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Positioning Yourself for a Promotion: Why Doing a Great Job Isn’t Nearly Enough

If you consider yourself a high performer with strong potential, at some point, you’ll want to move on from your current role and take on greater responsibility. And if you’re continually meeting your performance objectives and demonstrating value to the company, you might assume you’re in a prime position to secure that next spot. 

However, that is far from the case. 

Positioning yourself for a promotion involves much more than excelling at your current role. There are other steps you’ll need to take to improve your odds of being promoted to a position you believe you’re ready to take on. 

What Comes Into Play?  

When a company considers an individual for promotion, especially for a leadership role, a number of variables impact the decision. Of course, you need a track record of exceptional performance, you need to demonstrate that you have the skills and qualifications required for the new role, and you need to make it known that you’re ready and interested in taking on greater responsibility. I can’t emphasize the latter point enough, as many strong internal candidates are passed over for promotion simply because they didn’t make their interest known. 

But many professionals also fail to consider the importance of grooming a successor. Unless it’s evident that there is an employee who is well-qualified to take on your role once you vacate it, you may find your promotion opportunities continually pushed further into the future. The company needs tangible evidence that you’re actively grooming viable candidates to succeed you, well before you’re ready to move on.  

Yet even professionals with high aspirations don’t always develop and act on a succession plan for reasons like these: 

  • They fear that if they do a great job grooming a successor, they might create another competitor for the job they want.   
  • They’re not willing to commit the time and energy it takes to develop a successor. 
  • Their own managers might be standing in their way. Some managers keep good performers right where they are, whether consciously or not because it makes their job easier.    

Are You Ignoring Your Best Advocate? 

Setting the stage to gain the next-level position also requires you to advocate for yourself, and that starts long before the job opening is posted.  

One manager expressed frustration about being passed over for a promotion continually, despite the measurable success of his business. As we talked, three things became clear:  

  • He was always attributing the success of his business to his own performance, never giving credit to his team’s contributions.  
  • He told his senior management that he had no succession candidates in his group, leaving them to believe no one could easily step into the role if he vacated it. 
  • He never told senior management that he was interested in taking on a higher role. Instead of advocating for himself, he fell into the common trap of believing his great work would speak for itself.  

As we worked together, he reached an “aha” moment where he realized his own behavior was standing in his way. Over the next year, he actively developed his own team, which yielded several viable successors while improving his division’s performance. He also made it clear that he was ready for more responsibility. Within a year, he was promoted into a much-coveted role. 

Best Practices for Securing a Promotion 

In my work coaching executives and other leaders, I’ve learned that best practices like the following can help strong performers secure the promotions they seek.  

  • Choose the right moments. Your annual performance review is a great time to set the stage for a promotion. It’s a formal opportunity to discuss what you’ve accomplished (in a measurable way) and how you’ve developed new skills or capabilities (which may be less measurable, but just as important). It’s also a good time to learn what your manager believes you need to work on to be considered for a bigger role.  
  • Advocate for yourself. Apart from the annual review period, find other appropriate opportunities to make it known that you’re ready to take on greater responsibility. (Just don’t turn this into continual pestering!) If you work remotely, look for ways to replicate the casual conversations and face time that naturally occur in person.  
  • Invest in yourself. Take advantage of any professional development opportunities your company offers, using your manager’s feedback to guide which skill areas to focus on. Find out if there is a structured HIPO (high potential) or leadership development program you can qualify to join. Or supplement your company’s offerings by investing in external courses that can help you upskill.   
  • Learn from your setbacks. Being passed over for a promotion is disappointing, but it can serve as a learning opportunity. Most managers and HR teams are willing to provide candid feedback on why you didn’t get an interview or lost the role to someone else. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking.
  • Groom a successor. As mentioned earlier, you can’t expect to move on from your current role if you haven’t developed someone to take your place. At a high level, that involves assessing your team objectively and identifying viable candidates, determining their skill gaps and areas for improvement, providing developmental opportunities, and guiding them on how to take appropriate risks that help them stretch and learn.  

The Leadership Advisory Practice at Odgers Berndtson helps organizations discover and develop leaders, strengthen value-creating teams, and prepare for what’s next. Learn how our highly experienced executive coaches and assessors can help your high performers position themselves for the next role.

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