely for them to count. The best projects have high levels of senior leader visibility, are clearly linked to the business strategy, and if delivered well will have a tangible impact – enhancing revenues, reducing costs, developing new innovations or creating other competitive advantages.
Be highly networked – having others advocate on your behalf is incredibly powerful, and that’s where a strong network comes in. Having people who are well-connected to the key decision makers and who can help to raise your profile will carry a lot of weight. Your network needs to be balanced with people who can support you in different ways. I explore the 7 types of people you need in your network in a separate blog.
Volunteer (but not for thankless tasks) – I am constantly reminded in my work with corporate clients of the value they place on self-starters. People who use their initiative and are prepared to go above and beyond the day-to-day requirements of their job. As a client said to me recently “you remember when you’re in a fix and someone helps you out”. But a word of warning here: never volunteer for the ‘office housework’ – that is, those thankless tasks – such as organising social events – that someone has to do but have zero impact on your profile.
Learn to present well – one of the realities of senior positions is that you’re more likely to be asked to present – either to internal or external audiences. Whether at a major conference, a customer event or an internal meeting, you want to be remembered but not for the wrong reasons! It’s worth investing in developing your presentation skills now and starting to find opportunities to present, which will further enhance your visibility.
Self-advocacy – many women find this uncomfortable and icky. We are socialised to support others and not ‘get ahead of ourselves’. I grew up in Australia with the cultural phenomenon of Tall Poppy Syndrome – the tendency to disparage those who think highly of themselves. A similar cultural tendency towards modesty is apparent in the UK, in particular for women. Yet, without sharing your achievements and credentials you are likely to be overlooked. The key is to find a way to make visible your achievements in a way that is authentic to you.
Ultimately it is worth remembering that you are the CEO of your own career. It is up to you – and not your boss - to manage your brand and reputation in a way that serves you.
Sharon Peake is the founder and MD of Shape Talent Ltd, a gender equality coaching and consulting business established with the sole purpose of accelerating more women into senior leaderships roles in business. We work with organisations to remove the barriers to women’s progression and we work with individual women, helping them to achieve their career potential.
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